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Ask HN: How do you manage you money?
75 points by ehudla 358 days ago | hide | past | web | 73 comments | favorite
I'm interested to hear how people manage their personal finances, and any advice on that score. Do you do it through your bank, do you have a personal broker, online services?

I am especially interested in hearing from people outside the US, more so if they have assets in the US that they manage as well.

I use GNU Cash http://www.gnucash.org/

My bank allows me to export statements in CSV or Quicken(?) format, but it is often easier just to key them in manually.

I treat credit card spending as a "Black Box" only recording the monthly payments out. Should probably break that down further so I can see where we're wasting money.

I try to align Direct Debits (regular monthly payments in the UK) so they come out on the same day / week. Some companies are more helpful than others at moving them.

No cheques - thankfully their use is in the way out in the UK. Similarly, I try not to use cash - far harder to track spending.

I leave investing to professionals. There's no way I can compete on the stock market with people who do it full time and have billions to play with. So I let my pension fund do that work for me.

Hardest thing to track is ad hoc payments through PayPal - either to people or as payment from friends & companies.

Sadly, my bank doesn't offer mobile banking, but I'm happy enough with Web access. I don't need spending alerts, to make sudden payments etc.

The most important thing - if you're married/living together/in a relationship - talk to your partner! Explain your priorities, talk about realistic goals, work out how you'll split bills etc. Money breaks up too many relationships.

My partner and I have open communication about finances and just recently set up some budgets for various spending categories. The main point is getting a realistic picture of where we stand on it each week & month. Mint is great but is not accurate enough so it becomes just as much work to categorize expenses.

You mean all your investing is through the a (single) pension fund?

I just spend less than I get. I know how much comes in and my spending habits are fairly predictable, so nothing too fancy.

For obvious reasons I tend to charge everything to my credit cards and then just pay them off before the due date.

I have an account and a debit card that's only for ATM usage. The account behind that card has a nil balance unless I'm about to get cash, in which case I just use a banking app to do a quick transfer. It takes about a minute or so from app launch to available funds. I have this separate account in case the card gets skimmed.

In essence, with this separate ATM account and my credit cards, I'm keeping my cash in cold storage until it's go-time.

Other than this, I don't really do anything magical or fancy. I used to diligently keep track of every expense but it didn't really add anything to my life so I stopped doing it. I'm not a fan of wasting time.

As a contingency against losing my wallet (which has happened exactly once!) I have a second set of bank accounts and credit cards. These backup cards stay at home. If my wallet disappears and departs from my life I don't have any downtime; I just switch over the backup while replacements are on their way.

I keep my wallet as empty as possible and only carry the bare minimum I need for my day to day. Most of the time I don't even get my wallet out and just use my phone to pay for things. Most places where I go have PayPass enabled terminals.

It's interesting to see the dichotomy here. Some people meticulously manage every penny, and others like you and me just make sure we spend less than we earn.

I'm curious to see the financial status of everyone writing in this thread now though. As a person just entering the work force, I don't have much in the way of wealth so I know I'm not a good example here.

I've found that the best way to save money is not to manage every penny but manage your own expectation of what is expensive and what is cheap.

A lot of people increase their spendings proportionally to their income so when they get more money, they acquire more expensive tastes, go to more expensive restaurants, buy more expensive cars and so on.

It's an easy trap to fall into especially with peer pressure but if you can avoid it, then it becomes easy to spend less than what you earn without tracking every penny (or at least it's easy for most people here who tend to earn more than the median salary).

I do it through a bank + spreadsheets. Even though I live in France currently, I mostly keep my money in JPY and USD since this is the money I get from customers. I used to have more Euros but got scared before the Brexit vote and decided not to have too much liquidity in Euros for now. I do own an apartment in a EU country so I'm still invested in the EU going well.

In term of investments, I tend to prefer long term investments rather than short terms one. I've bought some apple shares which I don't touch and I have invested in some index funds.

I do have an accountant to keep my company's book.

