One of my best memories connected with money is a dark blue diary that either my mother or my grandfather would fish out every weekend through my childhood. Then the whole family would huddle in the drawing room, the television would be set to a minimal volume, and while my father would read one set of bills and my grandfather the other, my mum would note it down, tally the expenses up and compare it to the previous week’s spending. Then, the bills would carefully be folded and tucked away at the back of the book. This was a weekly affair. Once a month, the expenditure meetings would go on for a little longer. This is a cherished memory because it signified two things for me: 1. Family time, and 2. Gave me a peek into how my parents’ manage money.
The not-so-happy thought is that after being shown such systematic and prudent financial behaviour for more than 20 years, today, at 28 years old, I’m bad at keeping track of how much I spend.
I console myself by saying that I’m not alone. In an earlier piece on women, finance and investment, we noted that women don’t talk money enough and as journalist Faye D’Souza writes in The Economic Times, most Indian women leave (or are strongly encouraged to leave) financial decisions to a man in the family (in my case, I’ve left it to my mother). And according to Forbes, with women worldwide driving 70-80 percent of all purchasing, D’souza also writes that many Indian women’s biggest fear is being “unprepared during an emergency or being left penniless at the end of their lives…”
Rather recently, I decided — enough with the undocumented spending. But I wasn’t too hot on my family’s diary idea either. I looked at a bunch of online options and here are my favourite recommendations. Let the penny drop for you too!
If you’re into the minimalist aesthetic (you still have to track your expenses though), you will like Dollarbird, which is laid out in a beautifully neat format. For rookies (like me and you), Dollarbird makes the process easier by using a calendar layout to help you track and predict how much you (will) spend. You don’t have to sign in (hallelujah!) — all you do is to enter how much money you have and Dollarbird will use it as the starting point. You can add your past, present and future transactions and the app will categorise it for you — you can track it on your mobile — and also calculate your balance each day (month or year, as you prefer), so you’ll know where you’re at financially. Like other finance-based apps, you can add people to it and manage finances together as well. (There is one annoying feature though: There’s a bird that pops up to give financial tips and mantras, you know like Microsoft Word’s annoying paperclip from your distant childhood.)
I have a bone to pick with the name and then again I don’t. It’s too simple, too nice even and that’s the charm of the app. The app is apparently based on the envelope method, where you create envelopes for all your spending categories (think rent, groceries, health, eating out, fitness, retail therapy) ahead of time, and based on that, set aside money in each envelope to spend based on categories and not your account balance. So instead of tracking what you’ve spent after you’ve bought that Rs 3,000 lamp and crying bitter buyer’s remorse tears, you can decide if you really need it based on how much money you have in the retail therapy envelope. Sensible no? I think this one is mummy-daddy approved.
3. My Tax India
A general spending tracker might not be your thing, we get it. How about one that helps you understand how much tax you need to pay (it sadly doesn’t actually file your taxes, though that would be amazeballs)? This one is touted as managing personal finance for dummies — much needed, especially when you’re filing returns.
This is a non-fancy app but it gets the job done. Which is good, because, come on, do you really need a surprise there?
In true millennial style, unnecessary vowels have been removed from the name of this app to make it seem cool. But the big promise is that all your spending, saving and current finance status details are in one place. They also promise to setup detailed statements of all bank accounts and credit cards in one place, help manage finances per category specific budgets, automated bill reminders and scan messages from banks and those who’ve billed you. Sounds a bit imposing though, even if they do provide a disclaimer that they don’t touch personal messages or OTPs (I’m also a bit iffy when it comes to sharing bank details, but it’s already on Swiggy, Uber and Ola — I don’t know how to feel about this). The one really cool feature though? The app functions automatically without you having to manually enter data — all you have to do is to take a picture of your receipt and the app will extract all the necessary details.
Available only on Android for free.
5. Diary (doesn’t have to be dark blue though)
This is on the list because even if you fancy iPhone fails, the humble diary is always there for you. Today, your diary may have gone through a makeover and renamed itself a bullet journal. But it’s still a great one-stop shop for everything you need to keep an eye on. The best part about a diary is that you can literally start on a clean page. You can track spending, saving, budgets, bills, financial goals, debts and even your mental health. You can have a weekly, monthly and yearly overviews and even observe a “no-spending challenge” for a week. It’s versatile, costs less and is available on all formats, Android and iOS be damned. No hunting for your charger required.