Personal Finance Toolbox

It was all well and good to have investment plans, but Shamai Feidler was not yet up to that step. He needed to get his family on a budget, open savings accounts and protect himself via insurance—but he did not know where to start. Insurance brokers and financial advisers were pushing various insurance policies while waving esoteric financial plan templates at him, but Shamai preferred to educate himself beforehand.

What personal finance tools and resources might he benefit from?

Financial Tool Boxes, Continued 

A supplement to my article on powerful and free investment research and management tools (A Modern Approach to Simplified Investing), this piece offers additional ideas to add to your financial “toolboxes.” Over here, I cover outstanding resources for general personal finance, available free or close to it. Not everyone will find the same value in these tools, so try them out for yourself. If you have any recommendations for other tools or feedback about any of these, feel free to contact me. 

Life Insurance — Term4sale.com 

In seconds, term4sale’s quoting tool will display various companies’ prices for term life insurance policies. All you need to do is enter your zip code, age, gender, insurance amount, guaranteed rate length, and voilà. This site taps into the same quoting software that many agents use, so these are real-time bids, super valuable for insurance planning and negotiation purposes. I bought life insurance coverage through a local agent, and you should too. But it’s very helpful to come to a complex transaction as an educated consumer.  

Health Insurance Marketplace— Nj.gov/getcoverednj

Obamacare marketplaces are state-level websites offering quick, clear options and pricing for health insurance. Use NJ’s site to evaluate health insurance options and costs easily. You can simply skim available plans. If you also input your income and family information, the site will tell you if you are eligible for Medicaid or subsidies to help pay private insurance premiums. You can still work with a local frum insurance broker if you decide to get insurance via the marketplace. Shopping around for clarity on the marketplace and then closing the deal with an agent’s personal touch offers the best of both worlds. 

Income Tax Estimator— Turbotax

Taxes have become so complicated that even accountants rely on software to run scenarios and produce finalized tax returns. While not as robust as some paid versions, I have found the TaxCaster tool from TurboTax to offer a good balance of simplicity and accuracy. By playing around with some of the inputs, you can do proactive tax planning—for example; you can see what will happen if you put money into an IRA or give extra charity. Ideally, an accountant would help you with these scenarios, but this free tool is very worthwhile. 

NJ Government Assistance Screener— Njhelps.org

Government programs are a growing part of many household budgets, but unfortunately, the government is not very good at communicating the rules. Often, the people who are most desperate for assistance are the least savvy about verifying and maintaining eligibility. A partial solution for Jerseyans can be found at NJHelps.org. The site is a bit clunky to use, but you can enter your information, and the system will estimate whether you’re eligible for an array of social service programs. If so, you will still need to apply separately, and not all nuances of eligibility are reflected in this calculator, but it’s definitely better than nothing. 

Financial Calculators— Dinkytown.net

Dinkytown offers an astounding array of free financial calculators across the spectrum of complexity and topics—from investments to retirement planning, mortgages to taxes. So much choice can be overwhelming; for example, Dinkytown offers dozens of calculators in the retirement category alone! The site is quite good at explaining the underlying assumptions for each tool, and with a bit of poking around, you can probably find one that does exactly what you are looking for. Note that Dinkytown offers its own tax estimator, which I haven’t tried yet. 

The Bogleheads Wiki and Forum— Bogleheads.org

“Bogleheads” are fans of the late John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Investments and champion of the everyday investor. The Bogleheads Wiki is a Wikipedia-style resource for personal finance information. The site is well organized, and an army of Bogleheads, many of whom are financial experts, keeps its accuracy and content at a surprisingly high level for a free website. 

The Wiki categorizes information on many general finance topics, but for more specific questions and nuance, check out the sprawling Bogleheads forum. You can even join the forum and post your questions. Though you typically won’t know how authoritative the responder is, the Bogleheads community is, on average, extremely well-educated and members share their namesake’s zeal for helping regular folks manage their money. It’s one of the best information sources out there to help you manage your money. 

Loan Information— Bankrate.com

Bankrate is a good place to understand where interest rates lie and which institutions offer the best yields, terms, and promotions for different financial products. Whether you’re looking for a high-yield savings account, CDs, a mortgage, or credit, this site is a fantastic place to begin. You may do better by shopping around alone or digging through DansDeals, but Bankrate is so quick that it’s always worth a look.  

Budgeting— Miscellaneous  

Not everyone believes in budgeting down to the penny, but there are budgeting programs today that allow you to do that easily and affordably. Modern marketing programs can quickly sync up checking, savings, credit cards, and investment accounts to give you an overall money dashboard. This helps you home in on things that are over budget and directs those savings toward investments. I’ve heard good things about Mint, YNAB, and Tiller but have not used them myself. 


Want to dig deeper?

Try these related articles

The 10 commandments of personal finance

Frum financial planning: why it’s entirely different

Realities of Fixing the Household Budget

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