Updated on 09.17.14

How I Use Evernote to Improve My Finances

Trent Hamm

evernoteOver the past several months, I’ve gradually come to use Evernote for all kinds of tasks, from managing my writing to jotting down grocery ideas to drafting articles. It’s free and it’s become my single most used application on every computer I use – my Mac (where I do most of my work), my laptop (remember the frugal laptop? I’m still using it!), and even my iPod Touch, which is constantly in my pocket. A big nod to Manny, a long-time Simple Dollar reader who introduced me to Evernote (see comment #5 on that thread).

What Is Evernote?

Evernote is basically a note manager that synchronizes the notes across computers. You can create and edit notes on any machine with a web browser and several types of mobile phones. You can save pictures, web pages, voice recordings, text – anything you want.

The thing that I find really useful, though, is that if you take a picture of a handwritten note – if it’s legible at all – Evernote will automatically extract the text for you. So, let’s say I’m at a meeting and I’ve jotted down a few notes that I might want to write about later on. I can just take pictures of the notes with my camera, stick them on Evernote, and boom – I’ve got the text.

The best part? It’s free (well, not entirely – there’s some very high level of data beyond which you have to have a paid account (40 MB), but I’ve never reached it). I have upgraded to a premium account there, simply because I have a deep philosophy of supporting what I use, but you can use it to your heart’s content without paying a dime. They pay the bills with a small ad on the site.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to store highly sensitive personal information on here, but for 99% of the notes you’ll take, Evernote simply works.

7 Ways I Use Evernote to Improve My Finances

Given that Evernote makes text notes basically ubiquitous, this means I can update them pretty much wherever I’m at. This is perfect for little pieces of personal finance data that you’ll want to retrieve later on. Here are seven examples of how I’m using Evernote in that regard (note that you could also use a pad and pencil for these, but that having them in electronic form is almost always more convenient).

1. I use it to track my spending on the go

I keep a note going where I just record my expenses. A great example of this was on vacation, where my parents and I had agreed to split all expenses equally. During the vacation, whenever we simply paid for an activity or something else, I jotted it down in Evernote. Then, at the end of the trip, it was quite easy – I just copied the numbers into a spreadsheet and automatically totaled them, easy as pie.

2. I use it to jot down prices for comparison shopping

Evernote is incredibly useful as a price book. Whenever I’m in a store and I spot a great price on an item, I jot down that price and where I found it. Later, I’ll compare it to other prices, both online and off. If you’re shopping for a large purchase, like a piece of furniture or a television, this can be a great way to compare prices.

However, I’ve found it really useful for little things. Since we split a lot of our shopping for food and domestic items between Fareway (most food), Sam’s Club (some bulk purchases), Target (most household), and Hy-Vee (specialty foods), I find it really useful to keep track of what’s actually cheapest at each store and buy them there. Evernote makes this really easy – I now know that many deli cheeses are cheapest at Fareway, but some upscale cheeses are far cheaper at Sam’s Club thanks to using this technique, and that enables me to easily get the best price on the items that I buy.

3. I use it to take notes if someone lets me in on a bargain

Let’s say I’m chatting with my neighbor and he mentions that he saw that Lowes is having a sale on lawnmowers this weekend – and I’m in the market for a lawnmower. That can be a very valuable piece of information – and so I immediately jot it down. Later, when I see it electronically, I remember to visit the Lowes website, see what’s on sale, and do some comparison shopping.

Similarly, I overheard recently at the grocery store that one could find $1.50 off coupons for V8 Fusion online. I jotted that down quickly, went home, searched for it, and unfortunately came up short – but it’s easy to see how something like this could really pay off (if someone has a link to $1 off or more V8 Fusion coupons, I’d love ’em!).

4. I use it to keep track of potential investments

On Sunday mornings, I’m usually found at the kitchen table reading the Sunday Des Moines Register – and while reading, I usually find out something interesting about some investment. I also find myself reading the Wall Street Journal sometimes at the library, and I always find some interesting businesses or investments in there.

