"If you can't see it and you can't touch it, you won't spend it." That's a money rule, and one I happen to live by on a daily basis. Just as I believe and adhere to the rule that you should live below your means.
Over more than two decades of helping people learn to manage their money, those are among the maxims that have stood out in my mind. They're the things I find myself thinking (if not repeating) over and over again. Why? Because they make sense. They're funny. They're memorable. And they work.
In my own case, not having been able to see the money or touch the money I'd had deposited automatically into my son's 529 account means that when he starts college next year, I won't be worrying about paying for it. Living below my means on a consistent basis allows me to save for retirement -- again, consistently.
But I never thought about gathering those maxims into a book until I picked up Food Rules by Michael Pollan. One by one, he laid out straightforward tactics for eating, well, better. "If it comes from a plant, eat it. If it's made in a plant, don't," he wrote. And, "Don't eat cereal that changes the color of the milk." I was hooked and determined to do for money what he did for food.
My new book, Money Rules just hit the shelves.
Before you dive in, though, I have a confession. I didn't come up with every single one of them. I came up with many, to be sure, including many of my favorites. But some of them came from people I know. "Your house is a piggy bank, not a cash cow," for example, is my husband's. "Personal finance is more personal than finance," came from Tim Maurer, a financial advisor and longtime source of mine. Other rules came from people I don't know. "Just because you have a coupon doesn't mean you should go shopping," is one of my favorites. Believe it or not, it's a line uttered by a precocious child actor on one of those Disney Channel (or maybe Nickelodeon) shows.
To me, that only makes the money rules more interesting. We all have rules that we live by that have helped us out of jams or to toe the line when it was more than difficult. And so, with this post, we're kicking off a contest. Tell me what your best money rules are. And explain how they've helped you live your best financial life. The authors of the best rules will win a signed copy of Money Rules. And who knows, your own personal maxim may end up included in its sequel.
Here are a few of my favorites to get your juices flowing:
Money Rule No. 10. Live below your means. Period. When I hear people saying live on what you make, I shake my head. You have to live on less than you make. Doing this consistently means you automatically have some money to put into savings. And that gives you the fortitude to overcome any financial problem.
Money Rule No. 36. It's easy to buy things. It's hard to sell things. And it's even harder to sell things at a profit. Remember that when you're shopping for stocks, art, real estate, cars. (In fact, if you can think of something where this is not true, I want to know about it!)
Money Rule No. 79. If you can't afford to replace it, insure it. If you can afford to replace it, don't. This applies to all sorts of purchases -- cars, expensive jewelry, your home, but it also answers the question about whether or not you need life insurance. Think of it as income insurance. If your family couldn't afford to live without your income, then you need to buy life insurance. If they could, you don't.
Apps to Make You Smarter With Money
Rules to Save By: Jean Chatzky Reveals Her Simple Money Tips
Does it feel like you're getting your pockets picked on a regular basis? Odds are you're the one doing the picking -- and it may simply be a matter of spending more than you think you are.
Mint.com will show you where the holes are in your pocketbook by pulling all of your accounts into one place to give you an overview of your spending habits. Owned by Intuit (INTU), the makers of TurboTax and countless other financial software, the site allows for goal-setting and helps identify ways you might save money. The site is ad-supported, but ads are discreet, relevant, and significantly less annoying than on other budgeting sites. The mobile app is a lighter version of the site, but it's a great companion resource for spending on the go.
Tip: Look for Mint to integrate with Weave, Intuit's new nifty project-management app, and TurboTax in the future.
App available for: iPad, iPhone, Android
Ever argue with your spouse or roommate about their free-spending ways? Or create a budget only to find you're the only one sticking to it? Of course not. But maybe you've been on the other side of that conversation. If so, check out HomeBudget with Sync.
HomeBudget with Sync is a fairly straightforward household budgeting tool that comes in both free and full versions. A key feature of this app is its ability to sync among household members and various devices to create a consolidated budget. Unlike Mint, entering bank-account information is optional.
Tip: the free version is limited to 10 expense entries and five income entries. If you like it, you may find the $4.99 price tag for the full version worthwhile.
Available for: iPhone, iPad
One of the best apps for investors comes from Bloomberg. It features news, market data, and portfolio tracking. Charts and graphs illustrate business trends and analyze world markets by industry, region, and popularity. Check out a stock's performance and key statistics from the past five years. And (shameless plug alert!) for commentary and analysis on the day's breaking news, use The Motley Fool's app.
Tip: Don't turn these on before cocktail parties. You'll spend the evening in the corner with your phone, not talking to anyone. Or, do turn them on and wow the room with your insightful stock market musings.
These apps won't let you file an insurance claim, dispute fraudulent credit card charges, or make a trade, but apps from your banks, brokerages, and insurance companies might. Check each of the companies with which you do business for full-service apps, but don't stop there. Many bank and brokerage apps offer features even for non-members.
Tip: Check out video reviews of apps on YouTube before downloading to see whether the features are relevant to your needs.
While these apps may be rich in features, not a single one of them has the ability to knock a $4 latte out of your hand or break your addiction to penny stocks. But by using your smart device to track your spending, saving, investing, and other financial housekeeping issues, you'll be making smarter decisions with your money in no time.