While my favourite game is seeing how ridiculously low I can get my spending, some products and services are either necessary or useful enough that they add real value to my life. I often get asked which investment platform I use, for example, so I thought I’d list all the companies I use and recommend here.
It’s hard to say what’s going to be right for everyone, and much of it comes down to personal preferences or circumstances, but this might serve as a starting point if you’re interested in optimising your own expenses.
Every year I review all my ongoing costs and make sure I’m still getting the best deal, so I’ll keep this list updated as time goes on – let me know if you come across better alternatives! Note that some of these companies offer a commission for referrals. I haven’t let that influence my choice, but I’ve included the link where relevant if you want to help support the blog. There’s no additional cost, and some of the links also include a bonus offer for new users, so it’s a win-win.
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Vanguard for investing
With a staggering $4.8 trillion of assets under management, Vanguard has serious economies of scale. It’s also a non-profit, and fees start from 0.05 per cent, which is 20 times cheaper than your typical active fund. Vanguard offers index funds and ETFs which spread your cash across thousands of companies, markets and industries (read this post to see why I’m a big fan of ‘passive’ investing).
If you live outside the US, you may need to find a middleman. For New Zealanders: I use the non-profit Simplicity as my KiwiSaver provider, and Superlife for my other Vanguard funds. You can see the breakdown of my investing portfolio here.
Transferwise for money transfers
This nifty peer-to-peer service has saved me a small fortune. I use Transferwise to move money from home to my Thai bank account, as well as to pay people in foreign currencies (I’m in Mumbai at the time of writing, paying my rent in rupees). Not only does this eliminate ATM fees, I get the actual mid-market exchange rate instead of getting ripped off by brokers. Transferwise takes a fee of about 0.7 – 1%, depending on the currency pair and transaction size.
For every $1000 I withdraw overseas, previously ~$60+ would be chewed up in fees. Nowadays, it’s closer to ~$10. Conclusion: Transferwise rules. If you sign up with this link, you’ll also get your first transfer free.
Debit card for general spending
I use a bog-standard debit card for general spending, because New Zealand credit card rewards aren’t very juicy and I don’t spend enough to justify the fee. If I were American, I’d look into the travel rewards cards, and open an account with Charles Schwab to avoid ATM fees worldwide.
Excel/Google Sheets for net worth and expense tracking
I’ve never used a budget, so can’t recommend any software or apps. I do however have a spreadsheet for manually tracking all my spending (you can see the breakdown here). I use another spreadsheet to update my net worth each month (get yourself a free copy here).
SoFi for blitzing student loans
SoFi has refinanced the most student debt in the US, saving members an average of $288 a month with rates starting at 2.35% APR. There’s no origination fee, and they also offer access to a bunch of services for career and wealth advice. Only the safest borrowers tend to get approved, but it only takes five minutes to apply and find out if you’re eligible.
Technology and web services
Google Drive for cloud storage
I’m a huge fan of the Google ecosystem, for its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. I pay a couple bucks a month for 100GB of storage.
Acer Chromebook R11 for computing
I’d rather join the Amish than go back to the bloated mess that is Windows, and while iOS is great, you’re paying a branding/status premium. Chromebooks aren’t just for schoolkids anymore: The R11 is ultra lightweight, insanely cheap, has a 360o flexible touchscreen, and is still grunty enough for my needs, like basic video editing.
Chrome OS doesn’t have a huge range of programs, but this is being resolved by integration with Android apps (which selected Chromebook models, including the R11, can use). If I had no space constraints and wanted a bit more processing power, I’d probably go for the Samsung Chromebook Pro.
Moto E4 Plus for phoning
The Moto G extended family are the best budget Android phones you can buy. I’ve currently got the the E4 Plus, which is the perfect travel phone with a battery that lasts two entire days. For $160, you’re also getting 3GB of RAM, an HD screen, and a fingerprint sensor. The camera is pretty meh, but that’s a feature not a bug, because it forces me to use my actual camera, which brings us to…
Sony RX100-II for photography
This little beauty takes crazy good photos for its tiny size, with a massive sensor and a full range of manual and automatic settings. If I wasn’t travelling I might get a DSL, but it would be a close call. The RX series are the best point-and-shoots on the market (there’s also a Mark III, IV, and V, all of which are under $1000, with specs that are starting to put DSLs to shame).
