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your money

Interiors of the new ING bank cafe located at 221 Yonge St. in downtown Toronto photographed May 6 2011.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Looking for ways to keep your spending under control? There's an app for that – several, in fact.

A whole host of smart phone applications have been developed that allow users to track their expenses and stick to a budget – with more discipline, in many cases, than if they were to go about it in the old-fashioned way.

"The problem is in the past, it was so manual," said Patricia Lovett-Reid, senior vice-president at TD Waterhouse.

Very few people are inclined to squirrel away their receipts and wait until they get home to record them in a program like Microsoft Excel or jot them down on paper.

"It's not sustainable and the applications, I think, make it more sustainable," said Ms. Lovett-Reid, who uses TD's mobile banking application on her iPad.

If you can record your latest latte or shoe purchase right at the cash register, it's easier to keep up the habit of tracking your spending.

"I do think a lot of these applications are making it easier for people to take control of their financial situation," said Ms. Lovett-Reid.

Most major financial institutions offer their own mobile banking programs, that connect with users' own accounts. But there are scores of others that can be downloaded for free, or for just a few dollars, that do the trick, too.

At, users can gather all of their financial accounts in one place. Mint automatically categorizes expenses, and can come up with a budget based on a user's spending history. The free service can be accessed on the Web or from a smart phone.

IXpensIt goes for $4.99 in the iTunes app store, with a "lite" version available for free. It can store photos of receipts, track mileage and account for currency differences.

"We would support any technology or app that truly helps Canadians make smarter financial decisions. Anything that you can do to get them engaged is great," said Perry Quinton, vice-president of marketing for the Investor Education Fund.

The not-for-profit organization was established by the Ontario Securities Commission and is funded by settlements and fines. It has a number of calculators and other tools on its website,

Quinton recommends people track their spending for a month – whether it's using an app or just a plain-old pen and paper – before they sit down to create a budget.

"If you're dealing with an off-the-shelf budget app, you're using their categories. How do you know they've captured everything?" she said.

"You can set a budget, but if it's not realistic, it's not going to work."

Quinton also urges caution as far as the free or very cheap apps are concerned.

"Developers don't just make apps and put them out there for fun. Think about the information you're giving them. You're giving them everywhere you spend money," she said.

"That's valuable information that can be passed on. Some of the apps ask for a lot of personal information."

If the apps are free, the developers likely make their money by targeting advertising to the user through the app, she added.

"And it will likely be tied to where you're spending your money. It's very tempting," she said.

"I'd recommend that they sit down and look at some of the tools that are offered from some of the unbiased sources before they jump into something that they don't necessarily know what the goal behind it is."