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Forget Budget Apps: Here's How Your Phone Can Help Your Finances

Alexis O'Connell

Journalists, bloggers, and techies have already app-reviewed the heck out of personal finance products. These expert opinions are readily available with a little help from Google.

What’s far more difficult than finding the perfect budgeting app is finding the motivation to follow through with using it. 

So what’s a 21st century spender to do when even the best of apps can’t conjure well-rounded monthly spending?

The key is using technology in a smarter way. Tapping into the right apps and automation can reign in your spending, save you money, and show you where your finances need improvement. Here are four ways you can use your phone to help your personal finances.

1. Use a Budget App—but Not Like Before

I couldn’t completely write off talking about budget apps. These little applications have a surprising ability to make you question your financial self-control and overall life decisions.

That’s alright. You don’t need to be buddy-buddy with your budget app. But changing your perspective on how you use it can help you learn about your own finance habits. Try approaching your budgeting app as a trial instead of as a money tracker that you’ll be tied to forever. Trials have something incredible valuable to offer: insight.

Specify a set period of time to use your budget app or expense tracker, perhaps one to two months, without actively changing your habits. Categorize your spending so that you’re able to review where your money goes. Simply by following up at the end of the trial period, you’ll have a more accurate picture of your spending habits, including where you tend to overspend. The results may surprise you.

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Since you know yourself better than anyone else, you decide what actions to take from there. That horrifying “bar and restaurant” total? You could eat out less. Or, knowing full well that the weekend won’t be complete without an extravagant night out, you could forgo something that’s less important to you.

2. Get Rewards for Your Spending

It may be the case that certain overspending will continue regardless of how absurd or unreasonable it might seem. Everyone has these highly personalized “non-negotiables,” for example, a $5/day latte habit. If you hang on to your non-negotiables, you should commit to saving some money while you’re at it.

Seek out discounts or deals for your loyalty to brands and establishments. As companies try to reel in committed customers, many recognize the need for recognition in the form of rewards. The obvious way to keep track of and communicate with consumer is via smartphone.

Check to see if your favorite brands or stores have mobile apps. A pro tip? Start with the places you already frequent so that you actually save, rather than being tempted by deals. For example, Stop & Shop and CVS—my grocery store and pharmacy, respectively—both have mobile apps containing coupons and offers, and they’re places where I already spend money.

Payment & Reward Apps

Of course, not every family-owned restaurant or local store has their own mobile app. Payment processing and reward-based companies have capitalized on this need to bring mobile capacities to smaller businesses.

Even if the rewards don’t come straight from the establishment that you frequent, these apps are keen on offering rewards in return for your business, and often operate as a middleman between you and the product or services that you purchase. A few of the most popular include:

  • LevelUp: a mobile payment platform that offers rewards for frequent use
  • FourSquare: a loyalty-based app that reviews local businesses
  • OpenTable: a restaurant reservation app that rewards customer loyalty

3. Make Your Friends Pay You Back

With everyone using credit cards rather than cash, evening out a shared dinner tab isn’t what it used to be. That is, until Venmo came along.

The creators of Venmo wanted a casual, convenient, and tension-free way for friends to exchange money, so that’s exactly what they made.

If you’re trying to keep a tight hold on your personal finances without being a tight wad—Venmo’s the app for you. So long as you’re alright with feeding your bank account information into your phone, Venmo is the perfect way to non-awkwardly request reimbursement. No more nagging your friends to pay you back, no more getting off-the-hook for the one friend not carrying a credit card.

4. Use Automation

Phones are funny in that they can deliver both the best and the worst of news. A Snapchat of your friend’s new puppy is delightful. Realizing via an on-the-go look at your online banking that you’ve overdrawn your checking account? Not so nice.

Luckily, advancements in technology attempt to address our innate human flaws, including forgetfulness. Take advantage of the automation that’s available to you, especially when it comes to your finances. A few ideas for keeping yourself in check with a little help from your smartphone:

  • Set text-message spending alerts for your debit and credit cards. You’ll be less inclined to fanatically swipe your card when your hefty new balance is buzzing in your pocket.
  • Set bill reminders. Paying bills late can lead to fees and, in the long run, a bad credit score. Simply set an alert for important pay dates if the transactions aren’t already automated.