The Money Apps, Habits, and Productivity Hacks That Helped Us Find FI


These personal finance apps, tools, products, and habits helped us reach financial independence, and they can do the same for you. If you’re on the road to FIRE or have finally made it to financial freedom, ANY of these tools can help you save, invest, and learn more along the way. But we’re not just sharing the FIRE toolkit we love; we’re also sharing the products we’re ditching, plus what we’re replacing them with for a brighter financial future!

If you’re already feeling lost with your financial New Year’s resolutions, worry not because these personal finance apps, tools, products, and habits are here to help! Mindy and Scott will walk through every tool they love, what they can live without, and what helped them reach financial independence. We’ll talk about budgeting and money management apps, goal-setting processes that’ll help you achieve even your wildest dreams, how to learn faster than ever, and the “life-changing” money products we would never replace.

If you’re in need of beefing up your arsenal of financial independence tools, this is the episode to tune into! Wondering where you can find links to all the products and services mentioned in today’s show? Just scroll down in the show notes! 

Mindy Jensen:
Hello, hello, hello and welcome to the BiggerPockets Money podcast. My name is Mindy Jensen, and with me as always is my lovely co-host, Scott Trench.

Scott Trench:
Thanks, Mindy. Great to be here with the heart of BiggerPockets Money, Mindy Jensen. We’re here to make financial independence less scary, less just for somebody else. To introduce you to every money story, toolkit, or product. Because we truly believe that financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you’re starting.

Mindy Jensen:
Scott, in honor of Valentine’s Day being tomorrow, today we’re going to gush about our favorite financial tools and habits, and you’ll also hear about the ones that we loved while we were on our journey to financial independence.
We wanted to do this episode right now, near Valentine’s Day, because most people’s New Year’s resolutions have kind of fallen by the wayside. And something that we have found to be very helpful is to revisit your goals every month of the year. It gives you the opportunity to figure out what’s working, what has to change, and which tools and strategies you can start using to get back on track.

Scott Trench:
That’s right. So on today’s episode, you’re going to hear all about the financial tools and habits we’ve been loving recently, and the game-changing productivity tools we’ve discovered, as well as some of the financial tools and habits that we’re leaving behind.
Well, let’s jump into it. Mindy, what is the number one money habit that you’ve been falling in love with lately?

Mindy Jensen:
I am trying really hard to learn how to exercise my spending muscle. And this is something that has been a work in progress for about a year now, and Carl and I are really looking at ways that we can enhance our life or make things easier. And it is still a work in progress, but we are making leaps and bounds from a year ago.

Scott Trench:
Yeah, I know that’s been a big theme here. Hey, the mentality of being very frugal and really watching every dollar that goes through people’s accounts is a huge correlate to financial freedom and the ability to amass wealth.
Once you amass wealth though, what’s the point in continuing to do that, right? At certain point, once you have enough, every extra dollar beyond that should be spent for your happiness, to make the world a better place, or go on to the next generation. And I know that that’s been a challenge you struggled with, and were coached by Ramit Sethi on, and it sounds like you’re making a lot of progress there.

Mindy Jensen:
We are. We started off just kind of adding to vacations, and there’s not a ton of stuff that we need to add to our life, although you wouldn’t know that by how much we spent last year on cars. We bought two vehicles last year, including Carl’s Tesla. So I can finally get him to stop talking about when he’s going to buy a Tesla, and now I get to hear all about the Tesla.
Oh, did you know it does this? Did you know it does that? Nope. Didn’t know. Didn’t care.

Scott Trench:
I think 2024 will be the year where I might part ways with my trustee Corolla as well. It’s getting time.

Mindy Jensen:
Are you going to buy a Tesla?

Scott Trench:
We’ll see. I’m going to think about it, and think about what I want to drive there. But yeah, I think it’s time for me to flex that muscle as well, and upgrade a little bit.

Mindy Jensen:
Well, Scott, you deserve it. And more importantly, you can afford it. You have set yourself up to be in a great financial position. I hesitate to say, “Oh, you deserve it, go buy it,” when we also talk about frequently, don’t just buy something because you think you deserve it, you also have to be able to afford it. But you are easily in both places.

