It’s tax season, yet again, and as refund checks are coming in (or payments are being made to the IRS) it’s a good time of year to consider what you’re doing with your finances. Like many people, I have some debt I’ve been carrying around and although I always have the best of intentions, it seems to creep up on me and adds unnecessary stress to my already busy life. We all have our own experiences with debt, and we need to take charge and get rid of it.

This year I’m looking for ways to improve my life, and one big area that needs my attention is money management. I’m not talking about your dad’s old spreadsheet budget on Excel, either. There are some fantastic tools available to motivate you and help you better manage your financial life. Here are a few I’ve been exploring lately.

Four Tools For Motivating Yourself and Managing Your Money

1. Personal Finance Podcasts I have recently gotten really into Podcasts and some of my favorites are on personal finance. My absolute favorite (that I now listen to on the way to and from work everyday on my commute) is called Listen Money Matters. It’s two guys, drinking beers (and sometimes coffee) and talking about finance like real people, not like holier than thou finance snobs that makes you feel like a failure. These guys are real people telling it like it is about finances. Plus they’ve both been in tight financial situations in the past and speak from experience when they talk about getting your finances in order. Another great one, You Need a Budget (YNAB), will help you with the ins and outs of that fun word we all love, (insert sarcasm here) budget. They also have software and an app tool on their website. Both are great motivators for getting off your tush and moving forward with intention.

2. Mint Mint is pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. It’s a fantastic (and free) way to get an overall picture of your financial life. You just plug in all your account information and it automatically populates your net worth down to every last coffee you bought at Starbucks. You can even set up budgets for the things in your life on areas where you’d like to spend less. They also have a comprehensive smartphone app so you can also keep track of your finances on the go. The best thing about Mint (other than it’s free) is that you don’t have to spend hours compiling your financial information. Mint just does it for you. Yay!

3. Ready for Zero If you’re in credit card debt like most of America, this is the another great, free financial planning site where you can plug in all of your debt (credit card debt, loans, student loans, and otherwise) and the site sets up a plan for you to pay off the debt in a shorter amount of time. They can also connect you with tools for debt consolidation if you’d like to pay off your debt faster, and at a lower interest rate, which will save you boatloads of money in the process.

4. Sell Things You Don’t Need This has been a big one for me lately as I’ve been unloading everything in my life that I’m not actively using or in love with. This goes for clothing, handbags, accessories, furniture, tech, etc. Lately I’ve been trying to wear all those shoes I never wear to decide if I really want to keep them. When around the apartment I’ve been listening to my vast CD collection and if I don’t love the album I add it to the sell pile. At this point nothing is off limits. It’s beyond spring cleaning (although it’s nice to make more space and lighten my load), it’s more about looking for hidden cash I didn’t realize I had collecting dust in my life. (I’m planning another post just about this, with ideas on where to sell the many things in your life that you don’t need.)

5. Make a Plan for That Refund Check If you have debt, the obvious choice is to put that extra money right toward erasing this unneeded stress in your life. And let’s talk about the idea of it being “extra money”. It’s really money you overpaid on your taxes, so although it’s fun to get a refund, you may want to explore your options for your W-2 and make sure you’re withholding the right amount. If debt is not a worry for you, try using the money to begin investing in stocks. I’ve learned that stocks are really how the wealthy become wealthy, and once you get over the risk you can understand the rewards. Betterment is a fantastic resource for getting into the market in a simple way, all online, and in the privacy of your own home. I haven’t tried it yet, but once I pay down some debt, this is the next place I plan to go to make my money grow. (The guys from Listen Money Matters LOVE this tool for building and managing your portfolio!)

Reflections on Personal Finance

Of all of the things we discuss with friends and family, it seems finances don’t often come up. All too often, many of us hide the truth about our finances from those closest to us and envy those who seem to have it all figured out. Sometimes the world seems like it’s split down the middle, between the people who carry debt, and those who have it all figured out. People just don’t discuss this important topic and share how they make it all work.

I’m a busy school teacher with a salary to match and have all too often thought (even subconsciously) that I’d always be in debt, and it was just a part of life. This is absolutely treacherous thinking and something we have all got to put a stop to. That’s really the first step. With massive student loans and some credit card debt, I have worried that it would be too hard to pay off, especially without a big salary to back it up. I’m learning that (shockingly enough) it’s really not that hard. I just need to become more aware of where my money’s going, make goals, and stay motivated by keeping myself informed. Since I don’t usually talk about finances with anyone in my life (other than my mama on occasion), podcasts have become a great way to “discuss” money in a safe way by listening to the insights of others. Beyond that though, we can become resources for each other if we learn to open up a little more about money.

I’d love to know how you feel about this topic as well as your tips and tricks with managing your finances. Do you use any of the tools or tips listed above, and if so, how successful are you? Do you use any other tools or motivators? I’d love to hear about them!