The basics of financial planning are pretty simple. Spend less than you make, save for the future, and make smart investment choices. Still, once our wallet gets to a certain level of fatness (or deteriorates into shambles) we often feel the need to turn to an expert for advice.
Unfortunately, a good financial advisor can be hard to come by. Most of the time they aren’t trying to waste their precious billable hours on folks making less than six figures. Plus, it can feel hypocritical to fork over thousands of dollars for advice that you could be using to improve your financial standing.
Cue the internet to the rescue! Just like the travel industry and tax preparation services before it, financial advice is being streamlined by technology. Instead of a human advisor charging up to $150 an hour to ask you hundreds of questions about your financial standing, monetary goals, and openness to risk in order to develop a unique plan, a computer program does the job for a flat rate.
Web alternatives can be easier to use than going to a person. Many allow you to electronically pull information from your financial institutions, saving you the chore of compiling the information manually. An action plan is then generated specifically for you, based on the principles financial advisors follow. Some services, like NestWise, will follow up via e-mail or video chat with a human being for an additional fee.
For some people, visiting a firm may still be ideal. In his defense of financial advisors for Forbes, Mike Alfred refers to top advisors as “a quarterback in their client’s financial life [to] help coordinate estate planning, tax planning, insurance coverage, as well as providing a comprehensive process to help the client understand their funding needs and life goals.”
But, that logic is based on the theory that everyone’s financial situation is unique, and requires a plan specific to her financial position. The truth is, most of us are in the same boat. We eat out too much. We need to pay off debt. We’re saving for retirement or a big purchase.
If your finances have quirks that the average person doesn’t deal with, by all means turn to a professional for their opinion. But, if you’re an Average Jill looking to manage her money better, the web may be an effective, cost-friendly alternative. Here are a few options to consider, depending on the level of guidance you need to whip your wallet into shape:
Basic budgeting sites are perfect if you need help managing your money day-to-day. These free sites give you tools to track what you’re spending, what you’re saving, and how your investments are doing. Most will automatically pull your financial information from all your accounts into one place.
If you want the full financial advisor experience, without that pesky human being charging you by the hour, there are a few options available to you. These services are not free, but they are substantially lower compared to traditional planners’ prices. For an additional fee, you can speak with a person via chat or e-mail to talk through your financial plan.
C. Cleveland is a freelance writer and content strategist in New York City, perfecting living the fierce life at The Red Read. She is at your service on Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).