Obviously, I want to follow up, so I just jot down that investment’s symbol on Evernote. Later, when I’m home, I just copy and paste that symbol into Google and into Yahoo! Finance and see what I find. This has helped me become more familiar with the business side – and the product side – of many companies and also led me to quite a few index funds that I’m watching for potential future investments.

5. I use it to jot down product research notes at the library

As I’ve mentioned many times, whenever we begin to look at a major purchase, I hit the library. I dig out piles of old issues of Consumer Reports and other consumer magazines and go through them, finding out what independent testers have to say about it.

Naturally, I take my laptop along on such journeys, and I find that jotting these things down in Evernote is quite helpful. I’ll type the interesting notes in quickly, take snapshots of anything interesting with my camera, and collect all the research electronically in one place. Later, when I’m at home, I can add to this research. Or maybe I’ll be at my parents’ house and I find something useful to add – I can just log on via the website and add to a note.

6. I use it to keep a convenient schedule of automated transactions

One note includes nothing more than a list of the automatic transactions that come out of our primary checking account every month – our children’s 529 accounts, my Roth IRA, our car payment, our mortgage payment, and a SmartyPig savings goal (for a better laptop sometime way down the road).

This has come in handy several times. Once, not too long ago, we were in Texas on vacation and I was trying to decide if I should pull some cash out of my checking account or my savings account. I pulled out my list of automatic transactions, did the math, and realized it wasn’t a problem at all to leave the savings alone – we had plenty of buffer.

The best part: if I make a change to the automatic transactions I have, I can just update one text file and I have the info everywhere. I don’t have to write a new note or make a bunch of scribbles on it. It’s clean and just works.

7. I use it to keep track of gift ideas for people

I keep a constantly running list of gift ideas for people. It’s actually quite easy – I just listen to what people talk about and if they mention anything they like or may want, I jot it down on this note. Then, every once in a while, I’ll go bargain hunting with this note – I’ll update my Amazon deal search filters with these items and I’ll search through several different bargain sites that I look at. Occasionally, I’ll find a hit – and when I do, I might turn a $70 idle wish someone has into a gift from me that only cost $20.

Not only that, this gift list comes in big handy when the holidays are actually close. I’ll get out this gift list just before Black Friday and browse through the circulars on Thanksgiving Day – and sometimes I’ll find an amazing match, connecting a great deal to a recipient who actually wants the item.

To put it simply, the sheer utility of Evernote gives me tons of opportunities to save money. The examples above just scratch the surface.

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  1. Boyan says:

    Hey Trent,

    Long-time reader, first-time responder.

    I am also looking for something like Evernote to handle all my tidbits and scrap notes that accumulate during the day. However, I’m uncomfortable putting that much of my life “on the cloud.” How do you feel about them having all your information?


  2. Jon says:

    While I applaud the concept of Evernote, I think the implementation still has a ways to go. Maybe the mobile versions are better, but the web interface is horrible, and the feature list is a little on the sparse side.

  3. JP says:

    I have tried to use Evernote over and over again. I still can’t find a valid use for it that Google Apps can’t solve. I have never once gotten the OCR to work either. Evernote has been a huge disappointment to me considering how much positive press it receives.

  4. princewally says:

    Dial2Do has an evernote function to leave yourself transcribed notes. It’s great for when I think of something I want to remember during rush hour, or out shopping, or even late at night, when I don’t want to track down a pencil.

    Evernote is usable offline, so notes on the laptop in the car are functional. There are voice integration apps that don’t connect to google docs that I’m aware of.

    I use it to collect research, future blog posts, random notes and reminders.

  5. Jason says:

    Fantastic list! I’ve been using evernote since it was back in beta and I simply love it. I usually use it for school notes, articles, and recipes, but I’ll have to try a few of these ideas.

    One thing that I might suggest in terms of finance use-cases: receipts. I used to be absolutely terrible about keep receipts for purchases, but now I just scan them into evernote. They get OCR’d and I can search for them later. I recognize that some people might be hesitant to put them on the cloud, but if it’s something that I’m that scared, I just use the encryption feature.

