Mo money Mo problems?

It’s official: the retail holiday season is upon us. Starbucks has released its red cups. Shop owners have begun to hang lights along Newbury street trees. A huge wreath currently hangs from the entrance of Chestnut Hill Mall. A few Uber drivers have begun playing Christmas music (cc. during an Uber trip this weekend, I listened to Michael Buble’s Christmas track for a solid 8 minutes.) My Spotify commercials advertise holiday in-store deals (no, I haven’t updated to Spotify Premium yet). And last, but certainly not least, just this evening, I saw a commercial promoting ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” movie program. I love Christmas, so I really can’t complain; however, with Halloween clearly in our rearview mirrors, Thanksgiving just around the corner, and the holidays fairly far off the distant future, how do we act as consumers in this holiday limbo-land? Inspired by the upcoming Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we get thrifty.

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This blog will analyze money saving apps and grade them by two categories: (1) how well the apps help consumers save and (2) the extent to which the app can drives business for itself and other businesses.

You’ve most likely read all the Buzzfeed articles articles, seen the Facebook advertisements,screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-7-17-51-pm

and listened to countless friends brag about the latest money-saving app that we absolutely must download. If you are anything like myself, immediately you doubt that these inventions can actually save you money. In most cases, you believe these promotions make you spend money to save a fraction off of the full price of a product you never wanted originally. Extreme Couponing anyone?

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Who really needs that many bottles of bbq sauce?

To kick off this analysis of whether life-hacking-money-saving apps can actually help us save money while driving business, let’s analyze apps built to help us manage money. I can’t even begin to count the number of times my mom has told me to “balance my checkbook” (or even describe what that phrase really means). Countless times, I have sat in my finance classes while my professors drone on about the perks of budgeting, saving for retirement, and building my 401k, and grown increasingly overwhelmed by the minute.  I hope I’m not alone in sometimes nostalgically wishing I could return to the days when plopping a quarter or two into my pink glass piggy bank made me fiscally responsible.

Mint money manager quells many of these anxieties. This free app makes managing one’s personal finances easy. It is built to collect its users entire financial information and store it in one place, giving the user a complete picture of her accounts, card balances, and bills. Because Mint knows everything and anything about its users’ money, it can help them find savings by analyzing thousands of checking, savings, and credit card offers. It then makes recommendations that will help users save the most based on their unique lifestyles and financial goals.

To conduct my due diligence into this post, I signed up for Mint myself. Upon downloading the app, I was prompted to link my debit card to the app. Immediately I questioned the security of this app. I only continued with the process because my wise mother (yes, the one begging me to “balance my checkbook”) has suggested this app in the past.  I was curious how Mint convinces prospect users (who may not have moms as opinionated as mine) to download and link their accounts.

For those prospect users in need of some security convincing, Mint explains that it encrypts all data with a “256-bit encryption level” and the data exchanged with Mint is “encrypted with 128-bit SSL.” Though, I, and I’m sure most potential customers, have no idea what those phrases really mean, the app quickly verifies the stability of its security by advertising that it originated from the makers of TurboTax and Quicken.

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-10-57-05-pmOnce my accounts were properly linked, I was AMAZED with the results. Within seconds, I could easily see all my past transactions, my account balances, and the key categories of where I spend most of my money. Mint told me I had spent over $500 on groceries in the past 3 months. That’s kind of absurd, right? It suggested various ways to save on groceries and offered accounts that provide grocery rewards. (Another tidbit of advice I’ve absorbed from my finance fanatic mom is not to open multiple credit cards, so I can’t say I will be taking Mint’s advice, but nonetheless, good to know).

In the app, I could also build a budget collecting the key categories in which I spend most money. Instantly I felt much more accountable for my expenses, I could feel my wallet organizing itself, and I could almost hear my mom commending me for my fiscal maturity at Thanksgiving.

So how does this app stay afloat? It makes money when its users save money. Essentially, when a user signs up for a checking, savings, credit card, or brokerage account that Mint sponsored or suggested, Mint.com earns a referral fee from the bank of interest. Cha-ching!

So with that, Mint has earned a Saving Money Grade of a B+ because while it doesn’t help us directly save money, it gives its users greater transparency into where we spend our money. It receives an A- for Generating Digital Business because it encourages investment into other financial instruments and makes money doing so.

With this solid understanding of the money managing tools available to us, let’s take a closer look at life hacking apps to start saving money.