I do not expect to be able to get pension from my country by the time I retire so I save and make sure that I'll have enough to live by that time. To that end, I live well below my means and try to save 60% of my income each months.

This does mean that I have a relatively small apartment, that I do not splurge on restaurants and that I tend to not want to buy stuff (this is connected to the fact that I like not having much clutter in my life). I strongly believe that it's easier to continue having the same lifestyle as you did when you started working than returning to a cheaper lifestyle after having had a taste of luxury. So I avoid luxury for now.

In term of spreadsheets, I maintain two spreadsheets.

1. Recurring income and expenses. This allows me to track recurring expenses and decide or not to cut them. I make sure to review it every 2 months

2. Investment spreadsheets, this is a spreadsheet I use to track the different investments I do and the monthly return I get on them. I only review them once a month because I do not want to make impulsive decisions regarding my investments. I've found that it's too easy to panic and make bad decisions and it's also healthier not to worry constantly about one's investment. I probably leave money on the table because of this but it's the choice for me (and then again I have less risk of losing everything).

In term of credit card spending, I set a limit as to what I spend every month and will only really analyze my spendings if I near that limit.

EDIT: Quick hint for people who need to deal with multiple currencies, it's worth looking at a specialized service like Currencies Direct (but there are many others), they tend to give much better rates than banks. I've saved over $1000 this year by doing this.

On the topic of currency exchanges: recently I had to send a five figure sum to China. Banks in the U.S. offered me 6.245 on the same say as banks in China offered me 6.55. Safe to say I was very vocal about the fact that I was sending US dollars and had no interest in foreign exchange services.

Yes, it's been my experience to always transfer the foreign currency to China and do the exchange there. But that's something to always check with any countries... It's very easy to assume and lose a substantial amount of money.

You might like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvZSpET11ZY

My personal method is to have a standard of living high enough that I don't have to really think about it much. A small amount of discomfort, but not much. I'm a naturally frugal person so it's not so bad.

I have a single credit card, a single debit card, and various Vanguard accounts (IRA, Roth IRA, Brokerage). I keep a few months of cash liquid in the bank account, whenever it gets a couple thousand over that I transfer it to my Vanguard accounts.

Vanguard is very easy to manage. About an 80/20 mix between US and international, and an 80/20 mix between stock index and bond index for both US and international. So only 4 index symbols to deal with and rebalance every 6 months or so. Increase the size of your bond holdings as you get older.

I log into my bank's website to pay my balance every month, and to view my transactions for that month to make sure there's no fraud/stolen card. I look at my net worth in Mint every few months just out of curiosity. I used to use Mint for tracking budgets for stuff like food, but I found that my happiness went down drastically if I tried to artificially limit my spending because I feel like I'm already really frugal.

This is enough for 95%+ of people assuming they're saving enough and making enough to save enough.

Simple Excel spreadsheet where I keep track of any regular expenses (subscriptions, rent, ...) and my investments.

I'm based in Europe but have most of my investments in the US largely due to my phenomenal broker there: https://www.interactivebrokers.com/

Interactive Brokers allows you to exchange currency basically without fees and at real market rates.

In terms of investments I keep it simple and split the money in fixed percentages between cash, bonds, index ETFs, and gold. This saves a lot of time and fees.

I highly recommend Ramit Sethi's http://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com. It's a great book for those clueless about personal finance and managing their money and he gives you lots of common sense advice based on psychology/human behavior. Ramit is one of the smartest people of our time in general and I take you will love his other content as well (I definitely do.)

Once you're up to speed on that and want to get really fancy you should check out https://www.youneedabudget.com.

Good luck on your journey.

Be careful with the advice that tells you how to get rich by saving a bit of your income and not buying the things you can't afford. The only person it will make rich is the author of the book. Your average person in the US makes $29K/year. Subtract taxes, rent, insurance, transportation, food, utility bills, medical bills, and you're usually left with close to nothing. Even if you're a developer who makes $150K, you can probably save up $50-60K/year, if you live extremely frugally. So it will take you 17-20 years just to get to $1M, assuming you can inflation-proof your savings. And I don't consider $1M in savings "rich" - it's not enough to retire without worrying (medical bills will go up as you age).

