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8 Best Budgeting and Personal Finance Tools

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Taking control of your personal finances is simple in theory. But if you’re struggling with budgeting, saving, or investing, trying a new tool may be the ticket to making better decisions and improving your success.

Here are eight of the best personal finance tools to make sense of your money, stay organized, and achieve your financial goals.

8 Best Budgeting and Personal Finance Tools

Keep reading to learn more about each of these budgeting and personal finance tools.

1. Quicken

Quicken has been around a long time and is considered the gold standard in personal finance software. They have a suite of products that connect to multiple types of accounts, such as banks, credit cards, lenders, and investments, to aggregate your transactions.

Like many companies, they’ve moved to a subscription model where you pay an annual fee and get automatic updates for new features and services.

The Starter version gives you a lot, including automatic expense categorization, limited budget tracking, and a bill dashboard, for $35 per year. Upgrading to Deluxe ($50) or Premier ($75) gives you the Starter features plus customizable budgeting, loan tracking, investment tracking and analysis, bill pay, and online backup.

Quicken has far more features than I’ll ever use, but it’s my favorite way to manage money.

You can use Quicken on your PC or Mac, but PC users can also get a Home & Business version for $100 per year. It helps you manage a small business or freelance work by separating personal and business expenses, emailing custom invoices with payment links, and tracking business tax deductions.

You can enter transactions manually into Quicken if you don’t want to connect to your financial accounts online. And there are Quicken mobile apps to sync up with your desktop version, although you can’t see all your data.

Quicken has far more features than I’ll ever use, but it’s my favorite way to manage money. Every week I import new transactions and make sure they’re categorized correctly, especially those related to taxes, so I can easily create reports at tax time.

2. Mint

Mint is one of the original web-based personal finance management programs. It’s free to sign up and connect your financial accounts, such as a bank, credit card, loans, and investments through an easy-to-use dashboard.  

The Mint mobile app has a lot of functionality, allowing you to check account balances and monthly budgets.

Once Mint…

Keep reading on Quick and Dirty Tips



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Finance

How to Save Money on Parent-Kid Dates

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Have you ever experimented with the ideas of parent-kid dates? They’re a unique way to spend individualized, quality time with each kid! This post has some great budget-friendly kid date ideas!

Guest post from Katie of My Joy in Chaos:

As a stay at home mom of five, with a husband who works fairly long hours during the week, our individual time with the kids is quite limited.

We live in about an 1800 square foot house and it feels like there is always someone in every room. As soon as we start time with one kid, there is suddenly an avalanche of additional kids climbing on us to see what we are doing with their sibling. 

As our kids started getting older we looked at the example set by my husband’s parents when they did foster care for teen boys — we take turns taking them out on dates!

Why do we take our kids on dates?

Each of our kids is incredibly unique. God has created them with individual personalities, interests, and talents. If we are always doing everything together as a family, we are bound to leave out a hobby, adventure, or food that someone likes and wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy.

Some of our kids are also completely different in a group setting compared to the one-on-one setting. By spending a few hours focused on each child, we get to know a whole new side of him or her!

The siblings are no longer competing for attention, but rather getting to soak up quality time with just mom or dad. 

What do we do on kid dates?

We don’t do all of these every time we go on a date, but our kids can typically expect 2-4 hours of uninterrupted time with mom or dad when it is their turn.

We often let them dictate the agenda unless we have an errand that needs to get done.

Their favorite choices are:

  • Go out to eat
  • Visit favorite stores
  • Play at the park
  • Visit the library
  • Walk around the mall
  • Run errands

Biking as a Family

How do we save money on kid dates?

Spread the dates out

We used to try and do one date per month. Back when we only had two or three kids, this was reasonable. Now that we have five kids we’ve shifted to doing them in two-month blocks. I take January and February, my husband takes March and April, and we continue to alternate throughout the year. 

Spreading out for your family might mean once per week or once per month. Look at your calendar and your budget and get realistic about where you have wiggle room in both.

Sign up for restaurant deals

I’ve taken kids to Chili’s for as little as $14 with tax and tip because we had a free kids meal coupon, I ordered off the 3 for $10 menu, and we both took food home for later in the week!

Other places may send coupons for a percentage or dollar off, free appetizers or desserts, and other discounts to your email. Many also offer accumulated rewards where you earn points for eating with them and can cash them in at certain levels. 

Many restaurants will also tell you what day of the week they offer free kid’s meals. For instance, every Tuesday is Kids Eat Free at Pizza Ranch. If this is what one of our kids chooses for a date then you better believe we make it happen on a Tuesday!

