How I Use Evernote to Improve My Finances

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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