How mobile devices can help you control and save money

Published: Friday, Feb. 1 2013 6:00 a.m. MST

Rodriguez also checks the app right before he shops and goes out for errands. Because he is still looking for a good job, he says can show it to family members who are helping him out. That way they can feel confident he is not wasting money.

"It gives me a sense of accountability," he says.

Virtual envelopes

In Hull, Iowa, Sharla Kattenberg and her husband found their way into mobile money apps through trying to follow radio financial guru Dave Ramsey's advice to use an envelope system. The envelope system basically means dividing monthly cash into different envelopes with each marked for different purposes such as groceries, gas, entertainment and the like.

The Kattenberg didn't like the idea of using physical cash in envelopes, so instead they use the Easy Envelope Budget Aid app — a virtual envelope budgeting system.

Each virtual envelope is displayed as a bar which turns from green to yellow as the money is used up. If the bar goes red, that means a person exceeded the budgeted amount in that envelope.

This happened recently for Kattenberg when she hired someone to hang pictures in her home. The service would cost $170, but the household envelope only had $100 in it. She transferred money from the grocery envelope to cover the cost.

"We might be starving," she says, "but we'll have a pretty house."

When couples use a money app there are no secrets. Each person knows what the other person is up to.

"I know he'll see it," Kattenberg says, "and he'll see it right away."

Together but separate

Maniago with Mint.com, however, is noticing societal trends that are challenging his company's app to keep current with people's lifestyles. He says in the not-so-distant past, most couples who got married (himself included) would combine their accounts.

Now, he says, more newlyweds are keeping their accounts separate. This means Mint.com (and, by extension, other similar apps) need to be able to help couples not only understand where money is going, but also how to divvy up things like bills and varying balances in multiple accounts.

Security

Some financial apps are like Mint.com and use established "bank level" web security protocols. Mint also doesn't allow any altering of accounts such as withdrawals, transfers or bill-paying. Other apps, such as the popular Pageonce, can be used to pay bills.

"We would absolutely recommend anybody thinking about using an app to, before inputting anything, do some due diligence. Do some research on the company," Carlson at InCharge Debt Solutions says. "Who are they? What is their security policy? Do some Googling. Look at their BBB profile."

Behaving yourself

But all that financial information in an mobile app may not be enough, says Carlson. She thinks the personal finance world is behind the diet world in focusing too much on information and not enough on behavior modification.

"The diet world doesn't say, 'We just need to educate people on nutrition and calories,'" she says. "There is a very a clear understanding it is a behavioral issue. We all know you have to eat less, you have to exercise more. We know this, but we don't do it because we have bad habits. We have behavioral issues we need to correct."

It is the same thing with personal finances.

Carlson thinks of a healthy living app that gives bubbly encouragement alerts such as, "Keep eating and exercising like you did this week and you'll meet your weight goal in a month."

Carlson says something similar for a financial app might be great. Such an app could encourage its users with alerts such as, "Save money like this weekly and you will have $7,000 in your account by the end of the year."

Or maybe something like, "You saved $500 this month. Forget what that healthy living app says and go treat yourself with a banana split."

EMAIL: mdegroote@desnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

Email: mdegroote@desnews.com

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