Scott Trench:
Maybe in 2025, we’ll flex the spending muscle of moving out of our house hack, which we’ve also been doing for most of the last 10 years.

Mindy Jensen:
I love it. Okay, so Scott, what is a money product that you have been loving lately?

Scott Trench:
I’ve been really loving Monarch. So, I used mint.com for many, many years. And with Mint being sunset, I was one of those people that transitioned over to Monarch, and I think they do a pretty good job so far. I’ve really liked it, it seems intuitive and easy to use.
I kind of like the fact, honestly, that it’s a subscription. I like the fact that, hey, there’s no … It’s just, you pay a hundred bucks and you get the product, and hopefully continuous improvements from that product, and not ads or whatever else is going on with it. So I’ve been liking it, and find it to be pretty powerful and sophisticated.
All right, what else? What’s another habit you’ve been loving lately?

Mindy Jensen:
I’m going to go into travel. We used to optimize our travel based on price, not so much location. So if you’re flying into Chicago, you have the choice of two airports. If you’re flying into New York City, you have the choice of, I don’t know, like nine airports or something, when you take into account all of the surrounding places.
But now when we travel, we know we want to go into this location. We are looking for what’s closest to where we’re going, not so much how much less it is to have to drive three hours in New York City traffic at rush hour.

Scott Trench:
Yeah, kind of related to that flexing the spending muscle it sounds like, is, hey, I’m going to optimize for convenience here, not just for cost. And I think, as always, really important to remember there’s different stages in this journey. Probably not congruent with the grind and the accumulation phase on the journey to five, but once we’re past the point of five, that’s the point of this. Is, let’s spend some of that money to optimize for life, happiness, and convenience.
And I love it, Mindy. Love that bicep getting bigger and bigger.

Mindy Jensen:
It is getting bigger and bigger. Someday they’ll be as big as yours, Scott. Maybe not. Scott, how about you?

Scott Trench:
I have switched banks a number of times over the years, and the last three I think I’ve been with Ally and really enjoying it. I think that I love the 24/7 support. It’s pretty easy. Not a sponsor of today’s show or any BiggerPockets materials as far as I’m aware, but I just like them and I feel like they do a good job.
There’s always discussion in the BiggerPockets Money Facebook group about who’s got the highest yield on savings, and I think that Ally’s is like 4.35% or something like that. And there are places where you can get up to 5.3%. So there are better rates out there, but I’ve just liked the ease of use and the relatively high rates throughout over the last couple of years, where I’ve never been way different from what you can get if you’re really maximizing for that yield. So really enjoy them and the ease of use. So, highly recommend them personally.

Mindy Jensen:
And Ally Bank has been tied to the conversation with consistently high yields over the course of, even when high yields meant like 0.1%, they were still paying among the highest.
And you cannot discount the fact that they have 24/7 customer service. Because, frankly, when you need customer service most is usually when the banks are closed.

Scott Trench:
Yeah. And if I was in some sort of business that required constant interaction with the bank, they don’t have branches, so it’s not possible for that type of purpose. But for my personal checking and savings account, it’s been phenomenal.

Mindy Jensen:
Next is a break. After we’re back, we’ll go into all the productivity habits we are implementing this year.

Scott Trench:
And we’re back. Before the break, we revealed all the financial products and habits that we’ve been loving. And now we’ll be gushing about all the productivity products that have been a game changer.

