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.
Investing: Vanguard, Betterment
For most of my investing life, Vanguard has been THE one-stop shop for index funds of all types. They have the lowest expense ratio and the utmost 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.
Since 2014, I have been adding funds to a newer service called Betterment, which is basically a more user-friendly way to do very a solid form of index-fund investing. With Betterment, you still end up holding mostly Vanguard index funds, but they handle automatic rebalancing and minimizing your tax costs. I’m very happy with the service. In exchange, Betterment charges a fee ($250/year per $100,000 invested). I feel their features are easily worth the fee, so I have continued to add to this account – I now have more than $600k with the company.
Related Article: Why I Put My Last $100,000 into Betterment
Banking: Ally or Schwab
For my personal checking account, I’ve been using ING Direct which was later renamed to Capital One 360. It has been a fine bank, most notable for its very good user interface in transferring money between itself and up to three of your other accounts – you can push or pull large amounts (even six figures), whereas some banks place artificially low limits on these transactions.
In August 2018 I experienced a hiccup with my CapitalOne account: I tried to transfer out money to buy a new house, and the transaction was reversed and my account frozen, because it had triggered their fraud detection system. (I was sending $300k over to a credit union account I had only linked in three days earlier, and several other warning flags).
I have no problem with a bank watching out to protect me from fraud, so this freeze was fine. The problem is that they required me to call them before my account could be unfrozen, and then when I did call I was put on hold for 25 (!) minutes, and then gave up. Later I tried again, explained the earlier hold time and how that was unacceptable, but they still put me on hold for 45 additional minutes – with the worst repeating series of hold advertisements ever.
After a twitter rant about all this, I later got in contact with Gus Cheatham who runs that bank’s fraud department and he admitted that they have a problem and he would put in place a new system where customers like us can call his department directly without the hold and/or with leaving a callback number.
I’ve been really impressed with the way he handled this and he has already sent several follow-up emails detailing their progress, so I’ll update this section with the final result.
Meanwhile, on Twitter I received rave reviews for Ally Bank and Schwab, for checking and investment accounts all at the same place. So check them out!
Getting Started / Financial Tracking: Personal Capital, Mint, YNAB
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
Do You Need a Budget?
You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a simple to use (but sophisticated under the hood) bit of budgeting software that uses the principles of human habits and behavioral finance to make you more conscious and efficient in your spending. Although I was born a weirdo and always favored saving over spending myself – sometimes to a fault, this software has built a fanatical following of happy users because it works perfectly for many people who have had compulsive spending problems in the past.
Student Loan and Mortgage Refinancing: SoFi
SoFi refinances student loans for well-employed graduates at lower rates. They do it fast (tentative approval in minutes and funding within a reasonable number of days) and even by smartphone. But they lean towards only the safest borrowers, so not everyone will qualify.
Like most financial companies, they have a referral program. I signed this blog up for it, but then renegotiated the terms so that $300 that would have gone to me, goes to you instead! (don’t feel too sorry for me – they ended up adding in a commission for me despite all this cash back)
And there is no origination fee for you – they make all their profits on the investor side of the platform – the big funds that are buying up the debt, even while SoFi remains your friendly point of contact throughout the loan.
Check out their rates at www.sofi.com/mrmoneymustache
See full article here:
A SoFi Review: Slick Technology Meets Your Student Loan or Mortgage
Credit Card: Barclaycard Arrival, Chase Ink Plus, Chase Sapphire Preferred
Every year or so, I get a new credit card with a $500+ signing bonus, and cancel an older one to avoid annual fees and just to keep life simple.
Currently (June 2017) our main family is the Barclaycard Arrival, and I use a Chase Ink Plus for the business. The Chase Sapphire Preferred is another great card in this top-tier category: We have gone through three of them in the last few years, collecting the bonus on each.
There are also an ever-growing number of credit cards that offer large signing bonuses and cash-back percentages on various categories of stuff – even without annual fees. Thanks to a collaboration with a travel-hacking friend of mine, we now keep a pretty rigorously updated list of the best cards here: List of Rewards Credit Cards
Related Article: Rewards Credit Cards: For Mustachians or Sucka Consumers?
Accounting and Bookkeeping: Xero
After using Quickbooks for 15 years, I was excited to switch to this much more efficient alternative beginning in 2016. Cheaper than Quickbooks, a Xero subscription is 9 bucks a month ($30 for larger businesses) for very intuitive online and mobile access.