Choose not to eat out

Our kids have gotten pretty accustomed to dining out being part of their date but we’ve made it a part of our budget and are okay with it for now. But should there come a day when that doesn’t work, we would find other things to do. Eating out, especially for full meals, can get pricey quite quickly so looking for alternatives is a great way to keep costs low. 

Look for free or discounted events

Libraries, book stores, toy stores, craft stores, and other places around your town might offer fun events for kids and families. We have done LEGO builds at Target, JoAnn, and Toys R Us that always add an extra bonus to a date. 

Our movie theater often runs kid series with older movies that come back to the theater for a limited time for a discount. They usually offer a free small bag of popcorn with each ticket as well. They also have $5 Tuesday showings (all day for every movie!) and Student Thursdays. 

Be honest with your child about the budget

Our kids LOVE sushi but it’s completely out of our budget to take them to a sushi restaurant for every date. Instead, we allow them one sushi date per year. This makes it a special treat, plus we can plan accordingly for the expense. 

Kid Dates with Dad

What are the best free kid date ideas?

Visit the library

Reading the same books over and over at home can get old. Hit up the library, grab a stack of books, and curl up on the couch together. Many libraries also offer board games now which would make for a fun afternoon. 

Our library also offers lots of different classes and events that are free when you register. In February and March, they had multiple Harry Potter events for different ages, and around the holidays they offered craft classes to make small presents – all for free!

Go on a walk or bike ride

We can only take advantage of this idea during a few months of the year because we live in the frozen north, but try to get out and enjoy nature!

Our town is full of bike and walking paths, and now that our kids are getting older they can handle going a further distance without complaining.

Venture out then find a place to stop and talk before heading back home. 

Pack a picnic

My kids adore picnics. Eating outside is an adventure that never gets old. Throw some peanut butter sandwiches and veggie sticks in a container and find a new place to explore.

The point is to spend time getting to know your child; the food is just a bonus. 

School events

Our school district offers so many free events that it’s easy to find one to attend.

Check out a concert, visit the art displays, or take in a play.

Most school sporting events will have an admission fee, but some may have free entrance depending on the school and sport.

Park events

I’m always amazed at the number of events our park district offers for no charge or with a small canned food donation. 

They have done movie nights, craft events, inflatable game parties, and more – all for no charge!

If you aren’t doing dates with your kids or at least doing something with each of them on a regular basis, I want to encourage you to try.

It can be as simple as grabbing one when you head off to the store, to drop books off at the library, or while taking the dog for a walk. 

We only have so many years with our kids before they are off on their own. Spending intentional one-on-one time with each of them gives us the chance to learn who they are as people, discover what’s in their hearts, and have a little fun along the way!

Katie is the wife to Micah and mom of five smushed into six years. Her goal is to help moms find joy in their everyday chaos by offering practical homemaking tips, inspiration for growing their faith, and simple family activities on her blog My Joy in Chaos.



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Liveops Is Hiring 10,000 Remote Customer Service, Sales Reps

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Over the course of three months, customer-service outsourcing company Liveops is filling 10,000 part- and full-time independent contractor openings in 35 states and Washington, D.C. Positions are immediately available.

“As a Liveops agent, you can work when and where it best fits your personal schedule,” CEO Greg Hanover said in an announcement, noting that the openings are a good opportunity for those who aren’t ready to return to offices or storefronts amid the pandemic.

The hiring initiative focuses on two key remote positions: customer service agent and a licensed insurance sales agent.

To meet basic qualifications, you should have:

  • Experience handling inbound calls
  • At least one year of customer service experience
  • Computer and typing skills
  • English fluency

As a licensed insurance agent, you’re also required to have life and health insurance producer licenses in at least three states that Liveops operates.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Both positions are available in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming and Washington, D.C.

For the customer-service job, apply here. For the insurance sales job, apply here. Separate customer-service positions are open if you prefer nights and weekends

For the daytime positions, Liveops recommends you schedule at least 15 hours per week, between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern on weekdays and between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Eastern on Saturdays.

Liveops pays a per-minute rate of talk time plus applicable commissions and incentives. The base per-minute rate for the customer service agent is 25 cents (potentially $15 an hour). For the licensed insurance agent, the per-minute rate is 30 cents (potentially $18 an hour) plus a $7 sales commission per call.

According to self-reported earnings on Glassdoor, Liveops agents tend to earn between $9 and $16 an hour, with a most commonly reported hourly rate of $14.

