The money apps I can’t live without
We know we can all do with a bit of help with budgeting, saving and the rest. Thanks to fintech, there is now an abundance of apps promising to be the one tool we need to finally get on top of our money mountains.
The problem, dare I say it, is there is now almost too much choice. How do you know the best budgeting app from the merely mediocre? And who’s got time to test them all?
As a personal finance specialist, I have an interest in trying them out.
I haven’t tried them all, probably a dozen or so.
Generally speaking, the ones I like have been easy to set up, breezing you through things like ID verification processes and ‘tell us a bit about yourself forms’ before you’ve even noticed you are doing it.
There are some common frustrations. With budgeting apps, the slowest part of the process is linking all your different accounts, via APIs, to the app. You need the account information to hand in order to kick off this automated process. You also need to understand that agreement to sharing data about yourself is part of this world. You have to agree to your financial information being passed between institutions so that it can all be brought together, under the terms of Open Banking, and you might not feel comfortable with this. You should be able to read the data use terms of any app before you use it.
Once this is done, you have to be a little patient and use the app for a few months before meaningful insights into your spending and saving habits can be generated.
With some, there is a queasy sense that the app developer and its clients are getting more out of having your information than you are getting use out of the app.
But the very best should make you feel the opposite.
The true test of how useful an app is, of course, is whether you actually use it.
There are seven on my phone that qualify as regularly used. Each has a different purpose. I have a budgeting app, a spending app, a credit score app, a pension app, one for pocket money, one for investment and one for health insurance.
There are many others I have tried but have been deleted, not because they are flawed or I didn’t like them, but because they weren’t for me at the time and I found I wasn’t using them enough.
The below aren’t recommendations, as what’s useful for you won’t be the same as for me, but these are the ones that have made the cut and why:
For children’s pocket money. We pay a fee to use it but the functionality is great: the spending cards are attractive, the design is clear and easy to follow for the little people and it seems to have become a strong enough brand among children that they now casually refer to “My GoHenry”. The app allows kids to give to charity as well as to save and you (and they) can set spending limits. There’s a parent view and a child view.
My Royal London pension app (naturally)
Introduced in 2019, the Royal London pension app is a good way of keeping track on the growth of my pot. It’s actually extremely satisfying to remind myself how much I am putting away and how quickly my retirement savings are building. It honestly makes me feel a bit better if I am having a down day to take a look at it. Perhaps that is a sign I need to get out more, but in general, people don’t really bother to check in on their pensions more than once a year, if that.
The smarter spending app. I‘ve just started using this one so can’t comment in depth on its usability, but I can see that engagement and accuracy are high on the list of its aims. I like the notifications, which are not too frequent (as some can be).
A credit score checking app. I probably don’t need to check this as much as I do, but I find credit scores endlessly fascinating. What has made it go up? What has made it go down? This insight into how lenders view me is kind of addictive. I haven’t used the product marketplace, but am interested to know whether the offers and deals that are meant to be more tailored towards my credit profile are better than the ones that are available on price comparison sites or direct. Plus, being able to see items of outstanding debt in one place altogether is a good way to keep track of your total balance outstanding and how close you are to your credit limits.
Starling Bank (spending card)
I don’t spend from my actual debit card anymore. I use my Starling account. Starling is a challenger bank that says it wants to make people better at managing their money. I put an amount of money in that covers my essential and non-essential spending at the beginning of the month. I divide this into ‘spaces’ for each type of spending. The spaces are: “food shopping”, “train”, “boys”, “emergency saving”, “holidays”. Then I draw the cash down from the spaces as I need it throughout the month. This deliberate action slows my spending down, makes me much more aware of what I am spending and keeps me in control.
Vitality (rewards and offers)
I have Vitality health insurance and I use the app, although not ever so frequently, to take advantage of member rewards. Last week, I got £140 off a bed & breakfast booking on Mr & Mrs Smith. I also like to check how many points I’ve earned and how I can earn extra points. It’s a reminder that it pays to be healthy.
I use Revolut (as well as Starling), when making card purchases abroad. There are no fees on foreign transactions and if you make a lot of purchases while on holiday, this can save a lot of money.
There are other apps I have not tried yet, but plan to: Tickr, Clim8Invest, Finimize and Money Dashboard. The danger with adding more, of course, is that I don’t have time to properly use them all and they sit, screen after screen of them, a reminder of plans begun but not followed through.
On the other hand, being at the cutting edge of the best fintech available is also comforting. I’m not being left behind. My finances are moving with the times.
Becky O’Connor is personal finance specialist at Royal London