Take your pick of apps to track spending

PHOTO: Take your pick of apps to track spending

There's an app for pretty much everything now so it was no surprise when my campaign to watch and record every dollar I spent found some high-tech support in the Apple App store.

My chosen app - iSum - has served me faithfully over the months as I note every expense, from a $1.20 can of soft drink to a $50 buffet meal.

The method in my apparent madness is to impose some financial discipline and stay under a self-imposed $35-a-day budget as a way to save more.

It wouldn't be possible to do this without iSum - think of the paperwork - but it is just one of a large number of free iPhone apps available.

To get a sense of the options, I checked out some other apps in the Apple App store.

The apps were rated according to how comprehensive their features are and their ease of use.

I wanted to use them in practical situations to get a real-world view - unfortunately, that precluded reviewing any Android apps as I have only an iPhone.

Still, one of the programmes here - Toshl Finance - is also available for Android phones.

And the criteria I use in these assessments can serve as a guide to readers who want to choose apps be they iPhone or Android ones. Whatever the choice, I hope that more young adults will download and use at least one app to start the healthy habit of tracking their expenses.

iSum

I started using this earlier in the year and found that it's one of the simplest apps on the market but scores low in terms of features.

The programme allows you to add up items. You can theoretically use it to add up anything - the distance that you've run in a week, for example.

But iSum stands out as a way to record your spending. From launching the app, you are just one click away from a list of items that you'd spent money on.

You can quickly include the value of the latest purchase and add it to that list.

There's an optional field to type in a note for your latest expenditure, such as "curry puff" or "soft drink".

The date of the expenditure appears next to each entry and the programme adds them all up to give a grand total at the top of the screen. That's all there is. There's no room for you to key in your monthly income or for fancy pie charts of how you are spending your cash.

If you want to find out how much you spend daily on average, you have to manually divide the sum at the top by the total number of days.

But the app serves its purpose of being a spending tracker - nothing more, nothing less.

I like iSum for its simplicity and ease of use; I mastered it within five minutes.

Whenever I make a purchase, it takes just a few seconds to make the entry on iSum rather than having to spend much longer fiddling with my phone. This makes it perfect for use on the go.

The free version allows you to create only two spreadsheets of expenses - for a third spreadsheet, you'll need to pay for an upgrade.

Features: 2.5/5

Ease of use: 5/5

Wally - Smart Personal Finance

Wally is fast gaining popularity, recently ranking among the top on the list of free "finance" apps.

There is good reason for the buzz. Wally's graphics are easy on the eye and the app is simple to use despite packing a good number of useful features.

To start, you have to sign up with your e-mail address. Beyond this I took about 15 to 20 minutes to get used to the interface. It's definitely not as idiot-proof as iSum, but you won't need a PhD to use this app.

The home page lists your latest expenses and keying in another entry is really quick. You can drag down on the screen to add an expense or tap on the huge plus sign on the screen.

You then type in your new expense, leaving it unclassified if you have no time, or putting it under several pre-set categories such as "food and drinks" or "transport and travel". You can also tag the venue of the purchase (or the website, for online buys).

There are other features as well.

If you've classified your spending properly, you'll have a breakdown of how much outlay goes to each category. You can also set a monthly budget and the app will tell you if you are meeting or busting it.

One unique feature, which is still in the "beta" or testing phase, allows you to scan your receipts with your phone's camera - and Wally will read the figures and impute them automatically.

I couldn't get this feature to work on my phone, perhaps because I'm still on an old version of iOS. But a colleague of mine with a newer phone managed to get it to work - the spending amount from the scanned receipt was accurately recorded in the app.

Note that this receipt scanning feature is switched off by default for new users so you will have to activate it in the app's settings section first.

Features: 4/4

Ease of use: 4/4

Toshl Finance

Toshl is another relatively popular app, boasting big, colourful graphics with cutesy monsters guiding you along. This adds fun to the dreary process of budgeting and expense-recording.

Other than Toshl and Wally, most other apps in the market look pretty corporate - boring and indistinguishable from each other.

You have to register your e-mail address when you start, so you can send your income or expenditure spreadsheets to yourself later on.

It takes only around 15 to 20 minutes to master this app, just like for Wally.

In fact, both apps have similar features although the interface is different: You can set budgets and record your income, and the programme will tell you if you are in the red or the black.

The slight headaches come when you need to enter your latest expense fast.

The app forces you to categorise every expenditure by adding one or more tags to it - otherwise, you won't be able to save your entry.

This is frustrating as I want the flexibility of leaving some entries unclassified, especially if I'm in a rush, and this app does not allow me to do so.

Features: 4/5

Ease of use: 3/5

Conclusion

So will I change the app I use after this exercise?

I gave up on Toshl early on as it took me significantly longer to record new spending entries.

Wally was a different proposition and I actually felt tempted to switch; it's quite easy to make new entries and the app has an intuitive layout and cool features such as bud-get-setting.

But for now I'm sticking with iSum. My iPhone is getting old and it takes quite a while to launch Wally while the simple iSum starts up instantaneously.

For other young adults, my advice is to just pick one app and start using it - it will surely get easier to use once you have mastered the interface.


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