Most people don't have the self control to follow that advice anyway. It won't get you filthy rich but it will get you ahead of roughly 90% of the population.

I can tell you've read the book, because your first statement echoes a repeating theme in Ramit's work.

Thanks for sharing a bit.

Reducing expenses is a far worse strategy than increasing earnings. There's usually not a lot of wiggle-room for expenses and there's a limit to how much you can reduce, whereas there's almost no limit to increasing earnings. It can be as simple as switching jobs.

I'd rather go from earning 60k to 120k than try to not spend 60k

Thanks for the recommendation!

You can access Ramit Sethi's content directly here (no need to subscribe to the mailing list): http://insider.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blueprints/

Ledger is great. I have going on ten years of data in my personal ledger and an admittedly rather ludicrous reporting app that lets me slice and dice the data any way I want.

Data entry is primarily via emacs, although for my business ledger I have a script that pulls transfers from my Stripe account.

I also use this. I liked it so much that I wrote my own parser, importer and web application to view a bunch of different reports.


Neat! I'm pretty tied to the ledger format but I'm not confident that C++ ledger will be around forever, so the more implementations the better.

Do you have any plans to support automated transactions? I use them quite extensively.

No, I do not. I have never used them.

I use https://www.mint.com/ for managing my finances; it allows me to aggregate my information across banks and manage budgets/alarms as well.

Here in South Africa there is an excellent service called 22seven.com which tracks my spending and income on various bank accounts (everything can be done with bank cards and bank to back transfers, cheques are not a thing).

I pay an accountant / financial advisor to help me with taxes on payments from multiple freelance clients and she's also recently advised me what savings accounts to use:

1. 3 month emergency tax fund 2. Unit trust with 50-50 shares / bonds composition 3. Pension 4. Cash saving for property

Poorly :/ I'm fairly nomadic, and it's a struggle to even keep a debit card that works globally, let alone optimize banking fees and exchange margins. My bills are in 3 different currencies. My backpack is cluttered with change, in currencies that I am unlikely to use anytime soon, but in quantities that make exchanging them pointless.

I really can't wait for digital currencies to penetrate further into mainstream.

Thanks for asking, hopefully I'll spot some good tips here.

>My backpack is cluttered with change, in currencies that I am unlikely to use anytime soon, but in quantities that make exchanging them pointless.

Most airports have those multi-currency donation bins.

But you never find them when you actually need them :)

nah they're pretty common on all major airports. In some cases the airlines will take the cash during the flight too so you don't lose a second of time.

Have you seen Revolut? It allows you to spend money/convert between currencies very easily and the charges are minimal

Not available in the Middle East yet, bummer. Financial tech is basically in the dark ages here.

Wow, that looks perfect. Let's see if it can unblock my Dubai -> Tokyo migration.

Check out CapitalOne. They have a nice credit card that pays 1.5% cash back with no foreign transaction fees. I describe in another comment how I use their 360 Checking and Savings. The debit card from the 360 checking account has been a fantastic no-fee way to get cash when I'm traveling.

Full disclosure, I do not own stock in CaptialOne or are affiliated with them in any way. I am just really happy with their banking services.

I don't know if it will work for you, but I'm in a similar situation, and Charles Schwab Bank's ATM card has worked in every country I've been to so far.

Edit: Except Argentina, as I was there when the official dollar-peso exchange rate was held artificially (and laughably) low. But now the law has changed, so your millage may vary.

+1 for Charles Schwab. Excellent account. Not only do you not pay any foreign currency fees or foreign ATM fees, but every month they refund you any fees than out of network ATMs impose on you (within US and internationally).

Have you tried Payoneer?

I have 15 years of transactions in Microsoft Money, a Windows application. I choose it at a time when the only other alternative was Quicken, and I hanged on to it ever since for its clean and simple UI, ease of use, and its reporting and forecasting features.

