Here’s a confession for y’all: I spend money on dumb things sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. Marshall and I are emotional spenders–when we have a bad day, or a good day, or a mediocre day, we shop, we go out to eat, we buy $50 worth of wine and cheese at Publix…and lately, we’ve {finally} come to the realization that it’s not actually making us feel any better. I know. Sometimes us gen y-ers take time to come to these conclusions.

So, what’s a 23 year-old, pretty broke grad student to do? Read stuff, obviously. I’ve started reading all kinds of advice from experts, from other bloggers, and have tried out s e v e r a l online/apps for managing finances, tracking spending, budgeting, etc. based on the recommendations I have discovered around the World Wide Web.

In my opinion, your two best options for budgeting your money are Level and Mint. I’ve ruled out other popular apps/software like Everydollar and Learnvest because they’re more complicated/involved than a basic,  personal finance, track-yo-spending and not-be-poor, plug and play app. Fundamentally, Level uses a standard income-to-bills structure to show you where your money’s going, and then makes recommendations for you about how much you should be saving and spending. Mint is a bit more involved. It helps you input the same info (income, bills, credit cards, etc.) but builds a more complex budget on various spending categories, while also giving you detailed information about which categories are stealing the most of your bucks. Learn more about the basics about the two apps I’ve selected here and here, and then I’ll share a few of my thoughts with you (I’ll wait…..)

Okay. So. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here: there are a few good comparisons of these two apps, Level and Mint around (a good one is here), but after reading, I was more concerned about what these apps would actually look and feel like, how usable they’d be, and if either of them would actually help me. More importantly, I wanted to know which, if any of them, I was likely to actually make use of, beyond installing it on my phone, looking at it once, and getting on with my life.

So here’s the deal with Mint: it’s a smart app, for certain. It takes all of your info from banks, credit cards, loans, bills…and crunches it so you can see your most accurate input-output. It also helps you build a specific, categorized budget based on your disposable income after bills, debt, etc. Here’s what’s different about Mint: it uses all this information to look at things like interest rates for your credit cards, minimum payments, etc. and gives you tips and advice. For me, that is really cool, but also overwhelming as shit. Within (literally, and I do mean literally) minutes, I was getting emails from Mint about how much of my total credit I was using, which credit cards I was paying chunks of interest on, etc. This is all really useful information, but it was coming at me all the time–upcoming bill reminders, harassing me about interest, coming straight to my email (which is already a scary place) ON TOP OF the reminders I already get from both my bank AND my credit card companies about upcoming bills and information. There are also a few different apps they have now – one for bill pay, one for budgeting…it’s a lot.

Also, for me, a micromanaging budget just isn’t effective. Breaking my spending into super specific and fixed categories for eating out, entertainment, etc. each month just drives me nuts. How many of us have the exact same eating habits or social calendar each week or month? Pass. Plus, even though I’m not shopping until October (learn more about why here!), weird things come up, and I have such a tiny amount of disposable income each month that I can’t really afford any sort of slush fund in addition to all these weird tiny categories. But, if you think you need to create a. Us get and build in those tiny limits for yourself, Mint is the best way to do it.

Which brings us to Level. Level focuses on a more basic income:expenses formula. It also allows you to incorporate any amount of money you’d like yo save each month. So based on your spending (it analyzes your input and output for you and figures these things out on its own with few errors, which is pretty nifty), ,it gives you the total amount you have to spend each week/month. No micro budgets. If you want to buy $150 hockey tickets one month, and then eat ramen, or get takeout once a week and be anti social (is this just me?),

Level gives you a real time snapshot of what your spending looks like, and you can quickly make your own adjustments and see what you can splurge on and where you need to tighten your belt. It puts much more financial decision making in your control, which I really like because it has been helping me learn how to make those kinds of choices without needing to be emailed and micromanaged every 5 seconds. It helps manage credit cards and outgoing bills somewhat, too, but if you have debt or need help with a better plan to bay off big credit card limits, etc. you may need a more structured app. Level does a good job of keeping track of outgoing payments, but can’t help you put together a plan for paying this off, as far as I know.  Mint is definitely a good choice there. Level is also pretty nice to look at and has a really sleek design.

*Bonus add on app: Wallaby. I dig this little app. If you have a credit card or two, one of the smart things you can do is to start learning how to leverage those credit card rewards. Sometimes that means using your credit card for little purchases and still paying off the balance in full each month, so you start racking up cash, gift cards, miles, whatever it may be. To maximize these efforts, you have gotta download Wallaby. You just tell it what credit cards you have, and when you are dining out, going to the movies, or shopping/getting gas/buying groceries, you open it up and it lets you know which card you should use to get the biggest bang for your buck. Seriously cool little app. Don’t leave all that free money floating out there!

Alright, friends. That is what I got for ha today. There are a ton of other apps out ere, so explore some more, but these are you two basic options and both work well. Get spending (or not!) and let me know what ya think.



Get Level here.

Get Mint here.

Get Wallaby here