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Money and Your Life

By Martha Brown Menard, PhD, LMT

About the Columnist
Other Articles

Greetings From FinCon!

Personal finance on steroids for money nerds—that's the experience of being at FinCon#18, the annual conference for people who write, blog, teach, and make videos about personal finance. For 4 days last month, I attended talks, workshops, and met dozens of other authors and financial coaches. Over 2,000 authors, bloggers, podcasters, educators, and financial advisors attended. Only once did I make it out of the resort hotel (in Orlando! Universal Studios!) where the conference took place.

One of the most interesting experiences was visiting the exhibit hall. Major organizations such as AARP and Fidelity were represented, along with quite a few new startups offering a variety of ways for people to save or better manage their money. Here are a few services that stood out to me as ones that would interest self-employed practitioners, people repaying student loans, and those looking to spend money more intentionally or save more of it.

Emergency Fund

If you need to start an emergency fund—everyone should absolutely have one of these. Life will inevitably throw a curveball or two your way at some point, and an emergency fund helps you deal with the financial side of it. If you've never had one, or have trouble saving, check out SaverLife. It's a program started by a nonprofit called EARN that helps working families and it's sponsored by some big financial names, including Capital One, JP Morgan Chase, Prudential, and the MetLife and Intuit Foundations.

money - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark If you have a savings account, and commit to saving at least $20 a month for 6 months, the program will contribute $10 a month for a total of $60 at the end of the program. The real point isn't the money—$60 is nice but it's hardly life-changing—it's that it gets you into the habit of saving. Even a small cushion can help handle an unexpected expense. You can also donate to help others in need here.

Help Managing Quarterly Taxes

If you need help with managing estimated quarterly taxes—don't we all? A startup from Fidelity Labs, bSolo automatically sets aside a portion of your self-employment income into a bSolo savings account until it's time for your quarterly payment, and then sends your federal and state payments for you electronically. There are some restrictions, though.

For example, the service currently supports only personal accounts at most of the larger national banks. If you have a business account at a local bank, too bad—this issue seems like an obvious limitation to me. Other limitations: you'll still have to calculate how much your quarterly taxes should be, and it's not cheap—$13/month or $35/quarter. But for those just starting out, or if you have trouble regularly setting aside money for taxes or remembering making payments on time, paying for convenience and avoiding late payment penalties could be worth it.

Other Ways to Save

If you haven't already heard about Student Loan Hero, visit their website for tons of free resources, calculators and tools. They don't sell any financial products, but if refinancing is a good option for you, the site can connect you with vetted lenders.

If you want to make money selling your used electronics, or save money by buying refurbished—while it's not the only app that provides a way to get rid of old stuff or buy used, Decluttr offers some advantages over others such as Amazon.com or eBay. Namely, you get paid in cash for selling your items to them (which must be in good condition) instead of a merchandise credit, and there are no auctions or fees.

You select the make, model and condition of your cell phone or tech device and Decluttr gives you an instant price. You can download the free app (available on Android and IOS) and scan your items with your smartphone's camera. Shipping costs are free whether you are selling or buying. Plus, they buy electronic games, DVDs, CDs, books, and even Legos by the pound, too. You'll need to enter a minimum of 10 items or have an overall value of $5 to complete your order.

Full disclosure—I was so impressed with their service and their charming northern British accents that I've joined their affiliate program, and if you decide to use Decluttr, I will receive a small commission upon which I will owe income taxes. Please know I would not recommend a service unless I thought it was one that is genuinely helpful.

If you like rewards cards and want to maximize them then check out Birch Finance. Whether you like travel points or cash back, this free tool can help you maximize your rewards. Link your spending accounts (they use bank-level security and don't store your login credentials), and Birch will analyze your cards and your spending. It will tell you how much you earned in rewards for each purchase, and let you know if you could've earned more using one of your other cards. You can sort your transactions by rewards earned or card used, and it also breaks down your spending by category. But be sure to use your rewards cards responsibly—pay the card in full every month to avoid racking up interest fees, and only buy stuff you were planning to purchase anyway.

If any of you have favorite money apps or tools, I'd love to hear about them! Send me a message via Massage Today, and tell me what you like and/or find useful about them.

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