Desirae Odjick likes the clarity personal finance apps can provide. "I've been a Mint user for four years," says Ms. Odjick, an Ottawa native. "It tracks everything."
Though she's naturally app-savvy – Ms. Odjick blogs about personal finance at www.halfbanked.com – she says many millennials use apps to save their money because the apps are easy to use, can often be linked to all bank accounts and provide great graphics on negative and positive cash flow.
"There are a lot of people who are turning to apps for budgeting and financial management," says Ms. Odjick.
Still, she feels apps are a good first step but not the end game when it comes to money management. She says each app has its strengths and weakness – she's not thrilled Mint hasn't changed her spending behaviour, for example – and that users ultimately have to take responsibility for their own saving. To that end, she now augments her financial management with Google spreadsheets.
Jessica Moorhouse, a Toronto-based millennial personal finance blogger and podcaster, believes in starting with a solid savings strategy. "Know why you want to budget," she says. "Figure that out and start playing with apps."
Here some popular Gen Y apps:
1. Mint: The veteran of personal finance apps, Mint is popular as a first step for millennials seeking to track their spending. It links to all of a user's bank accounts, and provides credit scores, tips on money management and budget tracking via a smartphone or computer. "It's a great first step," says Ms. Odjick, who has been a Mint user for four years. "It's great at providing information on where money is actually going."
She says another positive is the quality of the graphs, which show spending patterns. What isn't so great, says Ms. Odjick, is that the calculations are all done automatically, psychologically removing the user from the process. "Manually inputting my expenses helps curb spending," she says.
Because Mint required users to provide their bank account user names and passwords, some experts are concerned about how easy it would be for someone to get that information and access those funds.
Barry Choi, a Toronto-based blogger at www.moneywehave.com, takes issue with Mint's fraud protection. "You technically give away your information," he says. "That's not a risk I would personally want to take."
2. YNAB (You Need a Budget): With a "give every dollar a job" philosophy, YNAB is big on delivering support and advice to users on how best to curb spending and save their money. "I like YNAB because they want you to see your mistakes – they want to educate you about your money," says Mr. Choi.
He says he likes the "roll with the punches" flavour of the app – explaining it acknowledges that users can fail at budgeting now and then and that's OK. And he also finds that the app's approach of "age your money" (saving this month's income to pay next month's expenses) successful.
Joel Arthurs, who started using YNAB with his wife over a year ago, appreciates that they both can concurrently track expenses with YNAB. "We needed something convenient that we could both update," says Mr. Arthurs of Waterloo, Ont. "Having a budget that can be used from our phones allows us to know what is available in each category before we even discuss if we should buy something. It has also allowed us to plan ahead and accumulate some funds for those one-off expenses like memberships or unexpected vet visits."
He says he plans to update to YNAB 4 in the new year. "We went from living paycheque to paycheque to being able to plan ahead," says Mr. Arthurs. "We also know exactly where our money is going and how we can trim our budget."
3. Freshbooks: For millennials with businesses who need to manage their invoicing and business spending, Freshbooks can help keep "everything in one place," says Ms. Moorhouse, who started using it to manage her side businesses. She says some millennials work multiple jobs and don't have time to send off – or chase – unpaid invoices. Freshbooks can help by tracking photographed receipts, sending invoice reminders, and tracking payments, promising to save users 16 hours a month.
Though Canada lags the United States in terms of the number of personal finance apps on offer due to stricter financial regulations and fewer banking partners, according to Ms. Moorhouse, however, she says there are exciting new options in the works.
One is Tally Financial, a personal savings app that's currently in beta testing. It sends text messages to users, keeping them aware of their spending achievements and because it's linked to a user's bank account, provides balances in real time. "They've done quite a bit since last spring," says Ms. Moorhouse, adding the firm has recently made inroads with major Canadian banks.
Mylo, also in beta testing, is another app with a twist. "They automatically round up your purchases and save the difference," says Ms. Odjick. "They invest your spare change." What that means is if your latte is $4.50, and you pay $5, the 50 cents in change will be invested in a diversified portfolio of ETFs. "They're a small team in Montreal and they're still trying to work everything out," says Ms. Odjick. "That [app] is going to be exciting, by making it more accessible to invest."
The one thing app users agree on is that financial tracking apps can help make sure that your money doesn't fall through the cracks. "They're a great tool to use," says Ms. Moorhouse. "Try a bunch out and see which ones work for you."