As an independent contractor, you’re expected to have your own equipment ready to go, including a telephone and laptop computer with a hard-wired internet connection. Your set-up must meet certain home-office requirements.

Still on the fence? Have any burning questions? Before you apply, you can talk directly with one of Liveops’ talent acquisition specialists at a live-streamed information session. The company holds the events twice a week: Mondays at 3 p.m. Eastern and Wednesdays at 6 p.m. Eastern.

Looking for a different gig? Browse the latest work-from-home jobs in The Penny Hoarder’s free portal. We vet each company and post new opportunities every weekday.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.



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Best Interest Rates on Cash – June 2020

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Another month of slight rate drops, although bank accounts can still beat out Treasury bonds and/or brokerage cash sweep options by a significant margin.

Here’s my monthly roundup of the best interest rates on cash for June 2020, roughly sorted from shortest to longest maturities. I track these rates because I keep 12 months of expenses as a cash cushion and also invest in longer-term CDs (often at lesser-known credit unions) when they yield more than bonds. Check out my Ultimate Rate-Chaser Calculator to see how much extra interest you’d earn by moving money between accounts. Rates listed are available to everyone nationwide. Rates checked as of 6/2/2020.

High-yield savings accounts
While the huge megabanks make huge profits while paying you 0.01% APY, it’s easy to open a new “piggy-back” savings account and simply move some funds over from your existing checking account. The interest rates on savings accounts can drop at any time, so I list the top rates as well as competitive rates from banks with a history of competitive rates. Some banks will bait you with a temporary top rate and then lower the rates in the hopes that you are too lazy to leave.

Short-term guaranteed rates (1 year and under)
A common question is what to do with a big pile of cash that you’re waiting to deploy shortly (just sold your house, just sold your business, legal settlement, inheritance). My usual advice is to keep things simple and take your time. If not a savings account, then put it in a flexible short-term CD under the FDIC limits until you have a plan.

  • No Penalty CDs offer a fixed interest rate that can never go down, but you can still take out your money (once) without any fees if you want to use it elsewhere. Marcus has a 7-month No Penalty CD at 1.20% APY with a $500 minimum deposit. Ally Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.20% APY with a $25,000 minimum deposit. CIT Bank has a 11-month No Penalty CD at 1.15% APY with a $1,000 minimum deposit. You may wish to open multiple CDs in smaller increments for more flexibility.
  • Lafayette Federal Credit Union has a 12-month CD at 1.61% APY ($500 min). Early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Anyone can join via partner organization for one-time $10 fee. Note that you will have to park $50 in a share savings account while a member.

Money market mutual funds + Ultra-short bond ETFs
If you like to keep cash in a brokerage account, beware that many brokers pay out very little interest on their default cash sweep funds (and keep the difference for themselves). The following money market and ultra-short bond funds are NOT FDIC-insured and thus come with a possibility of principal loss, but may be a good option if you have idle cash and cheap/free commissions.

  • Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund currently pays an 0.32% SEC yield. The default sweep option is the Vanguard Federal Money Market Fund which has an SEC yield of 0.20%. You can manually move the money over to Prime if you meet the $3,000 minimum investment.
  • Vanguard Ultra-Short-Term Bond Fund currently pays 1.61% SEC yield ($3,000 min) and 1.71% SEC Yield ($50,000 min). The average duration is ~1 year, so there is more interest rate risk.
  • The PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Bond ETF (MINT) has a 1.87% SEC yield and the iShares Short Maturity Bond ETF (NEAR) has a 1.83% SEC yield while holding a portfolio of investment-grade bonds with an average duration of ~6 months. Note that there was a slight drop in net asset value during the recent market stress.

Treasury Bills and Ultra-short Treasury ETFs
Another option is to buy individual Treasury bills which come in a variety of maturities from 4-weeks to 52-weeks. You can also invest in ETFs that hold a rotating basket of short-term Treasury Bills for you, while charging a small management fee for doing so. T-bill interest is exempt from state and local income taxes. Right now, this section probably isn’t very interesting as T-Bills are yielding close to zero!

  • You can build your own T-Bill ladder at TreasuryDirect.gov or via a brokerage account with a bond desk like Vanguard and Fidelity. Here are the current Treasury Bill rates. As of 6/2/2020, a new 4-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.12% annualized interest and a 52-week T-Bill had the equivalent of 0.17% annualized interest.
  • The Goldman Sachs Access Treasury 0-1 Year ETF (GBIL) has a 0.57% SEC yield and the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays 1-3 Month T-Bill ETF (BIL) has a -.04% (!) SEC yield. GBIL appears to have a slightly longer average maturity than BIL. Expect that GBIL yield to drop significantly as it is updated.

