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How to Manage Money in Your Budgeting App

Woman using budgeting app

We’ve written about budgeting apps before on this blog, including the best free and paid apps to help you save money. If you want to take full advantage of the powerful tools they offer, you’ll need to invest some time and effort. I’ve been using budgeting apps for many years, so here are some simple techniques you can use to get the most out of your favorite app.

 

SYNC IT WITH ALL OF YOUR ACCOUNTS

Budgeting apps work best when you connect to all of your accounts. That can include debit accounts, credit accounts, savings accounts, car loans, investments, and even your mortgage! The more sources you can add, the more complete your financial picture will be. This is especially useful if you have a few of the same type of account, such as multiple credit or debit cards. Syncing accounts is so important that I’ve switched banks/credit unions just because they had limited third-party sync options!

Many apps can consolidate all of this information into a simple graph that shows your net worth over time. If you’re working hard to pay off debt or save, it can be extremely rewarding to see your net worth increase over time, even if the progress you are making seems slow.

 

CHECK THE APP REGULARLY

Many budgeting apps will advertise that they are the silver bullet to get your finances back on track. The reality is that while they can provide insight, they won’t do the hard work for you. Checking your app frequently—say two to three times a week—can make sure that you are keeping tabs on your spending habits.

Most, if not all, budgeting apps use the merchant description to lump your transactions into the correct category. Checking the app at regular intervals will give you the opportunity to correct any errors in this automatic process.

Let’s say that your grocery budget has $500 in it. Every time you go grocery shopping, your app adds that transaction to your grocery budget. One day, though, you get something else at the grocery store, like a beach towel for your upcoming vacation. That probably shouldn’t go in your grocery budget, but your app will automatically put it in that category based on the store. Manually correcting that inaccuracy will make sure that the insights you’re gathering from your budgeting app are correct.

 

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REFINE YOUR BUDGETING CATEGORIES

When you set up a budgeting app for the first time, you’ll usually define your budget items or categories based on some presets that you can customize. Don’t feel like you’re limited to just those categories! The more you are able to refine your budgets over time, the better. My favorite category of all is my miscellaneous budget. So many random transactions just don’t fit in any other budgeting category!

One question I’ve heard a lot is, Should I have a few broad categories or get more specific in breaking down my spending? Personally, I like a larger number of smaller budgets. It makes it easier in the long run to see where all your money is going. Fewer, bigger budgets give you less accurate metrics, but they are easier to handle, especially if you are just starting out.

Examples are always helpful when talking about budgeting, so here are my categories. Don’t be overwhelmed—I’ve been budgeting for years. If you start with a few categories, that’s great. You can slowly build up over time!

  • Food
    • Groceries
    • Restaurants
  • Household
    • Mortgage
    • Utilities
  • Transportation
  • Other
    • Pets
    • Home Improvement
    • MISC
    • Personal Care
    • Technology
    • Clothing
  • Kids
    • Childcare
    • MISC
  • Internet
  • Personal
    • Entertainment
    • Fun
  • Subscriptions
  • Work Expenses
  • Insurance
  • Healthcare
  • Travel & Vacation
  • Gifts
  • Loans
  • Exercise
  • Taxes
  • Property Taxes

 

AUDIT YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS

Whether it’s companies trying to boost their reoccurring revenue for investors or hoping to convert more people to customers through the appeal of smaller monthly payments, everything seems to be turning into a subscription these days. Luckily, many budgeting apps have subscription trackers to help you keep tabs on things.

Finding subscriptions is relatively easy for these tools. Does a similar transaction occur on a periodic basis at exactly the same time? It’s probably a subscription. That being said, it’s useful to regularly audit your transaction history for subscriptions, flag them as such, and then review your subscription list on a regular basis. I even include my mortgage as a subscription. It’s the same amount, every single month, at exactly the same time! This helps me budget month-to-month and gives me a sense of exactly how much money I have to play with that isn’t tied up in reoccurring transactions.

 

ADD YOUR PARTNER

If you’re in a long-term relationship and you manage finances with your partner, it can be useful to give them access to the app and work together to categorize transactions. Not only do you have a teammate who can categorize transactions and fix errors, but you can also plot a path for better financial health together. My wife and I do this and it is invaluable. If you’re interested in how we did it, I’ve written about how we transitioned from separate accounts to joint accounts when we got married.

 

BE FLEXIBLE

Like dieting, if you go from zero to 60, it might be hard to stick with budgeting. Create a realistic budget and don’t beat yourself up if you go over it. Over time, you’ll get better at it and be able to optimize your spending and saving. Even budgeting experts can fall down! Learn from the mistake and move on. You can always make up for it the next month!

 

Whatever budgeting app you use and however you use it, remember that it alone won’t solve your financial woes. All these apps can do is provide some transparency into your potentially opaque bank statements. It’s up to you to set your goals and boundaries, then use these apps to help keep you on track. Good luck!

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Oliver Ames Headshot

About Oliver Ames

Oliver is VSECU's social media strategist and spends most of his day engaging with members through our Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram profiles. He has a background in science education, non-profit fundraising, business communication, media production, and membership-based organizations. When not at work, Oliver spends much of his time with his wife and their little dog Butterscotch at their home in Montpelier.
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