Siteground for web hosting
These guys are consistently voted the best hosting service, and are super affordable with plans starting from $3.95 per month. I’ve never had any downtime, and received nothing short of stellar support. They have lots of free services, like SSL certificates and WordPress updates, and have been endlessly helpful in dealing with all my panicked/stupid questions when I break the site.
Mailerlite email marketing
I was using MailChimp, but switched over when I got more subscribers and started racking up big bills. MailChimp is great, but most of the functionality is wasted on me – it’s more for professional marketers than for humble blog owners. Mailerlite is a fraction of the price (and free for small users), more user-friendly, and still includes A/B testing, segmenting, easy integrations with WordPress, and swanky templates.
WordPress platform and plugins
WordPress.org is free, and easy to use. My indispensable plugins are W3 Total Cache along with Cloudflare for caching and performance, Akismet anti-spam, Yoast for SEO, SumoMe for social, Jetpack for various bits and pieces, along with the Moesia theme by aThemes.
Courses and learning
Self-authoring suite for goal-setting and productivity
This is a research-backed series of exercises to help you figure out what you want in life, and exactly how to get it. I wasn’t sure it would be much use to me, but it turned out to be quite pivotal. Check out Sorting Myself Out With Dr Jordan Peterson for a full review, with some of the insights I gleaned from the exercises.
Codecademy for basic programming
A suite of exercises and modules for learning the basics of HTML, CSS, Java etc. I’ve only done the free courses, which got me up to speed on the basic skills I needed for the blog, but there are ‘pro’ paid options if you want to do more intensive courses.
Coursera for anything you can imagine
Airbnb and Booking.com for accommodation
The first time I stayed in an Airbnb, I never wanted to book a hotel again. I find the bowing and scraping of service workers awkward, and resent paying through the nose for pointless fripperies. Besides being way cheaper, staying in someone’s home is much more intimate. Sign up with this link, and you’ll get US$35 of free credit towards your first stay.
Booking.com is great for grabbing a night or two here and there, and always has a ton of options available. This is my go-to when I’m travelling alone for hostels and el cheapo rooms. Sign up using this link, and get US$20 off your first booking.
A brilliant alternative to price-gouging local transport cartels, with GPS pickup and dropoff, and linked to your card so you don’t have to mess around with cash. In Asia, I prefer Grab over Uber. They’re trying so hard to acquire users that the promo codes are super generous, to the point where I almost never actually paid for a ride.
Atlas travel insurance
After scouring the web for affordable, no-frills insurance, I settled on Atlas, which covers my ass for less than $1 a day. You can adjust your excess to bring down premiums, so I’m effectively self-insuring for everything except major accidents that would put me in hospital or require a medical evacuation. I’m also covered for things like diving and riding motorbikes (check very carefully for these sort of exclusions).
I’ve been roaming around with the 22L Kahu day bag for 18 months. Macpac makes all sorts of high-quality outdoors gear, and I’m looking to upgrade to one of their slightly bigger packs soon.
Icebreaker merino clothing
Merino wool bears no resemblance to the thick, scratchy jumpers you’re probably thinking of. It’s woven with some sort of black magic that makes it super lightweight, odor resistant, fast-drying, keeps you warm when you’re cold and vice versa. It’s not cheap, but my merino socks, undies and shirts are still going strong after hundreds of wears. Icebreaker pioneered merino wool clothing, and remains the best.
Amazon for everything else
When I occasionally need to buy something, it’s usually from Amazon (If you want to support the blog, the easiest way is to click this link, then bookmark the page as ‘Amazon’ and use it whenever you’re about to make a purchase).