Saving With The Help Of My Smartphone

In just a few short months, I’ll be making the shift from full-time student to working professional. While there will be many things I miss about the college experience and BC, I’m ready to get out of the classroom and start a new chapter of my life. As I prepare to make some big changes – including moving to Boston permanently and renting my first apartment – I want to make sure that I’m being smart financially.

Thanks to our smartphones, money management has never been easier. Gone are the days when managing finances meant using pen and paper or even Excel workbooks – the future is digital. As we heard in Lindsay Sutton’s guest lecture, even banking institutions as old as John Hancock are jumping on the personal finance app bandwagon with the launch of Twine. Recently, I’ve been doing a bit more research on the various apps out today, and I thought I’d share my findings in this week’s post in case some of my classmates are in positions similar to mine.

A lot of apps promise to help users take the guesswork out of saving, budgeting, and investing, however, not all are worth downloading. Below, I’ve rounded up some information on three of the most popular apps:

  1. Mint

Mint is a free app from Intuit Inc., the company behind TurboTax and QuickBooks. The app is advertised as an all-in-one resource for budgeting, paying bills, and tracking payments. Set up is easy: users can connect their savings and checking accounts and monthly bills to the app so that all their finances are in one convenient place. With this information entered, Mint will help you schedule payments and remind you when it’s time to pay the bills. The budget function in the app lets you track how much you’ve spent on different categories (ex. groceries, clothing) and even offers suggestions based on your spending habits. The last notable feature of the Mint app is a free credit score checker, which allows you to access your score and learn ways to improve it. Overall, it seems like Mint lives up to the expectation of a way to manage your finances in one place and it also comes with the backing of a company that has proved trustworthy with sensitive data.

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  1. Wally Lite

Voted a “Featured App” 131 times by Apple, Wally is an app that focuses on the tracking of expenses (so the what, where, when, why). One of the coolest features of the app is the ability to scan receipts. Instead of manually entering your expenses at the end of each day (or week), you can easily track your purchases with the snap of a photo. And, as an added bonus, if you have location services turned on, the app will automatically identify and categorize the expense, which means even less work for you. Like Mint, Wally is available for free download, however the app’s website indicates that they plan to launch optional premium features in the near future that could cost up to $5. According to some reviews, one of Wally’s pitfalls is that it may be too minimalistic. While there is a budget history section in the app, it doesn’t offer very detailed analysis. Moreover, there’s currently no way to link your bank accounts. However, if you’re looking for a simple app to help keep your spending organized, this one may just fit the bill (no pun intended).

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  1. You Need a Budget

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is different than Mint or Wally for a couple of reasons First, YNAB goes beyond basic budgeting and expense tracking to offer specific tools for goals like debt paydown. Second, YNAB requires a paid subscription of $6.99/month. But this fee isn’t without good reason. YNAB offers unparalleled support comprised of community forums, podcasts, and live, interactive workshops taught by subject matter experts. Of course, there’s also the ability to set goals, sync your bank accounts, view detailed spending reports, and a host of other features that I won’t bore you with. The outcome: an app with a cult-like following and the opportunity to get hands-on with your hard-earned money.

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Of course, the effectiveness of these apps is limited to the extent to which users make and stick to realistic goals. That said, I think an app with this function will help me build good money-spending habits and stop me from spending my entire paycheck on iced coffees. If anyone has heard of or used the apps I discussed above (or others!), I’d love to get your feedback.






  1. katherinekorol · ·

    Hi Margaret, great post. As someone who is currently renting an apartment in Boston, you’ll be happy to know that you’re already way ahead of me when it comes to money management. I don’t use any of the apps you’ve mentioned nor do I know anyone who does, but I definitely think that soon enough it will happen. Most people I know currently use Excel spreadsheets to make their budget. It’s not the most efficient tool for that, especially if you’re not the most Excel savvy person. From all of the apps you mentioned, I think that YNAB might be the most attractive, considering it has a function to help you budget a loan pay-down. It definitely seems like the easiest to use as well and has the most features to it. Although it does cost money, I think it’s reasonable to sacrifice one or two coffees a month to maybe get some money-saving help from experts and the community.

  2. Awesome post, Margaret! I wish I knew about some of these apps earlier, as I would have found them helpful even in college. Right now, I am not the best at managing or tracking my spending. For the simplistic nature of the app, I am most attracted to Mint. I find it really beneficial that through connecting your bank to the app, you can easily see where your money is going most. Right now, I would guess I spend most of my money on food, however, I would be intrigued to see how close behind clothes and travel sits (if they even do fall behind food expenses, how am I to know when I don’t yet track my purchases closely?!).
    Your post introduced me to some awesome apps that I will consider downloading myself, so thank you!

  3. profgarbusm · ·

    Great post Margaret, perhaps the most useful one I have read to date. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of any of these before and will certainly take all the help I can get as I attempt to do the whole “adulting” thing. I know other apps like Acorn are also great for beginning to do other mature things like investing!
    Thanks so much for the post, really useful info!