Unfortunately, Microsoft retired this product about five years ago but still makes it available as Money Plus Sunset Deluxe edition, available as a free download.

Agree with this. When I managed my finances with Microsoft Money I felt in control of everything - the temptation was to spend too much time managing it.

I've never found a application / app / web site which works so well for me.

I've been using No Thirst's MoneyWell for OSX to manage our family finances over the past six years: http://nothirst.com/moneywell/

The idea of mapping the balances in my accounts (cash, bank account and credit) to a set of buckets ("digital envelopes") really resonates with me. Every paycheque gets assigned to the Salary bucket, and I have a set of fill rules defined to move money from income buckets to expense buckets such as the mortgage, consumables (my version of groceries), kids savings, etc. No money actually moves when the fill rules execute: it's just bucketing. I'm free to "move" the money around manually too.

I don't care about the physical mechanism to spend money anymore: cash, credit and debit all have to be assigned to a bucket in the end. (Though I do prefer the credit card for the rewards, and have it automatically paid off in full each month.)

Some buckets go negative: when we redid our floors, I "paid" out of the projects bucket, and then "repaid" that amount to myself over the next few months. I didn't borrow any money externally, and kept the overall bank balance well above zero by maintaining a "minimum balance bucket", along with the regular funds in all the other buckets.

My wife and I have "personal" buckets - money to spend, or more crucially, to save over a few fill cycles. It's very freeing for both of us.

I haven't been terribly successful at getting non-technical folk to use it, because it really requires you to buy into the "bucket" (e.g. digital envelope) system. It also changed ownership a few years back, and development has slowed, though not stalled.

I use this too, although I use the "classic" desktop application instead of the new web based subscription service they have now.

The desktop application has served me well for 2 years now and I can see that going forward.

A good thing about it is it supports importing transactions from Quicken format, which my bank offers, so keeping up to date is a fairly quick process.

I'm probably not what you mean by being both outside the US and with US assets, but...

I live in the UK, have to pay my US student loans, which is a bitch.

I used to have a US bank account registered to my parent's address over which my mother had Power of Attorney. I'd transfer a decent sum of money using a forex 2-3 times a year and pay the student loans monthly out of that

However, the bank account kept going dormant because of there being no personal type contact. So I ended up closing that account out of fear I'd lose access to it.

That left me with two ways to pay my student loans, forex and paypal (looking at you Discover, only allowing paypal is terrible).

So I paid off the loan that required me to use paypal by socking all the saved money I had at it, and now use a low-fee, good exchange rate forex to pay the other loan monthly.

Everything is handled completely online, and I only keep one set of UK bank accounts.

Personal savings into a stocks and shares ISA happens automatically every month, plus a work pension that I manage online.

I hope it's okay for a shameless plug here. I use YNAB before but have been creating my own solution for about a year or so. It's here: https://www.everypocket.com. I'm outside the US and the online banking systems are not very good at personal finance, plus I have about 3 accounts in different banks for different purposes, so I can't use bank's solutions.

I'm a big supporter of manual entry for the extra clarity on what I've been (and will) spending on, I know many people find it cumbersome.

Credit union with a savings and checking account, mint for tracking, betterment for IRAs and emergency fund with their recommendations for allocation. I used both lending club and prosper but I am winding those down.

As I am just entering the work force, I'm curious to hear about the financial status of the people replying to this thread. I understand if you're reluctant to share that here, but I think it would make a big difference. For example, if a lot of high-income earners/high wealth-owners in this thread tend to do X, I might be more disciplined to do X.

I would probably be considered high income/moderate wealth. I started tracking everything with Quicken back in the 90's when I realized I was just pissing it all away. I switched to MoneyDance when intuit started screwing with the Mac version of Quicken, and it does what I need. I track and categorize every expenditure and every account: cash, asset, liability, retirement, college, investment. I learned to do this from the book, "The Millionaire Next Door". They had results from a study they did that showed people who spend more time watching their money tend to have more of it over time (i.e. even if they started with little). After a while it becomes routine. I spend collectively 1-2 hours per month working on my finances.