Shopkick is an app created to help users save money on miscellaneous purchases. Its retail partners range from BestBuy, Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s. Shopkick shows its users all its possible deals prior to the users’ shopping experience and allots its users “kicks” per item or activity. Each kick is like a reward point. Once the user gets to the store, he can start earning kicks — just by walking into the store, checking out new items, paying with a linked credit or debit card, and scanning the receipt. Once the shopping experience is complete, the user can cash out the collected kicks in exchange for a gift card to a store of his choice.

Lastly, to earn even more kicks, users can invite their friends to join the app. Each friend who joins results in more kicks to the invitee. While one may not necessarily save money by using this app, users can earn points that could result in a “free” purchase from a different store to which Shopkick’s giftcards apply.

Saving Money Grade: B+

Generating Digital Business: A

Like Shopkick, Ibotta is another app created to help people save money on things they already would be purchasing. After downloading the Ibotta app, before a user goes shopping, she unlocks cash rewards by completing simple tasks like filling out surveys or watching short advertisements.

Once she completes the simple the simple task, she can buy the products he’s “unlocked” at any supported store. Wegman’s, CVS, and Nordstrom are just a few of the many supported stores. After purchasing his items, the user scans the product barcodes and submits a photo of her receipt to ensure her savings will be deposited into her Ibotta account within 48 hours of purchase. This app requires a little extra work (i.e. simple task completion, barcode scan, and receipt submission), but it results in actual savings that can be cashed out to your checking/savings accounts. Furthermore, in addition to increasing sales, companies who partner with the app gain unique and insightful data on prospect or existing customers.

Savings Money Grade: A

Generating Digital Business: A

Now that we are equipped with money management knowledge and applicable savings skills, anyone who has made it to the end of this blog should feel confident in his or her thrifty saving abilities for the upcoming holiday season.

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10 comments

  1. This is a great blog post! As someone who is graduating and moving on more into the “real world” next year, I will definitely find use using one of these apps you mentioned above. I can see the financial rewards for being responsible and keeping track of what you spend money and figuring out how you can save. It was also interesting to read about how these apps make money on their end and generate digital business. I wonder if BOA or Chase will try to integrate budgeting tools though within their apps to compete with these apps, as I think I’d chose that over these options if they had it!

  2. cattybradley · ·

    Awesome post. I had heard of Mint and Shopkick, but Ibotta is new to me. I agree with you that “extreme couponing” is pretty crazy and users end up with stuff they don’t really need. I like how Mint goes beyond just budgeting and incorporates analysis into their money management suggestions. I wonder if in the future they will try to incorporate an in app rewards system like Shopkick. I agree with you that Ibotta users have to be more mindful and committed to using the app. Having to do tasks prior to purchase and then uploading documents post purchase for savings seems like a lot. Also, I am curious about the variety of products users can answer questions about on Ibotta.

  3. gabcandelieri · ·

    Great post! I have yet to use any money saving apps, but I definitely could use one (I’m sure my parents would appreciate that as well). Your description of Mint actually made me download the app and see trends within my own spending habits. I definitely agree that it may not necessarily help me save money, but I can definitely be more aware of where I spend the most and try to cut back on certain areas. Offering advice for more a more organized spending strategy is a useful and interesting value prop, allowing B2B interaction/ consolidation. In this way, his B2B interaction reminds me of the ecosystem driver model from last week’s reading “Thriving in an Increasingly Digital Ecosystem,” in that Mint is “creating relationships with other providers that offer complementary (or sometimes competing) services.”

  4. holdthemayo4653 · ·

    I loved this post. Your casual writing style with humor worked in is highly engaging. I really appreciated your structuring of the post: overview, consumer grade, company revenue grade. It was informative to learn about each application and which might apply to the best to me. I’ve heard of Mint before but had never thought of using it before this explained the categorization of both current and past expenses. Thanks!

  5. jagpalsingh03 · ·

    Great post! I haven’t heard of any of these apps but they definitely seem useful, especially for this holiday season. I know I try to go online to check my account and spending habits but the BoA interface isn’t user friendly and it makes it such a chore to do. Noticing trends in spending is the first step to cutting costs so with its user friendly appeal, Mint looks like a “must download” for those of us who haven’t quite grasped how to “balance a checkbook.” I haven’t downloaded the app but I have to ask, how (if at all) do ads work on the app? It comes across as a conflict of interest to have advertisements on a money saving app. My experience with money saving apps have been that you save tiny amounts of money but go through an exhausting number of steps, so I definitely have to check out Ibotta and Shopkick if they buck that trend.