    A few times when I’ve had a problem with a product, I’ve also used it to keep the customer service call notes with the receipt. Pretty convenient.

  6. Sean says:

    Is there any reason to use this over Google docs?

  7. Marsha says:

    I take it that Evernote has an iPhone/iTouch app? otherwise, it’d be tough to make notes as you are shopping. If that’s how it works, it sounds very cool.

    For the present, I’m just keeping paper receipts for things and jotting them down in my moleskine diary. I don’t do enough shopping to warrant taking notes for comparison shopping. At least, not for now.

  8. I gave Remember the Milk a try for my IPOD touch and found out that I didn’t really use it. I still swear by my red, floppy, moleskine, probably because it’s an ingrained habit and that I actually enjoy writing. I don’t enjoy so much the process of typing on an IPOD touch. I will check the App store to see if it’s on there, but if not, or if it costs more than a nominal amount, I will stick with my “offline” method.

  9. I think Evernote is detrimental to my personal finance, I’m always saving cool gadgets I want to buy! Is brilliant software though, central to pretty much all of my workflow these days.

  10. Chessiq says:

    I use it for a bunch of things – and recently, I have started using it at work, to track what I am doing and when I do it. There have been times when I go home and I wonder what I accomplished at work.
    On the personal side… I just love the fact that I can search my “notes” anywhere.
    Well, back to work stuff, there are times when I have to ask somebody an accounting question, and I need to send him/her a screenshot of an entry I am looking at – and Evernote makes screenshots way easier than they used to be (for me).
    I like the to-do-list with check-boxes… So much to like about this app.
    So, thanks Trent, I started using it after your last post a couple of weeks ago, I think.

  11. Joy McDougal says:

    I have no PDA/Smartphone.
    Would you still recommend Evernote?

  12. Rebecca says:

    I am still so technologically-challenged. If you use this app with a phone, do you incur internet charges? Aren’t they kind of high? We have stayed away from using those kind of features on our phones (there are 4 on our family plan and our monthly fees are about $150 as it is…). I think the itouch/iphone apps sound SO helpful, but wonder about that.

  13. Donna says:

    You should go on appshopper.com and look up some of the cool free and low cost apps for your iPod Touch. One of the best I’ve seen is Shopper. This very inexpensive app will allow comparison shopping and list making for a number of stores and allows you to input whether you have a coupon for a particular item. It came highly recommended to me from some seriously frugal folks who use it religiously. You should check it out and see if it fits your needs.

  14. Alex says:

    This sounds a lot more like a list of reasons to have a mobile device like iphone or a blackberry. Everything you listed isn’t possible to do unless you have one.

  15. Wow! This is a great list, It seems like Evernote and the Shopper application that Donna recommended is very practical. Thanks!

  16. Bill says:

    Hi Trent, I use iGoogle’s Notes gadget on my computers and I use Outlook notes on my blackberry. Maybe you dont have one that runs on exchange?

  17. Terry says:

    That coupon may be found here

  18. Mike says:

    I decided to take a look at Evernote after reading this post. I don’t know if it just isn’t optimized for IE6 (which I’m forced to use on my work laptop), but it’s webui is awful to the point of being unusable.

  19. Emily WK says:

    Wow, a lot of hate on Evernote.

    I only use the web app when I have to; I almost exclusively use the iPhone app and occasionally the Mac app. The actual applications are, I have found, really great. There’s also an “email to evernote” feature which is nice – I’ve sent CCs to it when emailing something to my husband that I want to remember later.

  20. Brad says:

    Evernote is okay. I have tried to use it many times but it is pretty user un-friendly.
    I just use Tadalist.com and all of the 37signals tools instead. (shameless plug, enter “BRADMADIUK” in the referral box? :] )

    For me I have the hardest time organizing so I need a simple easy to use extremely basic system where I see a task, and mark complete. That’s what I get with Tadalist. There’s a mac widget but I think it doesn’t work anymore. No biggie, the site works on all browsers.