Thanks for the book recommendation! I'll have to take a look at it.

My wife and I have accounts at Fidelity and my local credit union. My wife manages the CU and handles stuff like groceries and gas. She mostly gets a wad of cash each week, and spends that. Nothing comes out of the CU account automatically, so no "surprises".

I "manage" Fidelity account in the exact opposite manner - almost 100% automatically - paying all the bills and such. Fidelity knows of the biller and can pay the exact amount each month for many of my bills. The others, such as my electric bill are mostly on payment plans that make it the same each month and re-adjust once or twice a year, so Fidelity just sends a check to an address with the account number in the memmo. It also automatically sends money to the credit union, retirement accounts, etc.

Oh, and we have a separate account for giving, both to causes that we support and people in need. Some of its automated, some of it changes each month.

I sidestep the whole issue by now having any.

On a slightly more serious note though, I manage the data about what little I do have - money inflow, outflow, categories of spending, etc. - using Perfios[1], which is sorta like Mint for Indians.

[1] https://www.perfios.com/

Bank only, but I'm also only 25 years old and have nothing but a house, a car, (which I bought with cash) a savings account, a checking account, and a mutual fund.

That might change once things start getting more complicated, (Kids!) but for now, it's very easy to keep track of everything.

After months of research, and not wanting an online software, I ended up on http://www.mybudgetview.com

It's a free cross-platform GUI like Quicken (I guess). Developers make money by selling addons.

First I make sure I ~2 month pay available in 'cash' in a separate bank account, and top that up if I had to take anything out of it over the past month. Then I move 20% of my after tax income into index funds as soon as I get paid. Then I pay my bills and just spend whatever I feel like spending for the rest of the month and then before my next paycheck I move whatever I have left into index funds. I've found that I have a pretty good 'feel' for how much money I have and what I can afford to spend so I've never felt a need to track my spending.

Simple spreadsheet with liquidity planning about one year out, business and private in different tabs and a third which pulls all that together plus a list of major assets.

I do this because I do not expect to be able to depend on anything outside of myself for my later days.

I don't use any outside advisors but I do have someone keeping the books and occasionally they will inform me of some detail that might be worth pursuing. (One of these for instance is that in NL income from rental property is nearly tax free if you own the property privately.)

I maintain some Python scripts that graph my spending from CSV transaction exports: https://github.com/amboar/fpos/

It does a few nice things like automatically determining your recurring income and expense patterns, which allows it to do a bit of forecasting. I'm working on expanding that capability at the moment to summarise savings progress for recurring expenses with multi-month periods. Contributions welcome!

It's in a nice little wooden box on my desk. I pick a large bill when my wallets looks to be emptied. If I need to buy something online, I fill my bank account a little.

I don't see the need for management, I know in my head how much I have. I tried to set up spreadsheets, apps or other fancy things to keep track of my spendings, but I abandoned all of them in a few days due to lack of motivation.

I wish I had your problem :)

I made an app for myself to track every transaction, but I stopped after realising that I don't really need to. I am quite frugal so I simply don't spend enough that I feel I need to know every little detail.

I might check the total every now and then out of interest. I also don't have any investments or a lot of recurring things.

I used to use GnuCash to track everything, all credit card purchases, mortgage principle and interest...literally everything about my finances. But now I have reduced my footprint to the point where I spend substantially less than I make, so tracking everything like I used to do seems pointless. Using something like mint.com can be a way to get something almost as good as GnuCash with much less effort. But I never felt comfortable giving them all my online banking passwords, so I stayed away from that.

As far as spending goes, I buy just about everything with my Citi Double Cash credit card which pays 2% cash back on all purchases. I have an automatic transfer that pays the balance in full every month, so I never have to worry about late fees or interest payments. Any other bills, deposits, etc that can't be put on the card are set up as automatic deposits/withdrawals, so managing everything takes essentially zero effort. Almost all of this stuff happens via my CapitalOne 360 (formerly ING Direct) high interest savings account. They give me instant transfers between that and my 360 checking account as well as have a feature where overdraft on the checking account gets handled with no fees from the savings account. This means that I am able to keep the vast majority of my cash on hand in a savings account, so I maximize the returns of that money too.