  6. mashamydear · ·

    Thank you for the informative blog post! Although I’m a Finance major, I must admit I don’t have the greatest personal finances. I’m way too compulsive when it comes to purchases, and although I know in my heart people are getting paid money to endorse products I don’t need, I still want whatever a celebrity wears. Mint seems like a great app because it shows you where your money is going and that’s enough to change some people’s behavior. I once tried to keep receipts from all my purchases in a given month and organize them by category, but so many businesses are now going paperless I would have to specifically ask some cashiers to print a receipt. Eventually, I felt like a burden so I stopped asking. I wonder what Mint can do to become more of a widespread platform, but I surmise it would require a wider change in how important personal finances are to individuals.

    Shopkick and Ibbota seem useful too, but there’s personally too many steps for me to actually download the app and use it. I think there is definitely room for a money-saving app along those lines, but it would need to streamline the process to make the average consumer more incentivized to commit to the app. Perhaps some sort of hardware will be developed in stores where it can connect with a money-saving app to register products immediately– sort of like the virtual grocery stores in Korea but alongside real products.

  7. Wow! Great post! I really enjoyed reading about all the money saving apps. I honesty had never given this much thought, but I am so happy that this market exists. I liked the way you started the blog post in a very relevant manner tying savings to the crazy holiday season before us! I have been a loyal mint user for a long time. I have a lot of love for this app. I think it keeps me grounded. I have always been pretty careful and reserved when it comes to my personal finance, but once I discovered mint it just made it that much easier. If anyone does not have mint I I recommend getting it asap! However, the other apps were news to me! I am defiantly going to be trying them out very soon! I really appreciate the informative blog post, and I think that I many of us have benefited from reading about this money saving apps!

  8. Aditya Murali · ·

    Awesome post!!! I’ve heard a lot of great things about Mint before, but never really got around to downloading it. Although it doesn’t actually offer you discounts or give you free things, Mint is definitely a huge help. I know this because of my experience with My Fitness Pal, where for a whopping month, I counted calories and logged all the meals I had each day. Over this month, without actively trying to lose weight, I actually did lose weight. This was because just being cognizant of what I was eating made me actually eat less. In this same sentiment, I know that an app like Mint will help me cut down spending just because I’m staring at my (pitiful) finances every day.

  9. Great post! I haven’t heard of Mint before, but will definitely check it out. As soon as you mentioned having to add in all of that financial information, I also immediately started to question the security of the app, so it’s smart that they added the information in about encryption (and I bet even though most people don’t even know what that means, its enough to convince them that it means their information is secure).

    I actually have used ShopKick for a few years now and have probably accumulated over $100 in gift cards, so it definitely is a nice way to get some extra shopping money. The main problem for me with shopkick is actually remembering to use it when I go in stores. Sometimes when I get bored/have extra time waiting for someone I’ll go around scanning the items that give kicks. I’m sure the intention is to have people purchase the item after checking it out, but I’ve never done that before.

    I also have used Ibotta (along with several similar rebate apps) for awhile too. While those can be nice, a lot of the products are really specific ones that I’d probably rarely try out. It’s nice how they sometimes have generic rebates (like onions, or any brand of milk) but those rebate amounts are pretty low. It is a great way to save some money on things you’re already buying, though. The main issue for Ibotta for me is how you have to get to $20 in the account before you can actually cash out, so if you don’t use it too often (or only use it to get 25 cents off of cheese) it takes a long time before you can actually get the money.

    I also got this app Flipp recently, which stores store ads and matches it up with coupons. It’s pretty cool. I have been seeing ads about it on TV, actually, which makes me surprised since I have no idea how they can afford to do so. I don’t *think* there are ads on the app, which makes me question how they even make money and what the purpose of running TV commercials is.

  10. daniellep2153 · ·

    Great post! My mom is an accountant so she’s always talking to me about saving money for the future. Although I do try to save some money on my own, I could be doing more to prepare myself for later in life. More recently, I’ve thought about downloading an app like one of the above, but was afraid to do so due to security reasons, as you stated above. I’m also hesitant because seeing your spending habits can be a bit shocking at first. I think apps like these are helpful in managing these habits and making sure that you’re staying in your budget. It will be interesting to see how these apps evolve over the next decade as technology continues to revolutionize the way we spend and save money.

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