Chances are if you’re not a total and complete Luddite, you use apps for something — chatting with friends, playing games, listening to music or perhaps doing some of your money management, investing and banking.
Apps have become ubiquitous in today’s digitized world, and for good reason. They compartmentalize the things we do into simple interfaces that help us organize and stay on top of our complicated lives.
But here’s the problem: There are just too darn many apps out there, which makes choosing the right one really hard. That goes double for apps that help you manage your personal finances (check out our comparison of some good investing apps here). Are they secure? Do they make things easier? Do they help you track multiple accounts?
How to review a personal finance app
While it’s great to read expert reviews and even user reviews available in places like Android Central or Apple’s App Store, whether a personal finance app is really good or not depends on your personal needs. And when you find an app that seems to do everything you need, it’s only going to be as effective as you are. Just like your favorite exercise app, if you never exercise, you may as well have not downloaded it.
With that in mind, here are our recommendations for finding personal finance apps that will work for your personal needs.
1. Compare, compare, compare
One of the great things about being alive today is just how much information is available at the click of a button. Back in my day (yes, I’m waving my cane in the air as I say this), there were no smartphones or apps. A lot of businesses didn’t have an online presence. We relied on recommendations from friends or the Yellow Pages to find service providers. And we typically made decisions based on nothing more than proximity to our home, the biggest ad or whichever company was listed at the top (which explains why AAA is such a popular business name).
Today, there’s a wealth of information. Recommendations don’t just come from people we know, but through online reviews. So, when you’re trying to decide which apps to choose, take advantage of this information. Read the customer reviews, read the expert reviews, ask friends what apps they use, and then…
2. Take a few apps for a trial run
Once you’ve narrowed down the field, take a few of your selected apps for a trial run, especially the free ones.(This list of budgeting apps for families can help you get started.) See if you like the format and functionality before linking any of your personal accounts to them. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you like the interface? If you don’t like all the bells, whistles and knobs powering the app, well, chances are, you won’t use it. User experience is important. Do you feel comfortable and confident utilizing the main features of the app?
- Are you able to easily access the information most important to you? Consider this a test of convenience. If you need Clippy or Pipey to explain how to use the app, you probably won’t become a daily active user.
Once you find an app you like, link up your accounts and continue your review. Keep in mind that you can always move on to another app if the first one you selected isn’t living up to your expectations.
3. Manage your money wisely
While apps are great, especially for budgeting, automating your savings and bill-paying needs, plus keeping track of your money in real time, they aren’t a magic bullet for solving your financial problems. If you’re bad at managing your money (e.g. you’re constantly overspending or didn’t use your app to automate your bill payments so you keep racking up late fees) you can’t blame the apps.
To get the most out of any app, you’re going to have to use them to implement basic money management skills, like creating a budget, reining in your spending, automating your bill payments, automating your savings and even doubling up on bill payments if you have the financial ability.