We all know that Mr. Money Mustache is fairly good at Not Buying Unnecessary Crap. But what about necessary things, not to mention services and investment options? Many people ask me in emails which companies I like, so I thought it would be useful to put them all into one page which I can update as needed.
On this page, I list the stores and services that I actually DO use, just in case you want to check them out for yourself. I try to put some serious research into each of my choices as a consumer, but that still doesn’t mean they are automatically the best ones. If you see any areas where I could improve, let me know in the comments and I’ll look into it and possibly make the switch. If it’s a win, I’ll change my status to reflect the upgrade.
Some of these companies happen to offer commissions for online referrals. Other ones don’t. This doesn’t affect my choice, but where available, I made point of using the right type of link so that this blog will get a credit if you end up becoming a customer. It’s a nice and fully optional way to help out this blog if you choose to do so.
Banking: Capital One 360
Capital One 360 is my primary bank account. They offer no-fee checking and savings accounts that also pay interest – and they consistently rank close to #1 in the interest rates they pay. They are also highly competitive mortgage originators. My favorite feature, however, is the ability to link the Capital One 360 checking account to three other bank accounts so you can shuffle your money around electronically at no cost. They will give you $50 just for opening an account if you use the link on the left, which sounds like a win/win to me.
Related Article: Guest Posting – Find a New Bank!
Getting Started / Financial Tracking: Personal Capital, Mint
Personal Capital is a financial tracking tool that I started using in mid-2013. It is similar to Mint, and it is also free to use. But it has a greater focus on investment tracking and investment advice, and in fact the software sort of functions as an investment teacher.
If you link in more than $100k of investable accounts, the company will ask if you want them to hire them as a fee-based financial planner. All of it is optional, and you can just keep using the software for free if you prefer. but I found it interesting to go through the first free session on the phone with an adviser to learn more about what these wealth management companies actually do.
Related Article: Personal Capital: the Investor’s Version of Mint?
The best thing about Mint is that it has a relatively kickass and intuitive interface that makes your financial tracking simple. The second best thing is that it is FREE. If you’re not sure where to start with getting your finances organized, Mint will help you see your financial picture with fancy graphs, pie charts and reminders.
Related Article: Watching your ‘Stash… with Mint
Investing: Vanguard, Lending Club, Sharebuilder
To me, Vanguard is THE one-stop shop for index funds of all types. They have the lowest expense ratio and the most respect for their customers. In fact, the company is legally structured as an investor-owned entity, meaning its responsibility is to YOU as opposed to an outside group of shareholders. Read around all you like – the smartest investors will generally recommend Vanguard funds.
Regular readers will know that I’ve recently started a “Lending Club Experiment”. So far, I’m pleased with the results and will continue to update the series.
Related Article: The Lending Club Experiment
For occasional purchases of individual stocks or ETFs, I use the “Sharebuilder” subsidiary of Capital One (described above). They have low trading costs and are currently running a $100 incentive for opening a new account. This links very nicely to your existing Capital One accounts, another reason I like using it.
Local Banking: Credit Union
Since Capital One is an online-only bank account, they usually want you to have a standard checking account before opening the 360 Online Checking account. I meet this need using my local credit union. They are a great down-to-earth place to do the more unusual banking transactions like getting a cashier’s check printed when you are buying a car or house, notarizing papers for any reason, or getting a car loan (ha ha, just kidding – MMM readers never borrow money for cars or other depreciating consumer goods!)
Credit Card: Travelocity American Express (VIP version), Chase Amazon Card, Chase Sapphire Card
The Travelocity AMEX card gives me 2% back on all purchases, and 10% back on travel. The only hitch is that you must cash in the rebate towards more travel booked on travelocity, typically in $400 chunks. So I’ll accumulate points until there are at least $400 worth (20,000 points), then the next time I am booking a trip that costs more than $400 combined (any combination of airfare, hotel, rental car), I can apply a $400 discount to that trip. Not a great card for non-travelers, of course, but for the MMM family it has saved quite a few thousand over the years. It has a $29 annual fee.
