Money at 30: My Favorite Personal Finance Reviews of 2019
For Thanksgiving, I shared a list of some financial tool “turkeys” I encountered throughout the year. However, the truth is that I happen to enjoy the majority of the apps, books, credit cards, etc. that I get the chance to review. Given this fact — and considering that the year’s end is just over a week away — it seemed only appropriate to spend this Christmas Eve looking at some of my favorite personal finance reviews from 2019.
Work Optional by Tanja Hester
Back in February, I was given the opportunity to read Our Next Life blogger and The Fairer Cents podcaster Tanja Hester’s book Work Optional. What I found was an enjoyable and motivating read that made FIRE (financial independence, retire early) seem far more feasible than anything else I had consumed up to that point. Notably I also appreciated Hester’s slight rebranding of FIRE as “work optional,” as I thought it better explained the allure of financial independence than “early retirement”… although the full name of the book includes the subtitle “Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way” so what do I know?
Funny enough, a few months after reading the book, I got to see Hester deliver a keynote at FinCon 2019. Just like in her book, Hester was funny, informative, and inspirational. Therefore I not only recommend picking up Work Optional but also suggest checking out her other work as well.
As someone who wants to get as hands-on as possible with everything I’m reviewing, I have far too many bank accounts these days. Ironically, in most cases, there’s not even that much to say about these accounts aside from the basics. Yet, in the case of SoFi Money, I found something that seemed special to me.
First, while I was a bit skeptical of SoFi’s hybrid account approach, I realized that I actually really appreciated the combination of a savings and checking account. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I were locking away cash in a savings account to keep it safe from myself but I think the idea of having access to my money while still earning a strong APY is a winner. What’s more, traveling with my SoFi Money debit card has been great as the account reimburses any ATM fees I incur when taking out cash and doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. That latter feature especially came in handy when, for some reason, my credit card accidentally got locked while abroad.
For those reasons and more, SoFi Money has quickly become my most-used bank account outside of my primary Wells Fargo checking.
Just as there’s not a lot of variety when it comes to bank accounts, I sometimes worry about reviewing new personal finance apps as I fear that their functions will just prove repetitive. It was to my surprise then that Emma managed to build a number of unique features into their budgeting tool. From its aesthetically pleasing design and helpful analytics to its fun weekly quizzes (that I still have yet to win), Emma definitely gained my respect — and has continued to impress me as they roll out regular updates.
These days, there are a ton of peer to peer payment apps, from Square Cash to Venmo to PayPal and beyond. Despite that, Mezu has managed to come up with something that does things a bit differently. Using taglines such as “The Undersharing App” and “Just Like Cash. But Smarter,” Mezu puts an emphasis on its private money-sending options.
Among the clever features Mezu offers are the ability to send money just by having the recipient enter a four-digit number and the option to anonymously drop money into a MezuBox. Additionally the app offers a digital debit card that users can generate in seconds and use via mobile wallets such as Apple Pay. I’m also a fan of their Mezu MoneyTime broadcasts that enable viewers to win cash — although these are sadly on hiatus for the moment.
While Mezu might not be the most well-known P2P app, I definitely think it has a lot of potential and serves an important function. For that reason I’m all too happy to give it another shout out.
Broke Millennial Takes on Investing by Erin Lowry
This year I actually made a point to review Erin Lowry’s Broke Millenial book in anticipation of this follow-up hitting store shelves. As a newbie investor, I was really looking forward to gaining more insight into what I should be doing with my money and demystifying things like index funds a bit more. Thankfully Lowry delivered.
Like her previous book, Broke Millennial Takes on Investing also sports a “choose your own adventure” intro that directs readers toward the chapters that will be the most helpful to them. Beyond that ingenious set-up, I also appreciated Lowry’s humor, anecdotes, and knack for explaining complicated concepts in accessible and interesting ways. The result is a book I not only enjoyed reading and learning from but one that I also loved reviewing.
Sure, this post might not have much to do with the holidays, but let me leave you with a few takeaways. First, if you’re still searching for a stocking stuffer (or perhaps a gift for yourself), maybe consider grabbing a copy of Work Optional or Broke Millennial Takes on Investing. Next, if you’re looking to get back on track budget-wise after the shopping season, Emma might be a good option for you. And lastly, if you’re in need of some better ways to stash and transfer your cash in 2020, SoFi Money and Mezu may just appeal to you. With that, Merry Christmas!