    1. mmerckbc · ·

      Thanks Matt! I’ve also heard of Acorn but decided against mentioning it here — best I get the whole budgeting thing done before I move on to bigger stuff like investing! But it looks like it could be very useful down the line.

  4. katietisinger · ·

    Awesome and useful post Margaret! I find these apps super interesting because they are so useful and there seem to be so many. It seems hard to differentiate one money management app from the other. It seems John Hancock and Twine used market segmentation, working to capture specifically couples. I would be interested to see how other money management apps are working to capture certain markets or types of people, or working to fulfill a certain need or feature.

  5. thebobbystroup · ·

    I personally use Mint, and I check it often. It is pretty awesome, especially the way it breaks down your monthly expenses into a pie chart (I often have a huge section for travel because of Ubers/Lyfts). The only complaints I have about it are very minor. Although you can link your accounts, they do not yet allow you to connect Robinhood (a commission free investing app I highly recommend). There are also some occasional syncing issues. It’s really cool how you can setup a monthly budget for different categories, if you are the type of organized person who can stick to a specific outlined budget.

    If I ever paid for anything with cash, I think I would really like Wally Lite (hadn’t heard of that before reading this blog), so I could scan in my receipts. However, I mostly use credit card or Venmo, so Mint already has access to those transactions.

    It does seem a bit ironic that you have to pay $7/mo. for an app designed to get you out of debt. That being said, if you are in serious debt, I’m sure it’s a small price to pay, as @katherinekorol mentioned.

    1. mmerckbc · ·

      Thanks for your feedback, Bobby! Glad to hear Mint has worked well for you.

  6. Addison LeBeau · ·

    Great post Margaret! As I’ve been getting closer to graduation and my own financial stability, I’ve been doing more and more research on the internet to find apps to help with my own budgeting sanity. I think this post was incredibly timely as we creep up towards graduation – I personally know more than a few people who have little to no grasp on their own finances and could be in trouble after graduation! I think apps like these help simplify the entire process, so it’s no longer a pain to sit down at excel and create various formulas to work on your budgeting. Mobile banking and budgeting is the future, and I think the sooner we accept this technology and integrate it into our lives, the better!

    Additionally – I’ve got to say I agree with @1bobbystroup – I find it incredibly ironic you have to pay $7/mo. for an app designed to get you out of debt!

  7. mpduplesmba · ·

    I was thinking of writing on a similar topic for my post next week, but you beat me to it! For several years I have been using an app called iExpenseIt that offers expense tracking, budgeting, and reporting. Its a bit bare-bones and a potential downside is that you have to manually enter all of your expenses, instead of just linking your bank accounts like Mint. However, I actually view the manual entry as a benefit. Its been shown that people spend more money when using credit/debit cards over cash. There’s just something about handing over cash that makes the transaction more real than blindly swiping your cards. This is a big problem for people who, like me, rely almost entirely on cards. For me, the process of reviewing my online bank statements a few times a month to manually enter my expenses into the app makes the transactions real again and makes me more cognizant of my spending. More so than just opening up an app like Mint and automatically seeing a graph of my expense breakdown. (I recently started using Mint too so I could link/view both my fiance and my accounts in a single place)
    For those about to enter the real-world of jobs/taxes/responsibility and are interested in your personal finances, I highly recommend a few books: The Millionaire Next Door, The Richest Man In Babylon, A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

    1. mmerckbc · ·

      Thanks for the recommendations Matt! I’ll definitely check those titles out.

  8. Jobabes121 · ·

    Awesome post Margaret! Just like @1bobbystroup, I also use Mint, but I also use apps like Acorn and Robinhood that goes a bit more than simply showing what I used the past month or so. I also attempted to organize my monthly budget by creating an excel sheet before (even with hands), but it did not last long haha. Definitely in the long term (as we get more used to the convenience provided by technology), such apps will be a must for many people who are busy even without the time for organizing their monthly budget.

    My one concern regarding these apps is the issue of digital privacy. I never really thought about this aspect before, but since there have been quite a few hacking incidents, and especially in light of Facebook’s data misuse and lack of privacy protection, I wonder how big of a damage it would cause for these apps to not manage the user privacy safely. Of course, I assume that they would focus on it a lot due to the financial nature of the user information, but some apps that are built for simple usage may not have enough protection against serious coding from some hackers. I may be too pessimistic, but in light of the privacy discussions happening recently, I wonder if these financing apps are ready to protect users from any data breaches.

    1. mmerckbc · ·

      I share your concern Jo! I think I may start by just using an app to track expenses and hold off on linking any of my bank accounts. The simplicity of being able to pay bills directly through apps like Mint is tempting, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to take that step yet.

  9. Really great post, but Lindsay Sutton would be disappointed that you didn’t include Twine from John Hancock! ;)

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