You've been writing financial advice in Your Money for many years. What's your most important tech tool for getting work done?
Personal finance is indeed deeply personal, and I've found over the years that I learn as much from the people who read my work as I do from sources. To tap into that wisdom, I often open up comments on my column and moderate them myself, replying along the way to questions or particularly provocative statements.
But because mine is a weekend column and there are sometimes hundreds of comments to approve by hand, I need to have a laptop with me wherever I go in order to keep up, and the lighter the better. So I lean hard on my MacBook Air (and really abuse the Samsonite Xenon backpack I use to lug it around).
What do you like about it, and what could be better?
Other than the self-loathing I feel about using Apple's products when it cozies up to China, you mean? I wish the Mac was even lighter and that our employer would give me a couple more to stash in various places.
A while back, I heard the author Gretchen Rubin say something enlightening about how much happier she was when she realized she could have multiple phone chargers and laptop cords instead of just one. I bought myself a Chromebook to use for office meetings (to go with my desktop machine at work and the Mac at home) so I wasn't lugging the Mac around on the subway even more than I already do.
What's your favorite fintech app, and why?
I love being able to scan checks and deposit them without doing the whole envelope, stamp, mailbox routine. I haven't maintained checking accounts at banks with branches in over 15 years, and this helps me keep the streak going. I do find it rather curious, however, that Charles Schwab can suck that paper through the air and into my checking account without much delay but still helps itself to a four-day hold on transfers from my external savings account.
I've also been excited for a while to put some allowance apps through their paces, but my 11-year-old is still attached to her Save, Spend and Give jars and the cash and coins that fill them up.
You've given savvy advice on buying cars, pouncing on credit card offers, and optimizing retirement savings. What's your advice for the smartest way to buy tech products?
I have a saying — more like a lament — that I repeat so often that I've turned it into a hashtag: Nothing is simple or easy. (Nothing!) #Nisoe. Technology has come a long way, but it is almost never as simple as its marketers suggest.
My wife and I have rarely managed to touch any aspect of our audiovisual setup in our apartment without needing to pay someone to actually make it work. Now, hiring tech support in this way is reflexive — a pre-emptive way to buy back time that would surely be lost in figuring the whole thing out and probably failing. So I encourage people to budget for that, whether in hours or dollars.
Beyond your job, what tech product are you currently obsessed with using in your daily life, and what do you and your family do with it?
The infinite Spotify jukebox still seems like a miracle to me, and I've found it to be a particularly fun way to introduce my toddler to music. When she was smaller and knew no words, I'd improvise playlists over, say, breakfast-food-related themes: ("Toast and Jelly," "Starfish and Coffee," "Breakfast in America") and then post them on Facebook with a photo to amuse friends and relatives.
Now that she's putting words together, we riff off those. She just said "amazing" for the first time, so we tuned into Aerosmith and Luther Vandross singing songs with that word in the title. Also Barack Obama on YouTube singing "Amazing Grace."
Why is Spotify better than alternatives like Apple Music?
I haven't tried Apple Music, so I'm not sure if it would be any better at this, but it would be neat to be able to post these spontaneous playlists to Facebook with some kind of natural language command so that people could play them with just one click. Why can't I type (or speak) something obviously recognizable, like "take the last six songs I played and post them to my Facebook account" and have it just happen?
If you could dream up a gadget or app that has yet to exist, what would it be and how much would you be willing to pay for it?
I don't even know where to start here. Let's go from cheap to expensive.
A voice (or foot!) operated screen door for when your hands are filled with grilled food or dirty dishes: $10.
An app for all kids' first phones that allows them to help when they see someone on the street in need of help. Hit one button, and $1 moves from their allowance app to the nearest homeless shelter or food bank. I'd pay $20 for this, but maybe Apple or Google will figure this out themselves and give it away in their app stores.
And how about an app that finally lets me store all of the restaurants I want to try, so I can pull it up whenever I get hungry to remind myself of what is nearby or at the location that I'm heading to? Maybe $25 for this one.
Oh, and something that would fill out camp and school health forms automatically: $1 trillion.
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