Mindy Jensen:
Anything else, Scott, that you’re just in love with? Sorry, I’ve got to use the word love all the time because it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

Scott Trench:
Yeah, moving into kind of productivity tools. And I’ve said this many times in the podcast here, I am really in love with the vision and goal-setting process that my wife and I have used for the duration of our marriage, and I’ve used for a long time previous to that. But it’s a very simple process, it does not require any money to be spent. There is no product associated with it, although actually there is a product, I’ll mention it later.
But basically it’s a document, a piece of paper. And we say, we start off the conversation and say, “What are some things we’re grateful for since the last time we updated our vision?”
Like, oh, we’re grateful for the new set of words from our little baby, the funny thing our cat did, this piece of progress in our careers, this thing about our house that we like, this recent trip that we went on. And it just grounds the conversation in happiness of what you have.
Then it’s kind of like, hey, in five years from now, what do we want our lives to look like? We want to wake up and do this, we want to be vacationing here, we want our day-to-day to be like this, we want our careers to look like this, and that sets the context. Because we’re constantly iterating on it every quarter, there’s always little changes that are being made, but it keeps an alignment on exactly where you’re going. And then you can set goals on a quarterly or annual basis from there, which we do.
And then we have a Sunday little ritual, where we translate those quarterly goals into weekly things that we’re going to do to move forward. For my wife, it’s often writing the next few thousand words for a book that she’s working on. And for me it’s often a combination of BiggerPockets things. We also, of course, prioritize our family life and making sure that we’re proactive about curating great experiences.
So that is super powerful. I don’t know about you guys listening, but the week can get away from me and sometimes does, but I’m never off track for more than a week. Because I always reground it on Sunday night, and get realigned with most important things.
And also, there’s so many things related to your goals that have to do with just sending an email. Just, I got to reach out to this person and kick off this process. And this ritual, I can’t overemphasize the importance of having this ritual and just being like, oh, it’s Sunday night. I’m going to schedule these three emails for tomorrow morning and kick off these processes, and I’m good to go.
So, in love with that process. Feel like it’s so, so powerful. Highly encourage it for folks. So Mindy, how about you? What have you been loving lately from a productivity standpoint?

Mindy Jensen:
Okay, this one you have to bear with me, because it doesn’t sound like a productivity tip in the beginning. But I do not fly on a flight before 10:00 AM, and I don’t land after 7:00 PM.
And the reason is, I can’t sleep the night before a flight if I have to set an alarm. I am up well in advance of any flight that has to take off at 10:00 AM. But if I have to set an alarm, I don’t sleep the entire night, which wrecks my whole day of travel, which kind of wrecks my whole vacation.
On the same token, if I land late, I get home super late, which wrecks my whole night of sleep then, too. So I’ve got multiple days that I’m trying to catch up on my sleep, which will really destroy your productivity. The reason this is a money hack and a productivity hack is that the cheapest flights are super early or super late.
So I have decided, again in conjunction with the exercising my spending muscle, I’m not flying out early, and I’m not landing late, just to save a couple of bucks. Because it wrecks my week.

Scott Trench:
I completely agree. The loss of a day or two, or the ability to make great decisions for a day or two from red eyes, can often not be worth it. And I only fly red-eyes when there’s really no other reasonable option, or if I have a whole weekend to recover with it. But then my weekend’s shot, so I really don’t like to do that either.
But yeah, completely agree.

Mindy Jensen:
Scott, any productivity tools that you are using?

Scott Trench:
Yeah. I would say, aside from my goal-setting stuff, I’m really big into audio content consumption. So I obviously use Spotify and Apple Podcasts to listen to a lot of podcasts. I use Audible. And I’ve recently, embarrassingly because I’ve run a money podcast with you here, rediscovered the public library.
The public library here in Jefferson County, Colorado at least, has basically Audible for free through a variety of apps. You get a library card, you go in there, it’s super easy. And you can borrow almost any ebook or almost any audiobook for free from the library. So I’ve been using that a lot lately.
One specific hack I have, not hack but tip I have is, I will occasionally, if there’s an audiobook that or a subject that I feel like I really need to master quickly, or at least get a grounding in quickly, I will get a Audible book and the Kindle version. And the reason I’ll do this, and it might be 40 bucks between those two things and it sounds like a lot, but I can listen to the book at two, or two-and-a-half, or sometimes even three-times speed depending on the narrator and follow along with the Kindle.
And that allows me to, very rapidly in a matter of hours, absorb an entire book and retain it pretty well on a new subject. So that’s a little tip that I’ll use sometimes. It’s not super cost-efficient, but if you really need to master a new subject quickly, that can be powerful. And you’re able to give your a hundred-percent attention to the task.