Instead of a year-end crunch in front of the desktop PC, I can now effortlessly keep up with transactions as they happen using only the nicely made Xero phone app! Then simply hand off the end-of-year report to my accountant (or your favorite tax software) at the end of the year. If you’re curious try the 30-day free trial. Towards the end of this trial, look for an email from their sales department offering a 50% discount on the first 6 months before joining.
Cell Phone Service: Republic Wireless and Google Fi
As of late 2017, there is a pleasant ongoing battle for the best phone carrier between two of my favorites:
Republic Wireless offers a $15 base plan (unlimited calling/text), $20 with 1 GB of monthly data, and $30 with 2GB.
Google Fi has a $20 base price, but the bonus is that it works internationally with no extra charge. Data is $10 per GB, and you only pay for what you use, at 1 cent per megabyte. Additional family members are only $15 per month, and they even send you FREE data sims to plug into tablets, laptops, etc, which just use your shared data. Incredible.
So what do I use? Right now, a Google Fi family plan for Mr. and Mrs. MM, and Republic for little MM. Mainly because we travel internationally for more than two months out of each year, and the Google phone makes that very seamless.
However, Republic is the frugality winner in this case: their plans are cheaper, coverage and service is great, and they have a much bigger phone selection. At the time of writing, Google had stopped stocking the excellent Nexus 5x phone ($250) and only offered the insanely expensive Pixel ($650). So if you are going with Fi these days, I might grab used Nexus 5x from Ebay.
Earlier article on Google Fi and Republic Wireless – prices are always changing, but click through to each provider to get the latest details.
Bonus: You can start things off with a $20 bonus if you sign up for Google Fi by using my referral code: https://g.co/fi/r/DKCAC8
Car Insurance: GEICO
This one has been easy: our car insurance is obscenely cheap these days at rougly $360 per year for two cars and two drivers. I am a big Geico fan and have been for over ten years.
(Caveat: my cars are old with no collision damage or comprehensive coverage, and we are married age-40 drivers living in a small, safe city who put very low mileage on these cars. No accidents or speeding tickets on the record. But the savings of Geico over competitors is even larger in situations with higher premiums.)
Even Better than Using a Car: UBER
I now use Uber to get to my local airport because it’s cheaper than driving and parking, or bribing a friend to drive me. Plus, I can now catch up on emails during the trip. It also allows me to avoid renting a car at my destination (biking or public transport always comes first, of course – Uber fills in the cracks).
For some people, Uber makes it feasible to ditch personal car ownership completely, which is the main reason they get a spot on this page.
You can get a free $10 credit towards your first ride with this link.
House Insurance: Safeco
I have swapped out the house insurance several times in recent years. First I was with State Farm, but they raised the rates for no good reason one year. I restored the old rate by switching to ASI, but they too jacked up their rates unexpectedly after a year. So I switched to Safeco, and so far rates have been stable. I am paying about $500 per year for a $275,000 rebuild coverage with $5k deductible. (The property is worth about $400k in today’s market but a lot of that is the value of the land).
Blogging – Web Hosting: Bluehost
Bluehost has been good to us – Until March 2013 they hosted this rather busy blog (it reached 2.3 million pageviews per month) using the “Pro Plan” at $25/month.
Normal hosting plans are now down to under $4 per month due to a special high volume discount they have provided to readers of this blog. This includes massive space and no limits on 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 with over 6 million pageviews per month, we have moved up to the Uber-powerful development/hosting combo platform called Pantheon.
But until you reach that first million, Bluehost is a great choice.
Related articles: How to Start a Blog
Blogging and Web Tech – The Guy to Hire when you Need Some Help: Kevin Clack
The technical aspects of this blog are now managed by a freelance system administrator and WordPress expert named Kevin Clack. He saved our multi-million-pageviews-per-month forum from doom by moving it to an advanced new host called Digital Ocean, in February 2017.
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. You can find him at clackconsulting.com
Blogging – WordPress Themes: Thesis, Elegant Themes
Update: MMM is currently running on Thesis! (see post)
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
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.
Everything Else: Amazon
I buy everything from furnaces to underwear at Amazon, because the efficiency of it cannot be beat. If you use the little box below to start your Amazon search it will benefit MMM and friends, and many thanks for that.