When Amy first told me about the app she was using in preface to our MBT Talks for this week, I asked myself why I hadn’t thought of using an app to track my spending earlier (apart from the fact that I just switched my Blackberry for an iPhone two months ago). As someone who loves making lists and planning, I find inputting my own expenses highly useful, even enjoyable.
The habit started when I took a spring break trip to the Philippines in 2010. Because my parents were funding the vacation, I wanted to be responsible and keep track of every dollar I spent. When traveling abroad, it’s common to perpetually leak money from shopping and eating, or be pick-pocketed if you’re unlucky.
Not only did tracking my expenses help me stay within a reasonable budget, it was also useful for when I wanted to look back on the names of things I ate and other things I probably wouldn’t be able to recall the following week.
Like Simon, I’ve tried writing everything on paper, but it’s impossible to remember exact amounts by the end of the day, and it quickly becomes a neglected chore. Instead, I listed everything on a memo on my phone, which was especially effective when I worked for six months in Hong Kong because I was on a tight budget and paid for everything in cash.
After talking to Simon, I realized that this habit isn’t universally rewarding. But I’m a control freak, and I like to micro-manage my life — I also keep all of my credit card receipts! Expense-tracking apps fit my needs perfectly; I would’ve used them even if we weren’t doing it as an experiment.
In fact, I was so excited about downloading Saver and Toshl that I was disappointed when I didn’t spend any money the first day. The apps allowed me to visualize my spending and budgets, categorize my purchases (sorry, Mint, but your categorization abilities are inadequate) and add my own tags and notes. Saver, which was worth the $4.99 for my purposes, also features rainbow pie graphs and photo attachments. A more heavy-duty option, Toshl is free, available on all devices and supports recurring expenses and incomes.
Day-to-day spending is easy to lose track of, and those small purchases build up. Inputting my expenses into my phone keeps me within set daily, weekly or monthly budgets — for example, I didn’t enter the $340 plane ticket I bought this week because it’s not regular spending, nor is it something I would forget buying when looking over my credit card statement.
All it takes is a few seconds after handing over my cash or credit card, and it also ensures that I pay attention to how much the cashier or waiter is charging me. I’ve had a few minor “Aha!” moments after a day of unexpectedly copious spending. For that alone, the effort is worth it.