My husband's company, Wesabe, has been named a finalist in the Industry Standard's 100 Top Innovators awards. This phase is where the public votes. Do I think Wesabe deserves to win? You bet. I don't write about the company here, but perhaps I should.
Mister and I started talking about how people manage, and mismanage, their money before we were married. I had, several years earlier, paid off all of my debt, then lost my job. Careless planning before the market downturn and lack of foresight during the downturn led to debt — I owed family, the government, and American Express.
In the last few years, I've paid all of my debts off, in no small part thanks to Mister's support because we put our money towards debt payments. I didn't pay rent, I paid the IRS. A word to the wise: do not avoid your taxes, even if you think you can't pay them. Oy, did that hurt.
So how do people get out of debt? Some consolidate their credit cards and pay them systematically. Others eliminate expensive habits such as dining out or shopping for new shoes. Wesabe is a community site that helps people get control of their finances both through financial tools and through group discussions. Teachers, for example, don't get a lot of perks, but when we do, wow. In Paris, for example, I do not have to pay for museum entrances. This doesn't sound like much but if you go to 10 museums, as we did on a trip five years ago, that's cash. My local stationery store, Piedmont Stationers, gives teachers 10 percent off purchases on the spot. Elmwood Stationers used to, but changed its policy to only give the discount to Berkeley teachers. I no longer shop at Elmwood. That bit of information becomes a tip that I can post to Wesabe for other teachers to find because we aren't some special club of mind-readers. Sometimes the discounts are unexpected — Clogs-N-More in Portland, OR gave me a 10 percent discount on a pair of Dansko's last year. Wow! I don't even teach in the state but the clerk said they like to support teachers anyway they can. That's a good tip, too.
The Wesabe community doesn't just suggest the cheapest place to get groceries, gas, or dry-cleaning. There are tips about saving for a house, creating an emergency budget, and other topics. Users have goals, for example, I had a goal to stop paying overdraft fees with my bank. I was always cutting it close with my account — too close — and paying $20 a pop for overdraft fees. I created the goal, stuck to it, and have not paid an overdraft fee in a year. I can make suggestions under the goal as to how others can achieve it, too.
There are micro-communities, such as a teacher group (okay, I started it and am the only one who's posted ideas, but I'm hopeful!) and a getting green group. Ideas on getting green include changing the cleaning materials used in your house (we eliminated bleach and most commercial cleaners a couple of years ago), registering with fuelly to share and compare MPGs (I am loathe to do this as I drive a 95 Jeep. I carpool to work and try to fill up a couple times a month but it's a guzzler. We'll drive it into the ground, though, rather than have an extra car on the road), or use other means to track green footprints.
Recently I started a nice budget spreadsheet using PearBudget, recommended by several folks in the Wesabe community including Mister. But I more frequently use the spending limits I set in Wesabe. I log in about once a week, or once every two weeks, and check my balances and spending, and instantly I can see how much I have left in a category. For example, I limited my book purchases to $100. This seems like a lot, but for the last five years, I've spent that money primarily on books for my classroom. I can tag these purchases, too, for the IRS, for example. Then, when tax season comes, I can pull all of my IRS purchases and compile them for our tax person.
Mister has remained staunchly committed to building tools to help people get out of debt, save for a home, wrangle their finances into something that they control, not vice versa. His tools are built in-house by an amazing set of engineers who also believe in Wesabe's goals. You can't work there if you don't.
Wesabe's main competitor offers snappy tools, but it uses a third party service to gather bank data whereas Wesabe doesn't have any access to your bank data (your password is kept on your hard drive, not in Wesabe's database), and Wesabe doesn't offer you deals on new credit cards or other services that could, in the long run, interfere with your debt reduction, not enable it
I realize that I hammered this out and will need to reedit for clarity, but here's to shamelessly plugging something I believe in.