We also got the Chase Amazon Visa Card, since some vendors don’t accept AMEX. Points are automatically added to your Amazon account, so you can use these credits when making purchases.
There are also an ever-growing number of credit cards that offer large sign-up bonuses and cash-back percentages on various categories of stuff – even without annual fees. Here is a list of referral links for other potentially good cards. It’s on a separate page to avoid cluttering up this main page: List of Rewards Credit Cards
The Chase Ink Business Card and Chase Sapphire Card were two cards I applied for when I noticed they were offering large sign up bonuses.
Related Article: Gaming the System with Rewards Credit Cards
Car Insurance: Geico
After many years with State Farm Insurance, I finally got around to getting some Geico quotes, and I’m glad I did. They cut my car insurance costs by about 30%, and now the combination of older cars, no collision coverage, and older drivers means my insurance is laughably cheap (under $30/month for two drivers on two cars!).
House Insurance: ASI
Geico also has affiliate companies that do house insurance. One of these is called American Strategic Insurance (ASI), and they won the bidding war for my own house insurance needs by a long shot. I currently have a policy on a roughly $400k property where I have set the rebuild coverage to $240,000 (since you don’t need to replace things like land, sewer pipes, and foundations in the event of even the biggest fire). With a 5k deductible, this insurance is only $352/year.
To get the best deal on house insurance, get yourself a Geico car policy first, then call customer service and have them do a big search for you of the Geico affiliate companies to find the best house insurance price for you – and tell them to add the multi-policy discount.
Health Insurance: ehealthinsurance.com
Related Article: Our New $237/month Health Insurance Plan
Cell Phone Service: AirVoice, Republic Wireless, Ting, or other Mobile Network Virtual Operators
In the olden days, The Mrs. and I shared an AT&T family plan where she got the primary line as a business expense and I tagged along for $10(voice)+$15(data).
However, in October 2012 we took a dramatic jump for the better, and brought our iPhones over to some sweet $10/month prepaid plans with Airvoice (see article).
Update 1: I have switched to Republic Wireless (see article: Republic Wireless: $19 for an Unlimited-Everything Smartphone Plan?!) Mrs. MM is still enjoying her Airvoice plan.
Update 2: As a way of checking out a Republic Wireless competitor, I am currently running an ultra-fancy Samsung Galaxy S4 on Ting!
Straight Talk is another service many readers mentioned using. They offer an “All You Need Plan“: $30 a month – 1000 minutes, 1000 text or multimedia messages, and 30 MB of data transfer. They also offer an “Unlimited Plan“: $45 a month – Unlimited Minutes, Messages and Data Nationwide anytime (although some say it’s not really unlimited, so look into it if your data usage is really high).
Others worth checking out: Platinum Tel (T-Mobile GSM), H2O Wireless (AT&T GSM), Ting (Sprint), Page Plus (Verizon CDMA), Virgin Mobile (Sprint), Republic Wireless (Sprint).
See I.P. Daley’s Cellphone Superguide in the Forum for more information and discussion
Another useful hack for cell phone service (depending on where you live) is to get a Sprint 4G unlimited data plan, with a good smartphone that can provide no-cost tethering. Then when you are home, your phone becomes a hotspot to which all of your computers automatically connect over wi-fi and share its fast internet access. The monthly bill for the Sprint service would be high, but you make up for it by having no separate internet access bill to pay. (And of course, you already dropped your land line and cable TV service, right?).
Blogging – Web Hosting: Bluehost
Bluehost has been good to us – Until March 2013 they hosted a rather busy blog (it reached 2.3 million pageviews per month) using the “Pro Plan” at $25/month. Normal hosting plans are only about $7/month. There are no limits on space or traffic, and the speed is excellent (during an FTP test, I easily downloaded from the account at 16Mbits/sec even while the blog was running in the background, and even that was probably limited by my cable internet connection rather than Bluehost. They have automatic installs of wordpress and all kinds of other software (such as the forum software we use) all built in, so it takes less than five minutes to set up a relatively fancy blog.