US Savings Bonds
Series I Savings Bonds offer rates that are linked to inflation and backed by the US government. You must hold them for at least a year. There are annual purchase limits. If you redeem them within 5 years there is a penalty of the last 3 months of interest.

  • “I Bonds” bought between May 2020 and October 2020 will earn a 1.06% rate for the first six months. The rate of the subsequent 6-month period will be based on inflation again. More info here.
  • In mid-October 2020, the CPI will be announced and you will have a short period where you will have a very close estimate of the rate for the next 12 months. I will have another post up at that time.

Prepaid Cards with Attached Savings Accounts
A small subset of prepaid debit cards have an “attached” FDIC-insured savings account with exceptionally high interest rates. The negatives are that balances are capped, and there are many fees that you must be careful to avoid (lest they eat up your interest). Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. There is a long list of previous offers that have already disappeared with little notice. I don’t personally recommend nor use any of these anymore.

  • The only notable card left in this category is Mango Money at 6% APY on up to $2,500, but there are many hoops to jump through. Requirements include $1,500+ in “signature” purchases and a minimum balance of $25.00 at the end of the month.

Rewards checking accounts
These unique checking accounts pay above-average interest rates, but with unique risks. You have to jump through certain hoops, and if you make a mistake you won’t earn any interest for that month. Some folks don’t mind the extra work and attention required, while others do. Rates can also drop to near-zero quickly, leaving a “bait-and-switch” feeling. I don’t use any of these anymore.

  • Consumers Credit Union Free Rewards Checking (my review) still offers up to 4.09% APY on balances up to $10,000 if you make $500+ in ACH deposits, 12 debit card “signature” purchases, and spend $1,000 on their credit card each month. The Bank of Denver has a Free Kasasa Cash Checking offering 3% APY on balances up to $25,000 if you make 12 debit card “signature” purchases and at least 1 ACH credit or debit transaction per statement cycle. If you meet those qualifications, you can also link a savings account that pays 2% APY on up to $50k. Thanks to reader Bill for the tip. Find a locally-restricted rewards checking account at DepositAccounts.

Certificates of deposit (greater than 1 year)
CDs offer higher rates, but come with an early withdrawal penalty. By finding a bank CD with a reasonable early withdrawal penalty, you can enjoy higher rates but maintain access in a true emergency. Alternatively, consider building a CD ladder of different maturity lengths (ex. 1/2/3/4/5-years) such that you have access to part of the ladder each year, but your blended interest rate is higher than a savings account. When one CD matures, use that money to buy another 5-year CD to keep the ladder going. Some CDs also offer “add-ons” where you can deposit more funds if rates drop.

  • Lafayette Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate at 2.02% APY ($500 min). Beware that the early withdrawal penalty is 600 days of interest! Anyone can join via partner organization for one-time $10 fee. Note that you will have to park $50 in a share savings account while a member.
  • Pen Air Federal Credit Union has a 5-year certificate now at 1.85% APY ($500 minimum). Early withdrawal penalty is 180 days of interest. Their other terms are competitive (relatively), if you want build a CD ladder. Anyone can join this credit union via partner organization ($3 one-time fee).
  • You can buy certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. You may need an account to see the rates. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance and easy laddering, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. Vanguard has a 5-year at 1.05% APY right now. Be wary of higher rates from callable CDs listed by Fidelity.

Longer-term Instruments
I’d use these with caution due to increased interest rate risk, but I still track them to see the rest of the current yield curve.

  • Willing to lock up your money for 10 years? You can buy long-term certificates of deposit via the bond desks of Vanguard and Fidelity. These “brokered CDs” offer FDIC insurance, but they don’t come with predictable early withdrawal penalties. Watch out for higher rates from callable CDs from Fidelity.
  • How about two decades? Series EE Savings Bonds are not indexed to inflation, but they have a unique guarantee that the value will double in value in 20 years, which equals a guaranteed return of 3.5% a year. However, if you don’t hold for that long, you’ll be stuck with the normal rate which is quite low (currently a sad 0.10% rate). I view this as a huge early withdrawal penalty. But if holding for 20 years isn’t an issue, it can also serve as a hedge against prolonged deflation during that time. As of 6/2/2020, the 20-year Treasury Bond rate was 1.24%.

All rates were checked as of 6/2/2020.



“The editorial content here is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone. This email may contain links through which we are compensated when you click on or are approved for offers.”

Best Interest Rates on Cash – June 2020 from My Money Blog.


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