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Using a Smartphone to Keep Track of the Pennies

By on May 12, 2013 in Expense, Mobile with 0 Comments

This is a great article that talks about apps that can be used on the smartphone to aid in keeping track of expenses. With most everyone having a smartphone of some type in the business world today, this can be a very helpful way to manage business expenses in both the small business and corporate world.

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Published: January 30, 2013 on The New York Times website

“Look after the pennies, and the pounds will look after themselves” is a British proverb that works equally well when you translate it into dollars and cents. In either form, it means that if you’re careful with the details of your spending, then you’ll save more money.

Toshl Finance is all about making managing personal expenses an easy and almost lighthearted affair.

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Expensify makes it straightforward to enter an expense, identify a merchant, tag the entry for later reference and so on.

MyWallet+ for iOS balances an easy-to-use design with some powerful features.

It’s just not easy to do. Luckily there’s a way to help track your spending without fussing with receipts: expense apps on your ever-useful smartphone.

Of all the apps for monitoring spending, one of the hardest to beat is Toshl Finance. Free on iOSAndroidand Windows Phone 7, the app is all about making managing personal expenses an easy and almost lighthearted affair. It does this through user-friendly design and cute graphics that include animated cartoon monsters.

The app’s main interface is a simple menu bar at the bottom of the screen. This gives you access to expense data entry, income data entry, a summary screen, a budgeting screen and settings. Entering expenses couldn’t be easier: Tap on the expenses button, press “+” and a large calculator-style keypad appears.

Toshl lets you tag each expense as you like (cafeteria lunch, for example), and maintains a handy display of all your tags for future access. The income entry screen is similar. The summary screen gives you a plain bar chart display of monthly income and expenditures, and a readout of your balance. It also reports on how your balance compares with the previous month and how you’re performing against a budget. Toshl can also e-mail data as a text file so you can enter it on a spreadsheet on a computer.

The app lets you plainly see if you’re spending too many pennies compared with what you’re earning. And that’s about it — Toshl’s best feature is simplicity. To enter more than one income amount per month, or to access other features like the ability to export your expenses data as a PDF or display more complex graphs, you’ll need to buy the annual subscription for $20.

A similar but more powerful app is Expensify — also free on iOSAndroid and Windows Phone. This app is more formal, although it too revolves around an artfully designed user interface. Clearly labeled pages make it straightforward to enter an expense, identify a merchant, tag the entry for later reference and so on. The app also offers you the chance to track your time spent on a project, which could be handy for the self-employed.

If your expenses involve traveling by car, there’s a system to enter your mileage, including automatically tracking your journey by GPS. There’s also the option to enter a photo of a receipt into the app and have it scanned automatically. Ten receipt scans are free each month; after that, they’re 20 cents each.

This app is a mobile interface for the Expensify Web site, so you need to set up a free account, but you can manage your finances from different devices easily. It’s a powerful app, suitable for personal expenses or perhaps for small-business users. But it’s not always good at automatically scanning receipts. And because its menu system is so plain, it’s sometimes easy to forget where you are in the different layers of menus — as, for example, when you’re editing details in a previous expense entry.

Users of Apple devices may prefer the $2 app My Wallet+. It balances an easy-to-use design with some powerful features. Entering expense data is easy, and the app has clever calendar dials to make entering recurring expense information simple. It also delivers its transaction summary data in a neat list of income and outgo above a sum total, similar to the way you may write expenses by hand.

There are many options for exporting your data (as in Excel-ready format or as a Web browser-ready file); and you can back up your data to Dropbox’s cloud service. You can even protect your info with a password. If this app has failings, it’s that it’s a bit pedestrian, and not as quick to interact with as some alternatives.

On Android, the free EasyMoney — Expense Manager app is similar to MyWallet+, with the added options of tracking different accounts (like credit card versus daily spending), measuring spending against different budgets and tracking which bills you’ve paid. Its plain design is much more text-based than the alternatives, and this may put you off if your interest is in more casual expense tracking.

Apps like these may even help you save the $500 a smartphone can cost — one penny at a time.

About Kit Eaton

Kit Eaton is the App Smart columnist for The Times, reviewing mobile apps for all sorts of devices. He also writes for various publications on many aspects of high technology, mobile devices, space, robots and social media as well as the business of innovation. He specializes in explaining the more complex aspects of science and innovation in accessible ways.

Kit holds both a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in physics. He came to writing late through a circuitous but creative route, having previously worked as a physicist, business planner for a large multinational corporation and theater technician. Fond of travel, art and photography, he lives in Europe with his wife and two young children.

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