Nowadays we run on a more exotic nginex server along with a content distribution network, but for under-one-million websites, Bluehost is still a great choice.
Related articles: How to Start a Blog
Blogging – The Guy to Hire when you Need Some Help: Kevin Worthington
The technical aspects of this blog are now managed by a freelance system administrator and WordPress expert named Kevin Worthington. He stepped up to help during the March 2013 overload crisis when this blog finally proved it was too big to run on a normal web hosting service. Since then, his optimizations and management of the new much-more-powerful server have had us running with far greater capacity than ever (the site did not break a sweat even while spending the day at the top of Yahoo.com and 4 million pageviews per month would be boring to this server)
If you are looking to start, maintain, or grow a blog or other technical enterprise, and need more technical skill on your side, this guy gets my ultimate recommendation. And he’s still looking for more clients. Get in touch with him through the contact form on his site: http://kevinworthington.com/
Blogging – WordPress Themes: Thesis, WooThemes, Elegant Themes
Bloggers are always raving about Thesis Theme, so Mrs. MM decided to check it out. She’s currently doing some hardcore Thesis learning (see the Tutorials she is using) and is hoping to get the MMM site running on Thesis in the near future. Thesis offers a 30-day money back guarantee, so it’s worth checking out if you’re interested. It is a very different type of theme though and does require some upfront learning, but Mrs. MM seems to be enjoying it.
Education: The Future of Education
Treehouse: Treehouse is a company that creates high-efficiency learning courses in high-demand subjects. And it is all about breaking up the old notion that education should be expensive, exclusive, and formal, and replacing it with the idea that the Internet has made information and communication virtually free. And it is information and communication with other people, rather than lifelong research tenures and ivy-covered stone blocks, that are the foundation of allowing people to learn things and produce value. (see article)
Coursera: actual courses from various universities, made available mostly free
Khan Academy: a smart and personable guy just started making some YouTube tutorial videos to teach his family and friends, and it took off, eventually getting the attention and backing of Bill Gates. Nowadays they’ve got a video library with over 3900 videos in various topics and over 225 million lessons delivered.
EDX (a collaboration between Harvard and MIT): Big-name courses, made available for free – with options to pay a discounted fee to receive actual course credits.
creativeLIVE: A selection of neat-sounding courses in the Artsy arena (photography, business, design, photoshop, video&film). To complete the circle of this new online world, you’ll find Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi on there as instructors, teaching their stuff even as they continue to run their own businesses based on the idea of learning stuff online.
Duolingo: Mrs. Money Mustache has been learning Spanish (and brushing up on her French) using Duolingo. It’s free language education for the world. They currently offer free (and amazingly useful) courses in Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese, and Italian.
Scratch: Jr. Money Mustache and Mrs. MM enjoy creating projects in Scratch. It is a free programming language for kids and a really fun way to learn to create your own interactive story and games. Jr. MM give it a thumbs up!
The Library: The library is a great place to find a lot of great free learning materials that don’t just include books. Our local library offers free online courses. Find out what your library offers.
See Related Article: Interview with a CEO: Ridiculous Student Loans vs. The Future of Education
Mrs. M and I actually enjoy doing taxes and accounting work, and I’ve even read quite a few books on tax strategies for small business. So we’re a bit weird. But anyway, this means we always handle our own business, personal, and rental house taxes, and for the past ten years or so I’ve been using Turbotax to do it. It works well.
If you’re just a straight-up employee, you should definitely be doing your own taxes, since it is dead simple these days. The Turbotax link at left will even let you do them online for free. They usually try to sell you a state edition at the end of the process, which I skip over since my state has its own state tax filing web site that is also free.
