There’s been a lot of good writing about the merits of paying money for software in the past couple of years, so you’ve probably heard this argument before. When companies make money from selling your data or attention to third parties, they build their software to maximize the time you spend looking at ads and the amount of data they can extract from you. On the other hand, when companies get money directly from the people who use their software, they design it to provide the best experience for their users.
It’s a simple idea, but I find it to be true. The apps that provide the most value to me, and the ones I enjoy using the most, are the apps that I pay for.
So, if you have room in your budget to pay for software, here are four paid services I use and love:
I’ve written about Micro.blog several times before, but the elevator pitch is that it’s an ad-free network of independent microblogs. Short posts show up in a timeline similar to Twitter, but posts longer than 280 characters are supported, too. People can follow you and comment like on Twitter as well, but you’re able to publish your posts on your own website, as long as it has an RSS feed.
Micro.blog is free to use if you host your own blog, and for $5 a month they will host one for you. This is a good option if you don’t know how to build a website, want to keep your microblog separate from your main blog, or just don’t want to bother with maintaining one. (I pay for a microblog out of a mix of reasons two and three.) You can choose from a few different templates and customize them with CSS. Here’s what mine looks like. They offer a 10-day free trial for the blog hosting service, but again, the social feed is free forever if you post from your own site.
YNAB stands for You Need a Budget. It’s a zero-based budgeting system, sometimes described as digital envelope budgeting. The basic idea is to “give every dollar a job.” This means that you plan what you’re going to do with every dollar you have in your accounts right now, whether that’s spending on groceries this month, your car registration next year, or investing for retirement.
I like YNAB for two main reasons. The first is that it makes it easy to spread out the cost of big annual expenses (like that car registration) throughout the year so you’re always prepared for them. The second is that it holds you accountable in a way that non-zero-based budgets can not. With a system like Mint, if you plan to spend $50 on clothes one month and you end up spending $200, there’s not much you can do at the end of the month except say, “Oh well, I’ll try harder next month.” With YNAB, you have to choose which of your categories you’re going to take $150 away from to cover that overspending.
YNAB has a 34-day free trial and then costs $83.99 per year. They have iOS and Android apps, but only the web interface has all the features, so you’ll use the web app for planning and the mobile app for logging expenses day to day. If you use sign up using my referral link, I get a free month.
Feedbin is my RSS reader. I mainly love it for its clean, minimalist interface, attractive typography, and lack of ads or anything else I don’t want, but it has a full set of features. They give you a secret email address so you can subscribe to newsletters and get them in your feed reader instead of your inbox, and it integrates with a bunch of social and read-it-later services like Twitter, Micro.blog, and Pocket. They also claim to be the best way to read Twitter.
Feedbin has a 14-day free trial and then costs $5/month or $50/year. It doesn’t have its own mobile app, but it can sync with several third-party readers.
Fastmail is an ad-free, privacy-focused email host. They offer calendars and contact management as well, but I really only use the email service. They have Android and iOS apps, and you can use their web interface or the desktop email client of your choice. There’s nothing fancy about it; it’s just straightforward and reliable, the way email should be.
Fastmail has a 30-day free trial and costs $3-9 per month depending on the tier you choose. I use the $5 tier, because it’s the cheapest one that lets you use your own domain. (Because your blog belongs on your own domain, and your email does too.) That gets you 25 GB of storage. In comparison, Google gives you 15 GB (not that I ever came close to using it all). Check out their blog to get a sense of their values.