Spending and saving your money wisely can be a challenge, but with a little discipline and the right website or app, you can make it happen. There are plenty of options available, so I've spent the last week trying them out. Here are eight apps and website worth trying, and what you need to know about each!
Website, iOS and Android app, freemium
Spendee offers a laundry list of features to help you with budgeting. It can connect to your bank accounts, then automatically categorise all of your expenses within so you get a good idea of what you're spending on. From here, you can create budgets for different categories, making it easier to avoid spending too much on mechanical keyboards each month. You can also add cash expenses rapidly, create shared wallets with friends and track multiple currencies, perfect for holiday spending.
I tested out the app and came away impressed. The simple categories are easy to understand, the graphs look nice and adding multiple bank accounts is as easy as pie. The automatic categorisation works well for some items (like restaurants and groceries), but categorised a coffee as a bank fee and couldn't categorise my council tax or water bill. I also couldn't find a way to reassign an expense's category, which seems like an obvious thing you might want to do. (Weirdly, this works fine on the web app, so perhaps this is just an issue with the Android app.) It would also be nice to be able to set rules for future use, like to classify all fees from 'First Bus' as 'Transport'.
Unfortunately, while the Spendee app is free, to add a bank account you'll need to spend £2 a month on a Plus plan, and automatic categorisation costs £3 a month. There is a seven day trial available, so remember to cancel the subscription before you get charged if you don't end up liking or using the app!
Money Dashboard offers a similar laundry list of features to Spendee, but with a more polished interface both online and in-app. As before, your incomings and outgoings are automatically categorised, and you get handy pie charts to show you where all the money is going.
Money Dashboard's automatic categorisation worked far better in my experience, with council tax, the water bill and transfers between accounts correctly identified. There's also the option to automatically recategorise all similar transactions, which is nice, although the categories offered are a little more complex than Spendee's choices.
There's also a Planner mode that pulls in all of your regularly recurring transactions so you can project your expenses in advance, and a budgets mode for setting limits on what you want to be spending on certain categories, like eating out, each month.
For a completely free service, Money Dashboard is excellent.
Bean is a simpler offering that looks at your reoccurring expenses and suggests ways you might save money month-to-month, like switching energy providers, negotiating a lower phone bill and so on. I followed its advice to get a cheaper broadband package, and I'm now saving a tenner a month -- not bad! Moreover, Bean can actually contact a supplier to cancel a contract you're not using on your behalf, which is jolly handy.
Bean is free, relying on commissions from switching providers to make money, but they promise their service is 'completely unbiased and will always offer you the best deals regardless of fees'. It's a website for now, but Android and iOS apps are reportedly being worked on.
This legendary website offers a comprehensive selection of articles, deals, calculators and user-generated content designed to save you money. It's excellent to check out before committing to big or recurring purchases, like insurance, utilities, homes, cars and so on. It's extremely deep as well; the more time you put in, the more time you can save.
However, the site is somewhat disorganised, and it may take you a while to find the most helpful areas. Googling 'Money Saving Expert' and your topic (e.g. 'car insurance money saving expert') can be a good way to find the most relevant pages.
iOS and Android app, free
Monzo is an 'app-only bank', a virtual offering which nonetheless provides a real actual bank account with cards accepted everywhere.
The benefit to going fully digital is that you get instant notifications as money is spent, with all of the fancy categorising, budgeting and tracking features you don't usually find in official bank apps. Monzo has also proven popular with holiday-makers thanks to its policy of not charging currency conversion fees; I've used it in China, Denmark and Portugal without problems.
If you're willing to switch current accounts, you'll definitely see the benefits of this modern approach. You can learn more about Monzo in @jeff_elephant's review on the giffgaff blog last year.
Splitwise offers an easy way of splitting expenses with friends and family. You both get the app, and then whenever you need to share an expense, one of you adds it to the app, notes the amount and who needs to pay who. Then, you can either settle up at a convenient time, or simply know that the other person needs to pay for the next thing to make it even.
This is a nice way to make sure that your loaning or borrowing doesn't get too far out of hand, and helps ameliorate the awkward feeling of knowing that you owe someone some money, but you can't quite remember how much it was or even what it was for.
The app works in multiple currencies as well, with features like receipt scanning with itemisation and currency conversion reserved for those that pay £2.50 a month for the Pro version.
iOS and Android app, paid
This app automatically invests spare change from your expenses in a stocks and shares ISA, increasing the amount you invest as you accrue more expenses to keep your savings and outgoings at a healthy proportion. You only need £1, online banking and a national insurance number to begin, so the barriers to entry are quite low.
However, it is worth keeping in mind that investments are not guaranteed, and you could easily lose money as well as gain it -- so research the app and investment in general before you get started. If you're keen, this might be a good way for you to tip your toe in the water as a first-time investor by investing small accounts of cash over a long period, rather than a large lump sum all at once.
It's worth noting that Moneybox isn't free; it costs £1 per month after three months, plus 0.45% of the value of their investments per year.
This online investment management app feels like a more grown-up version of Moneybox, giving you more control over where and how your money is invested, but still delivering simple controls in a smartphone app. The app is very easy to use, with the usual selection of graphs, charts and other exciting data visualisations.
The Nutmeg team make all of the tricky decisions, giving you broader options to govern how risky you want your investments to be, how much money you want to put in and so on; you can't directly invest in a specific company. This approach seems to work well, as the company has won numerous awards since being founded in 2011, but it's still too early for me to give a proper judgement on its performance.
Fees are paid weekly, but there are no fees for setting up an account, exiting, making transactions and trading. As before, it's essential to remember that your investments can lose money as well as gain money, so make your decisions carefully.
So there we have it, eight apps and websites that could help you to spend less, save more and most importantly know more about what your money is up to.
For more reviews and recommendations on budgeting apps from giffgaff, check out @willp789's Top 5 Budgeting apps for Android and Charlotte Yau's What budgeting apps are out there? article.
What apps and websites do you use to manage your finances and save money? Let us know in comments below!
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