Books: The Library, BetterWorldBooks
The Library takes care of almost all my reading needs. Sometimes I read books electronically – on a laptop or smartphone. In the very rare case that I actually want to own a paper copy of a book, I’ll look for a used one at BetterWorldBooks.com – 8 Million Used Books sold to fund literacy worldwide. Free Carbon Neutral Shipping Worldwide.
I like to get the expensive staples like olive oil, nuts, cheese and coffee at Costco once per quarter, which saves our family about $1000/year on groceries according to this article. For the smaller weekly runs, I’ve grown to really like the Kroger grocery chain (represented in my area by Denver-based King Sooper’s). It is much better than Safeway in many ways, especially organic food.
Related Article: Is a Costco Membership Worth the Cost?
Bikes and bike parts: Bike Nashbar
My last two bikes, as well as my last 8 years worth of various parts like tubes, tires, and lights, have been from Nashbar.com. This store is great. While I still recommend checking Craigslist whenever you need to buy a bike, if the scene in your area looks bleak you should feel good about buying a new bike somewhere like this, because the prices are great during the sales. You can often get a sweet city commuter bike for $300-$400 that will provide over 10 years of hardcore service with minimal maintenance.
Babies and Kids – Cloth Diapers: Diaper Junction
If you have a youngster who is still in diapers, we cannot recommend cloth diapers enough!! As it turns out, nowadays they are just as easy to use as disposable diapers. The only difference is that you save about $1000 per child and prevent an amazing amount of pollution by using cloth. This web site allows you try a 30 day cloth diaper test drive, which sounds pretty good to us. Also try craigslist to find used cloth diapers and make sure to sell yours when you’re done. We used the brand “Fuzzi Bunz”, which worked very well.
Related articles: What do Newborn Babies Really Need?
Outdoor equipment (clothing/camping/shoes): REI Outlet
REI and its clearout sub-page Rei-outlet.com has fancy mountaineer-grade outdoor stuff that you’d never find at Target or Walmart, and during the sales, the prices are very reasonable. Since you’ll be riding your bike and walking outside year-round, you will probably appreciate higher-quality outdoor clothing. The best part for me is, this stuff doesn’t cost any more over the long run since it lasts 10 or more years compared to the 1-2 years I get from department store stuff.
Lower-tech tools: Harbor Freight
Harbor Freight Tools (see article) sometimes takes criticism from doubters, because the quality of certain things (especially the larger power tools) can be hit-and miss. However, I’ve been getting my simpler stuff like hammers, wrenches, holesaw kits, and even selected powered items there (my roofing and flooring nailers, plus a belt sander) for years, and it has been a huge boon to my construction business. Many things are less than half the price of Home Depot, at equal quality. Definitely worthwhile, and if you have any questions about particular items, let me know or ask the DIY section of the MMM forum.
Primary Woodworking Tools: Home Depot
Home Depot (in particular the Ridgid brand, which is only available at HD) is where I tend to get these things. DeWalt is my second choice for major tools.
Electronic fun things and Business Equipment (computers, GPS navigator, etc.): NewEgg
LED light bulbs: LEDWaves:
This is a cool US-based manufacturer with great service and reasonable prices on some very kickass energy-efficient light bulbs. They sent me a couple of their bulbs to test and they won my little comparison, and since then I have gone on to use them for other projects where light quality is important.
Home Business – Maxemail (Fax <-> Email service)
When dealing with hopelessly antiquated vendors like banks and real estate companies, Mrs. MM and myself occasionally need to resort to old fashioned technologies such as faxing. Instead of wasting paper and space (as well as a land-based telephone line!) on a fax machine, I recommend checking out Maxemail. Your faxes show up as e-mails with a nice PDF attachment, so you can receive them from wherever you happen to be. Sending faxes is easy via email too – just scan to PDF and email to a special address.
Note – we were using “eFax” for years, but a reader just recommended this Maxemail service, which has drastically better pricing ($24 to $84 per year, vs. $200+ per year for efax). The wisdom of the MMM readers strikes again!
Everything Else: Amazon
Amazon.com – and it occasionally competes with Newegg. This is where we purchase most other items.