  21. John says:

    Evernote is amazing service !!
    There is tho, a problem with the web-interface in the last week.
    You cannot upload a picture\pdf to a Note…

    This is a big disappointment from a service that (should)
    run (at this point) without those issues.

  22. Like Evernote you can find many other useful softwares and computer gadgets spread across a wide range of prices using a shopping comparison.
    Also the site will also offer an detailed description of the product.

  23. Kevin says:

    I simply use the built-in memo feature/application on my blackberry and sync it up with my computer (goes straight to Outlook Notes). However if you use 2 or more computers to access these notes (one obvious example), Evernote may be the way to go.

    My thinking simply is, KISS and to use fewer simpler applications to accomplish the same set of tasks, however given that such requirements are people-specific, my suggestion may not be appropiate for all.

  24. Perry says:

    Evernote sounds useful, but the idea of pulling out a laptop, powering in on, logging in and starting an application whenever I want to make a note just seems a bit cumbersome to me. At work I use a pad of paper and pen for things like this and it works well for me, aside from not being able to copy the info to a computer.

  25. cc says:

    jeez ie6? That’s two major versions behind….
    The web version works fine for me on firefox/xp, and has some wierdness with chrome/xp.

  26. Sullivan says:

    I use myYahoo’s “notepad” almost in identical fashion. I’ll give Evernote a try too.

    I really like the idea of being able to use some sort of hand held device (iPod/cellphone) to utilize these notes as well.


  27. Fontaine says:

    For blackberry users, I’m interested in your experience.
    I’ve tried Evernote, but I find it much more annoying that just using the notes feature on the blackberry. For example, if I’m in the grocery store and I want to call up my shopping list, Evernote requires me to connect through the browser, find the note file and open it. This takes so much time because everything is BB internet based. If I use the resident BB notes program, it’s right there. Am I missing something that makes Evernote so convenient? I don’t see why it has to connect to the browser to call up existing notes. If it stored the note on the BB, and just synced changes, that would be sweet.

  28. Mark says:

    I’m a huge fan of Evernote. Have been using it for about six months now and it is one of the most useful apps I’ve seen in a long time.

    @Joy — I don’t have a web-enabled phone either, so that isn’t a requirement. I’ve never much wanted one until I started using Evernote … and now I can start to see the utility of one. But frankly, I’m too damn cheap to pay all that money.

    @Perry — I often use pen and paper as well. It’s jsut how I think. The beauty of Evernote is that I can scan in my analog notes and EN will convert it to a digital format. I’m amazed with the text recognition software they have. Not perfect by any stretch (my handwriting is often illegible) but it is amazing how much it picks up. Always enough for the EN search engine to be able to quickly find any note I need.

    I started using EN for school — scanning in all my class notes and handouts. The search capabilities are amazing and useful. I ended up using it for work and home as well. I have my scanner set up to automatically scan any doc into my EN account. Scan it and a couple of minutes later it is in my account and completely indexed and searchable.

    Works great with business cards, btw.

    The three most used apps (web- or otherwise) that I use are gmail, greader, and evernote.

  29. I’ve been using evernote for some time, but to track some tasks and other less relevant things. It is quite a good app, very fast and capable of doing a lot of things. I wish I could do all what you are doing with this app – but I don’t own an iphone, I don’t carry my laptop everywhere and even if I carry I get sick of it very easily.

    In my case I just carry a small deck of cards and a pen to take all the notes that I need and tear off the cards whose all tasks I have accomplished.

  30. crazyliblady says:

    I have never heard of Evernote, so I can’t speak to that, but I use Google Docs and Google Calendar for a lot of things that I can’t even do with regular applications on my work computer. I use the Calendar for reminders about appointments, meetings, deadlines, credit card payments, etc. I do writing using Google Docs and I can access the documents from anywhere I have internet access.

  31. DemoGeek says:

    I’m sure Evernote has a great potential but the one thing that pushes me out with Evernote is the way we find our notes. There must be a better way to quickly search for our notes. I didn’t mean it by searching within a note, it does a great job in that but I’m talking more about organizing our notes.