Mindy Jensen:
Scott, do you have a random, life-changing product that you love?

Scott Trench:
There’s a self-help guru named Darren Hardy who has written a little journal called Living Your Best Year Ever. And it’s got a lot of this kind of self-help stuff, like you sign a pledge to yourself that you’re going to keep your goals for the next year, and you do all that. I’ve been doing this thing for 10 years in a row now, and I attribute a lot of my organization around the goal setting-stuff to this product.
It’s like a $40 journal and it has a weekly planner. Just, forces of function around, what are the top three goals, what are you going to do related to those goals? How are you going to handle the whirlwind, he calls it the vortex, of things that are going to come up in the week? Like, it’s tax season, got to get the taxes done. It’s not one of my top goals, but got to get it done, and then here are the habits that we want to form in this week.
Super simple structure. And I must have filled out this thing 90% of the weeks over the last 10 years straight. Not every week, but the vast majority of them. And I feel like that’s such a powerful thing there. You can get that book, Living Your Best Year Ever. Again, not a financial affiliate of BiggerPockets.
I actually email Darren Hardy once a year and tell him how much the book helps. One of these years, he’ll respond to me. If you’re listening, let me know. But that’s a good product. There are free journals that you can download. There’s stuff you can get at the supermarket that has similar products, or on Amazon. But go get one of those things, and just start the process at least weekly tracking that. It’s so powerful, and it’s not a big cost.

Mindy Jensen:
That’s awesome, Scott. And 90% of every week over the last 10 years, that’s very impressive.

Scott Trench:
I think that’s probably right. It’s probably in that ballpark. There’s definitely been a couple-month stretches here and there where I’ve skipped it or gotten away from it, but I always come back to it because it’s so powerful. Mindy, what’s your random life-changing product you love?

Mindy Jensen:
I love Google Keep. It’s a note-taking app that is on my phone, but it also saves to the cloud. And then when I get to my computer, I can see it on my computer as well. So every note that I take as I’m walking around the track at the gym, or as I’m sitting at a stoplight, ooh, I have to remember to do this. I then have it on my computer as well.
I don’t have great eyesight, so it’s difficult for me to see things on my phone, which makes it hard for me to do things on my phone. But I can talk to text and then I can see it on my computer screen, and it is absolutely fantastic ways to remind myself of all sorts of things. Spending ideas, trips, literally any random thought I have that I want to remember. And it’s free, which is my favorite cost of all.

Scott Trench:
Love it. Yeah, I need to do better a job at that. I still take all of my notes in pen and paper, and there are huge problems associated with that. Or at least all of my goal-setting notes in pen and paper. I wish I could adapt the mindset of translating that goal setting stuff that I did into something like this. I just, It’s a challenge for me to transpose it with the habit formed over all this time.

Mindy Jensen:
Well, If you know where your things are, then being able to write them down is great. But sometimes you live in a house where there are other people, and they move your things, and then they can never find them. And sometimes it’s just easier to know where your phone is. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience, everybody in the Jensen family.
Stay with us. After the break, we’ll reveal the single most important financial tool that helped us get to financial independence.
Okay Scott, now is time to talk about the kind of sad aspect of Valentine’s Day. Sometimes you have to break up. Is there any productivity tool, money product, or habit that you’re breaking up with?

Scott Trench:
Well, I broke up with Mint.

Mindy Jensen:
They broke up with you.

Scott Trench:
Yeah, they broke up with me. That’s right, it wasn’t me.

Mindy Jensen:
And everybody. It’s not you, it’s them.

Scott Trench:
Yeah, yeah, whatever it was. Yeah. So yeah, Mint’s out, Monarch’s in, as I mentioned earlier.
Another one I’m going to change over is Robinhood. I’ve found Robinhood easy to use and all those kinds of things. Nothing against Robinhood, I just feel like Schwab is a little bit more powerful. And again, I always like to say this, no financial affiliation or anything like that with Robinhood or Schwab here.
But I just think that the research analytics and the tenure of Schwab makes me feel just a little bit more secure and confident as I begin the next couple of years of investing. So I’m not liquidating my Robinhood account, I’m just not contributing more to it. I’m going to put that all in Schwab going forward. How about you?

