One of the ways I got my nearly disastrous financial life back on track was by reading a lot of economic advice online. It helps to be part of a community of people thinking hard about their values and their money and the alignment of the two. And it helps to read a wide range of opinions.
I also experimented with various online financial tools, and while some were helpful, I realized that there are five common ones to use only with caution:
1. Salary comparison tool
The reason salary comparison tools exist is so people can make sure they’re getting paid enough. If you need to use such a tool, however, your career is in trouble.
First of all, most comparison tools give you an average salary within a 25 percent margin of error. If you don’t know what you’re worth within a 25 percent margin of error, that’s a problem.
Why not just compare salaries with friends who are in your field? If you’re in a business in which you have no contacts, you’re not worth the average amount anyway, because you’re so ineffective at connecting with people around you that you’re compromising your ability to add value to a company.
Finally, these tools presume an outdated notion that people work only for the money. Sure, money is good, but people rank other things as way more important. So until there’s a salary comparison tool that takes flexibility, opportunities for personal growth, and available health care providers into account, they’re not worth your time.
2. Cost of living calculator
The problem with this kind of tool is that it gives you information you can’t use. You need to know which city will make you happy, not which city will save you $20,000 in housing costs.
Let’s say you’re thinking of moving from San Francisco to New York City. They’re both really expensive to live in, so the difference in your salary isn’t going to matter. You should probably think harder about their respective cultures than about money; very few people fit in well in both cities, and most feel like they belong in one or the other. A calculator can’t tell you that.
Now let’s say you’re moving from New York City to Los Angeles. You’ll save money on housing, of course, but you’ll need a really good car.
In L.A., a BMW is totally reasonable. You’ll end up spending more time there than in your apartment. In NYC, however, owning a BMW is commonplace only among millionaires. For most New Yorkers, having such a car is absurd — they just don’t drive enough. But online cost of living calculators don’t have a “BMW: yes or no” option.
And what if you’re moving from Chicago to, say, Kankakee, Ill.? You can compare home prices and taxes, but here’s something a calculator won’t tell you: Whether there’s a Nordstrom store there. If you have to drive 100 miles to shop anywhere besides Target, then the cost of living calculator is pretty much irrelevant — the parameters of “living” change significantly depending on the services available where you end up.
Read the rest at Yahoo Finance.