Since my spending habits are now naturally restrained and I'm not concerned about tracking where my money goes what I do now is my own simplified take on a cash flow report. Every month I record in a spreadsheet the balances of all my cash accounts (two checking and one savings account). I also record the sum total of any deposits I make to investment accounts. I don't record the actual value of the investment account because then there would be lots of fluctuation due to the market. All this takes me like 5-10 minutes every month. From these four numbers I can derive a very accurate picture of exactly how much money I am saving every month, and when I subtract this from my actual after-tax paycheck amounts, I know exactly how much I'm spending.

The information I get from this report tells me the only number that really matters for early retirement: your savings rate, as a percentage of your take-home pay. From this you can get a really good idea of how long it will be before you can retire (https://networthify.com/calculator/earlyretirement).

Does anyone fully account for their physical assets and use depreciation methods to follow their value accordingly? I took an accounting module very recently and am about to implement personal balance sheets and income statements for my personal aid. I'm trying to decide what's through enough and not overdoing it.

I use YNAB, the money I make this month will go towards expenses next month. It more or less follows Dave Ramsey's philosophy of "give every dollar a job". This allows us to know how much we have to spent in each category and to make sure that we don't forget to save for insurance, hoa fees, etc.

I work fulltime + have a side business ( freelancing and actually the same as my fulltime job)

I save all my extra money ( most of my expenses are in the weekend), have some recurring income ( in the form of hosting + some subscriptions on ledenboek.be ) and now starting a ecommerce for additional funds in a niche market

I've been using Budget Calendar www.mishell.ca for 6 years and I highly recommend you try it. The calendar interface is intuitive and easy to understand. The android version uses the same file format as the desktop version so you can keep your file synced in dropbox, google drive, etc.

> I am especially interested in hearing from people outside the US

I don't have a credit card. To be fair, nobody here has a credit card. I just spend less than I get, and I try to save something every month. I put my savings on a saving account.

That's all.

I was surprised to hear recently that most non-Americans don't have credit cards. I'm totally against spending money you don't have, but I only use my CC to build my credit rating (and to get those nice reward points :) ).

Also "credit rating" is not a thing...

online banking :-) +bitcoin. It's not that hard, just make more than you spend. Invest in stocks, crypto, real estate, ETFs, index funds. Don't forget to join angelist if you are an accredited investor.

I like this: "make more than you spend."

Most people say it the other way: "spend less than you earn."

But one gives an emphasis on earning more income (more income === more money to save), the other simply limits how much you can spend.

I found that by focusing on earning more, I had to worry less and less about spending less.

Many people find that their spending increases with earnings, and that even if they're earning above average they don't have any savings or pension sorted out.

I agree with this too. Saving/"not-spending" is important, but I still think that earning is more important.

A tip I once read that made sense to me:

- Every raise you get (of predictable income), save 50% of it (so if I get a $10k/yr pay increase, I should increase savings by $5k/yr).

- Every bonus you get (unpredictable income), save 90% of it

My savings and lifestyle would increase together as I begin to earn more, and all it takes is the discipline to follow those two rules.

I have used EveryDollar (everydollar.com) for the past year and it really helps me track spending. They have a plus version that only works with US banks but I have used the free version for a while now.


Those of you who said they use a financial advisor -- where/how did you find a reliable person/firm?

My financial advisor was a friend (he suffered an undiagnosed heart attack a little over a year ago). I trusted him, with skepticism given his profession, but I was never really sure if I was getting the best advice.

- The advice for college financing in colorado is great assuming laws don't change in the next 15 years. You can move money between one account and a college account for a few days before cashing it out.

- The rest of our money is scattered between a number of funds I've never heard of.

I still think the best advice I've ignored is from my brother's FIL: put your money in a vanguard fund and forget about it;

Using the danish overlay banking service www.spiir.dk

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