Mindy Jensen:
Well, Scott, like Ross and Rachel, I am on a break with my customized spending tracker. Did you get that joke? Do you even know who Ross and Rachel are?

Scott Trench:
Yes, I know Friends, Mindy. Sure.

Mindy Jensen:
My customized spending tracker helped me in the beginning, 10 years ago, 12 years ago, recognize where my spending holes were. Or my spending black holes were. And now I don’t need it anymore. So I am taking a bit of a break, while still keeping an overall eye to make sure I don’t go from $60,000 a year spend to $600,000 a year. But we all know that’s not going to actually happen.
But I am not going to be able to continue to exercise my spending muscle if I’m constantly obsessing over how much money I have spent every month. And now that I am in the financial position that I do not have to constantly obsess over how much I’m spending, I’m taking a break.

Scott Trench:
Another breakup I’m going to have this year, Mindy, is multifamily syndications and funds. I am about to write, may be released by the time this episode comes out, a 5,000 word thesis on why I think multifamily is going to crash even more in 2024.
And while, yes, that is market timing, which you shouldn’t do and I shouldn’t do, I just can’t help myself. And I want to stay out of that. I’m getting my butt kicked on a syndication. Not the fault of the syndicator in my view, I knew the risks just going in. I don’t think they operated poorly, I just think it’s an interest rate issue. But I think that there’s going to be a lot more of that on the horizon in 2024 with all the supply coming online.
So learning my lesson from getting my butt kicked, watch and see how this next year goes. But I do think there’ll be opportunity on the horizon in 2025 and 2026 as that pressure continues to mount.

Mindy Jensen:
And I encourage everybody who is invested in syndications to listen to episode 456 with Jay Scott, where we talked about some of the things that can go wrong in a syndication, and some of the flags to look for, the leading indicators that could signal a potential problem with your syndication.
I also had some syndications that didn’t perform as well as they should have. And I do think that it’s a lot to do with the meteoric rise of interest rates. I don’t know that there has ever been an interest rate hike so fast and so high. Has there, in the history of American finance?

Scott Trench:
As a percentage? Probably no. If anything comes close, it’s probably that big rise in the seventies and eighties where interest rates really went up. Maybe they went up more in a condensed period of time there, but not as a percentage. But going from zero to one is a huge change, right?

Mindy Jensen:
Yes.

Scott Trench:
So going from zero to four, zero to five-and-a-half, five-and-a-quarter, is really what the federal funds rate has gone to essentially in the last two years. And that’s a big change. And one item on there, we’re starting to stray a little bit off-topic on that is, the yield curve is inverted. So the tenure is at four, and it’s usually 150 basis points above the federal funds rate.
Right now the federal funds rate’s at 5.3. So for the tenure not to not rise, the federal fund rate has to go to about 2.6%. That’s nine or 10 rate cuts from the Fed, which would be historic.

Mindy Jensen:
Yeah.

Scott Trench:
And I don’t think that’s going to happen, so I think interest rates are going to stay high the next couple of years. And I might be alone in that one, the market seems to disagree. But it’s really hard for me to envision a reality where the Fed reduces rates nine or 10 times in a hurry over the next couple of years. That’s basically admitting that they were complete idiots over the last couple of years. And while a lot of people think they are, I don’t.

Mindy Jensen:
Okay. Scott, let’s get a little off-topic, off financial topics. Are there any non-financial products that you will no longer be spending money on?

Scott Trench:
Yeah. I am a big Eagles fan, and their catastrophic collapse in the back-half of the year meant that I no longer needed my YouTube TV and NFL Sunday ticket subscription, which I have splurged on the last two years. So yeah, I’m canceling that, and I have no access to streaming television right now other than Netflix and Max. So yeah, whatever’s on regular TV I can’t watch right now.

