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opinion

My smartphone ate my wallet, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

In the past six months, I have migrated a lot of my banking, investing and monitoring of reward cards to my phone. My wallet is one small step away from obsolescence. For now, it’s way thinner than before.

If you’re a millennial or member of Gens Z and X, it hardly needs to be mentioned that smartphones rule for managing your personal finances. But boomers and older generations don’t think in the same phone-forward way as younger people. As a result, they may not be aware of all you can do with money using a smartphone.

Let’s start with payment apps like Google Pay and Apple Pay. I tried Google Pay on my Android phone during the pandemic-driven shift to electronic payments and give it a big thumbs up for convenience.

I loaded a few credit cards plus a debit card into the app. It’s easy – just take a photo of the card to get started. For contactless payments up to $250, place your phone up to the chip reader atop your retailer’s electronic payment terminal. Hint: Hold the back of the phone to the reader for best results.

Slapping my phone down to pay seemed awkward at first, but it became second nature quickly. There’s some occasional fumbling with Google Pay, but I’ve found that the issue is as often a glitch with a retailer’s payment terminal as something I did or didn’t do. Just try again if this happens to you.

You’re right on the money to worry about security with any payment system. With Google Pay, your card details aren’t shared when you make purchases and the app won’t work unless your phone’s screen lock feature is used. No one should be able to pick up your idle phone and see your data.

As part of my job, I have accounts at quite a number of banks. Across the board, their apps for mobile devices are more intuitive, more practical and more fun than their websites. Plus, you can skip the usual password ordeal by using your phone’s fingerprint reader to log in.

In encouraging electronic payments over cash, the pandemic has cleared the way for using your phone to pay for things virtually everywhere. At a weekly farmer’s market located in a park near where my wife and I Iive, almost all the venders use an app called Square that lets you use your phone or plastic to pay for items.

Credit card apps are a handy way to keep track of your spending on the fly, including transactions that are both posted to your account and pending. Posted purchases have been logged as a charge, while pending means a purchase has been received but not yet applied to your account. Card apps also help you keep track of spending room on your card, and your total reward points.

Investing by app is great for trading, monitoring your account and checking what’s happening in the markets. But you’ll still want to log into your broker’s website to use tools for selecting stocks and funds, portfolio planning and checking performance over various time frames.

Trading by app is arguably too easy, especially if it’s one like Wealthsimple Trade, which charges no stock-trading commissions. In a stock market with less upward momentum than we’ve seen in the past year, frequent trading opens the door to buy and sell transactions that don’t work out.

Another way to slim your wallet is to transfer reward cards to your phone. For example, I added my PC Optimum card to my phone and now use it to monitor points, transactions and deals on offer. At the cash register or at self-checkout, you just open the card on your phone and hold the bar code over a scanner. I also loaded my CAA card on my phone – you can summon roadside assistance by phone and track the driver on their way.

I’m open to doing a roundup of personal finance apps for smartphones – let me know which ones work well for you at rcarrick@globeandmail.com. One I really like is PayByPhone – it basically puts a parking meter in your phone. Park your car at a metered spot in a variety of cities, key a location number into your phone and pay for your spot through a linked credit card. Running late to get back to your vehicle? Just use the app to extend your stay. I’ve used the Green P app in Toronto with similar convenience.

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