  32. Johan says:

    Evernote is very good and it is one app that i does not regret paying for. It’s really good for sending pictures and documents to clients and to have them at hand if the client wants to check something. Makes life easier.

  33. Brent says:

    I found that I divide my document management use between OneNote and Evernote. That being said, I only use Evernote for portable. I have it on my BB and on my Touch and that is where it really shines. Many have commented on why use it on the BB when you have Notes. I find it very difficult to quickly dump a webpage or pages from a document in the BB Notes and have it be usable. With Evernote, it is there on the web or in my local client (if I choose to cache it locally). I really like it. Yes, it’s a little sparse yet, but they are rapidly adding features and functionality.

  34. Adam says:

    Those who will get the most from Evernote are those who have a phone supported by Evernote (iPhone, Palm Pre, Blackberry, Windows Mobile) and at least 1 computer. In my opinion the phone is the key as that’s the piece you always have with you. When you need to remember something, just pop out your phone and type, write or snap a pic of whatever it is you want to remember. That’s it. Done. It syncs up automatically and the next time you’re at your computer, there it is.

    If you don’t have the phone piece I could still see some utility but as others have stated there are other tools out there that do the job just fine without adding another piece of software (or website) to the mix.

    But … as far as I know, Google hasn’t released an intuitive mobile interface for syncing up a picture you snapped on your phone to your google document that’s sitting on a server somewhere.

  35. Melissa M. says:

    I love evernote. use it for so many things. these are some great suggestions too.
    I wanted to recommend another online application that I use for your #7. it’s called listideas (http://www.listideas.com) and you can make lists of various items you’d like to buy including a photo & a link to the item online.

    also, i wanted to say that a great feature of evernote (and one that I don’t use enough) that you could probably utilize for several of your items above is the voice recording method… then you could simply record your friends giving you advice and listen to them later! easier than typing.. and could save you some time.

  36. Fokko Muller says:

    I’m a Dutch user of Evernote. I use it on my iPhone 3G and on my laptop. I never use the web-version. But I don’t need it, because Evernote has a fine local application you can use.

    Internet Explorer has an integrated tool to clip complete or part of webpages. That’s great! I use it often to clip an interesting article on a webpage, that I want to read later. I let new notes arrive in a notebook called Inbox.
    You can create multiple notebooks to organise your notes. I use e.g. Inbox, Interesting iPhone apps, Car info, Family matters, Work matters, Holidays, Ideas, Fun etc etc.
    With the Premium account you can also read various attachtments on the iPhone, like .doc and .xls

    In combination with Remeber The Milk (also web and iPhone) I organised my life much better and helps to keep my head clear! :-)

    Give it a try!

  37. David Hacker says:

    I love Evernote as well. However, I find that for the first scenario, tracking expenses, ProOnGo Expense (www.ProOnGo.com) is even better. Makes since because ProOnGo is specifically an expense application.

  38. DonnaGator says:

    I use Evernote in combination with Google Calendar and Remember the Milk. Google Calendar for appointments, RTM for to-do list, and Evernote for miscellaneous notes.

    Evernote is great for genealogy research and for my photography notes. I keep camera & lens reviews, camera settings for certain situations, and lists of photo projects I want to try.

    I do not have a smartphone, just a regular cell phone (Sanyo Katana DLX), plus a cell phone plan with unlimited web access. The Opera Mini cell phone browser is another must-have for me. It works great on my Katana, and it works great with Evernote, RTM, and Google calendar.

  39. sthomas says:

    I use Evernote every day. I have an inbox note book where all of my new notes go to and then I tag and sort into other folders as needed from there. It is great for keeping track of photography clients and their information. Emails that I send and emails that I get that I want to refrence later. I use it for everything. I do wish there was a calendar with it but I have found a way around that. I create a note for each month and then just add to do check boxes with the date. I then add what I have going on on that day and I can keep any other inforamation right there with it. When the task/s for that date are done I just check them off. Since I look at it several times a day I do not miss anything. It is very easy to add new notes and keep anything that I want to remember from the web with the web clipper. I reccomend it to everyone. You just need to play around with it to get it to work for you!

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