The first step to having a better financial life? Know where your money goes. If you end every month with a low balance, credit card debt or a late payment notice on your loans, then you may need some help understanding your spending habits.
This is where the app Emma comes in.
- Brings personality to personal finance
- Proactively tracks recurring spending and subscriptions
- Hashtags subcategorize spending
- Tracks bank fees
- Hard to compare overall month-to-month spending
- Setting budgets is awkward
- It doesn’t discern savings well
- Emma’s personality isn’t for everyone
What is Emma & how does it work?
Emma bills itself as your new BFF — Best Financial Friend. And like any good friend, Emma keeps tabs on you — in this case, it tracks what you spend, owe, save and invest. Emma then compares it to a set budget so you can monitor your spending habits.
In the app, you link your checking, savings, credit cards, loans, investment accounts, cryptocurrency accounts and wallets. Then the feed populates with your spending information.
Emma tracks your balances and activity for each of your accounts and creates a feed of your weekly spending, category spending and subscription payment spending. The analytics section gives you a picture of each month’s spending by category and merchant. Additional features include a community board and bank fee tracking.
Emma has a paid Pro version, that offers more customization, transaction splitting and the ability to export your data to Excel. Emma Pro costs $4.99 a month, with discounted rates for 6-month and 1-year plans.
Check out the best budgeting apps here.
What’s good about Emma?
Brings personality to personal finance
Emma claims to be your Best Financial Friend, and does a good job of making personal finance less scary and more manageable. Its gamification of money extends to financial quests you can complete (although quite a few involve referring the app to your friends) and a weekly quiz where winners have the opportunity to win $100.
Proactively tracks recurring spending and subscriptions
It’s easy to rack up monthly subscriptions and memberships. Emma compiles all of those into one bucket and makes it easy to identify which ones to cut.
Hashtags subcategorize spending
Like many financial apps, Emma categorizes your purchases. Sometimes those categories are too general and hard to analyze. For example, an eye doctor visit and a haircut both got put in the “personal care” category.
However, you can add notes to purchases and give them multiple hashtags. Then you can see both your category and hashtag spending, which is useful.
Tracks bank fees
One feature tracks bank fees you’ve paid in each of your accounts, allowing you to get a handle on fees for late payments, overdrafts and ATM withdrawals.
What’s bad about Emma?
Hard to compare overall month-to-month spending
It’s great to have your finances at your fingertips, but since Emma is only on mobile, limiting the amount of information you can see. The analytics only looks at one month at a time, so you have to do a lot of swiping to get the bigger picture.
Setting budgets is awkward
When you first start Emma, it analyzes the last three months of spending and sets a budget for you. To change it, you press a plus or minus button, which goes by $10 increments. It got painful to do this for every category.
Emma also kept telling me I was way over budget until I discovered the “excluded” category, which let me remove my husband’s work travel from our actual spending.
It doesn’t discern savings well
Any deduction from your account is considered a “purchase,” so a large transfer to open up a new savings account sent me way over budget in Emma’s eyes. It sent me lots of crying emojis and promised to help me fix it next month.
Emma’s personality isn’t for everyone
Emma’s got personality, but it can be overbearing. Like a good friend, the app is always reminding you that it’s there for you, with over 12 different types of notifications that rely on emojis to get you to log into the app on a daily basis. The app itself has bright colors and a gummy bear icon, which gets a little childish.
Is Emma worth it?
If you wonder where your money goes every month, Emma can be a useful tool. Hashtagging purchases lets you really drill down on your spending. The subscription tracking feature is helpful for telling you how much of your monthly budget is already spent.
However, Emma can be overbearing at times, and to get anything out of this relationship, you have to really work on it to finetune your individual category budgets and spending. If you’re less of a gummy bear person and want a sophisticated look, Emma’s not for you.
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Image: Nastia Kobzarenko