While technology often ends up costing you money, it can also help you better manage your finances. And it’s clear that there’s a need. In 2013, Statistics Canada reported that household debt was 163.7 percent. This means Canadians owe an average of $1.64 for every $1 they earn in disposable income.
“The number one way technology helps is it gives people a sense of where they are,” says Bruce Sellery, a personal finance expert and author of Moolala. “So much of the overwhelm people are feeling is that they just don’t know where they are with their finances. Many of the services are tracking ones so they can really be helpful to see ‘where is my money going?’ and use that analysis to alter your behaviour.”
Quicken by Intuit is arguably the most popular personal finance software. It can help track account details, keep payments organized, and ideally curb over-spending. Download it at quicken.intuit.ca, or buy on CD at major retailers. $50
Register online for Mvelopes and use it to allocate funds based on expense categories, like utilities, groceries, and mortgage to plan out a proper budgeting strategy. Here’s the bonus: it takes into account non-fixed expenses that can pop up out of the blue, such as car repairs, illness, or family vacations, and creates metaphorical envelopes in which you consistently accumulate funds to pay for it.
“What I like about this service in particular,” says Bruce, “is that it helps you to proactively manage your money versus tracking the past. I think that’s a real strength.” Also available for iPhone and Android (Premium option with unlimited accounts and envelopes), $9.95.
Most banking institutions have mobile apps for accessing bank accounts, paying bills, transferring money, and even depositing cheques (yes, virtually deposit cheques!) right from your smartphone. The ability to see on-the-fly, in real-time, how much money is in your account and what’s owing on your credit card makes it much easier to decide if it’s a good idea to pick up that new pair of shoes you’re holding, or if it’s better to wait.
Mint supports all major banks in Canada, automatically populates your account information, and organizes funds, sets budgets and categorizes spending, though there have been some qualms about inaccurate categorization of items. The best part? It’s free, and available for mobile platforms, including iOS, Android, as well as at Amazon (for Kindle devices), and Windows Store. Money Mentors, a not-for-profit credit counselling agency in Alberta, typically recommends Mint to its clients. “It gives a more comprehensive outlook of an individual’s finances,” says William Akoto, Marketing Communications Manager. “And you have access to all of the information in one place.”
But Mint, and other apps like it, requires access to your personal account information. If you’re reluctant to provide this to a third party, there are alternatives that let you manually input balances. One such option is Spendee. Enter your income and expenses, then add new items as needed. View a line list of costs and generate an overview in order to visualize where most of your funds are going, to make adjustments on spending if necessary. $1.99, iOS & Android.
Bruce and William both point to the importance of making sure your method is tailored to helping you meet your specific financial goals and objectives. But Bruce also emphasizes the importance of making sure the technology doesn’t just become a distraction. “People can get very focused on the app and less on the behaviour,” he warns.
If used diligently, tech tools can help to spell out an accurate picture of your financial situation, as well as take action to improve it.
Be That Person
You know, the one who always gets great online bargains that no one has ever heard about. Here’s a list of some great deal-finding sites and apps:
Christine Persaud is Editor-in-Chief of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.