Mindy Jensen:
Well Scott, I’m going to say that if you want to continue that streak, you can just become a Bears fan, and then you’ll always be disappointed in the second half of the season.
Didn’t your Eagles go seven and O?

Scott Trench:
The Eagles had a phenomenal start to the season, and were at one point ranked number one in the power rankings. And then just totally collapsed, back-half of the year.

Mindy Jensen:
Totally collapsed. Well, I’m sorry for their losses, Scott. And also, welcome to the club.

Scott Trench:
Well, aside from breaking up with the Bears, are there any other non-financial products that you’re not going to spend any money on?

Mindy Jensen:
In the same vein as you Scott, I just canceled a bunch of streaming services that I had signed up for to watch specific shows. And then when I was done with the show, I didn’t cancel the service. So I’m looking right at you, Paramount, for Inkmaster. And Peacock for one season of Suits. Why couldn’t that last season be on Netflix?
So anyway, I have canceled those. And I hope that this is a reminder to anybody listening that if they have unwatched streaming systems because they were just going to watch that one show, cancel it. Just put this episode on pause, and go up to your TV or your computer, and cancel that subscription right now.

Scott Trench:
Mindy, what was a tool that was indispensable to you on your journey to financial independence

Mindy Jensen:
For people who are starting their journey, I think it is so important to track your spending and track your net worth, everything in your financial tool belt. And the product that we used when we were starting out is called, it’s now called Empower Personal Wealth, but back then it was called Personal Capital.
And it was, you load up all of your accounts into this system, and you can then track all of the different sources of income, all the different sources of investments that you have. If you just have one, like a normal person, it might be easy for you to just check Fidelity every day. But if you’re crazy like we are, and have them all over the place, having a company like Personal Capital or Empower Personal Wealth will help you keep track of them when they’re in multiple locations.

Scott Trench:
And just to echo that, what these products do, Mint, Personal Capital, Monarch, there are other platforms as well, is if they’re good at it, they’ll do two things for you.
One is create what we call here at BiggerPockets a player’s scorecard, right? You can take a look at it and in five seconds tell if you’re winning, or losing, or making progress. And the other is what we call a coach’s scorecard, which has tons of additional data; your entire budget, every expense, and all these other things for you to mine and track and look at all these different trends.
And I think that these products tend to do a good job in both of those areas, of giving you that snapshot so you can just check and see if you’re winning. But also the ability to go into that more granular detail to analyze trends and where your big expenses are, and immediately find problem areas or opportunities.

Mindy Jensen:
Scott, this was super, super fun. I really enjoyed hearing about your financial tools, and I do need to start journaling. I’m going to get a copy of that Darren Hardy book. Awesome. Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?

Scott Trench:
Valentine’s Day, actually the 15th, we will be traveling to Cancun for a little vacation with some family. So, yeah. I haven’t been anywhere sunny in a long time, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Mindy Jensen:
Well, that’s awesome. Scott, I hope you have a great time.

Scott Trench:
Oh, and we’re actually having a host retreat, and many of the podcast hosts from Rookie, from Real Estate, Dave Meyer from On The Market, a couple of the On The Market hosts, we’ll, actually I’ll be in town and we’ll go skiing on Valentine’s Day. So skiing and then straight to vacation. Work and play. Or is it all play? I don’t know. Yeah, it’ll be a good week.

Mindy Jensen:
Well, that sounds awesome. I’m going to go snowboarding with you guys.

Scott Trench:
All right. Yeah.

Mindy Jensen:
All right, Scott. Well, let’s go hit the slopes. That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He, of course, is the Scott Trench. And I am Mindy Jensen saying goodbye, Cherry Pie.

Scott Trench:
If you enjoyed today’s episode, please give us a five-star review on Spotify or Apple. And if you’re looking for even more money content, feel free to visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/biggerpocketsmoney.

Mindy Jensen:
BiggerPockets Money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kaylin Bennett, editing by Exodus Media, Copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

 

 

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.


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