If the plethora of “aspirational” shopping companions has left you with something of a bad taste in your mouth for encouraging overspending, here’s a palate cleanser: a couple of newer apps for iOS, Dollarbird and Earmark, are focused on making responsible money management as enjoyable as browsing through personalized feeds of product recommendations.
Track Your Cash Flow
Dollarbird, which launched in July, is a calendar-like app that aims to mimic the way those living from paycheck to paycheck tend to still handle bill paying, expenses and tracking spending. It marks up a calendar with what gets paid or spent when in order to figure out how much that leaves you for other necessities, like Ramen noodles or gasoline.
But the app doesn’t just appeal to the hand-to-mouth crowd. Because of its attractive looks, and smart feature set, which includes support for things like tracking recurring transactions, bill reminders, CSV export, and automatic balance calculations, Dollarbird makes sense for anyone who wants to keep a closer eye on their cash flow for better financial planning purposes.
The calendar interface gives Dollarbird an at-a-glance visualization of when you owe money for things like rent, utilities, car payments, or anything else you want to track, and can also serve as a way to keep a log of which bills have already been paid. You can use its built-in, color-coded categories or create your own, as well as add little notes to each expense, or enter your income if you’re also tracking your available cash.
The app’s name comes from its own take on Clippy, with a little bird that offers up financial tips and tricks. (You can shut this guy off in the settings, if virtual assistants aren’t your cup of tea.)
Dollarbird is made by Halycon Mobile, a Romanian-based agency founded by Levi Szabo and Szabi Szekely which, since 2005, has focused on designing apps for clients. The company first released the app as a paid offering ($1.99), but is now in the process of making a switch to a more sophisticated business model (details to come), the company tells us. With the launch of its next major release, Dollarbird will include support for multiple accounts, syncing calendars between users (handy for couples or roommates), and other advanced features.
Dollarbird is available for iOS here.
Save First, Then Spend
Meanwhile, Earmark is a new social savings app released in August that encourages users to not just immediately spend their money, but push themselves toward frugality so they can save up for something they really want, whether big or small. It’s designed for those who justify purchases by cutting other areas of everyday expenses – like eating out, buying that morning coffee, resisting the latest gadget, and so on.
To use the app, you enter your top five splurge items then track the things you don’t buy with those items in mind. For example: you didn’t buy that latte? You’re saving $X per week by quitting smoking? Those little things can add up. And as you limit your unnecessary purchases in search of a larger reward, you can optionally also move money from your bank account to a Dwolla account to keep the savings out of sight until your goals are reached.
Earmark also includes a social element, which allows Facebook friends to make suggestions as to what you should spend your money on, or give you feedback on your “earmarked” items. It’s like the flip side of all these social shopping apps, such as Wanelo, Wish, Wantworthy’s Fresh, Polyvore, Fancy and others: instead of having friends’ recommendations push users into spending money they may not have, the social involvement is meant to foster a more responsible approach to managing money. It’s a “yes, save for this” kind of sentiment, rather than a “yes, buy it now!” one. And that seems more practical in today’s still deteriorating economic reality.
Founder and CEO Josh Chambers, whose ad agency background saw him working with brands like Nike+ FuelBand, Reebok and others, explains that Earmark eventually wants to connect brands and retailers with potential customers whose purchase-intent data is clear. They would be about to deliver you offers and coupons in the app, to convince you to spend your savings on their products, which is not a bad idea, and one that could give the app continued life even after users give up on what may become tedious — the manual entry of their every responsible decision.
The company just passed half a million in spending intent, since its release in mid-August, Chambers says.
Earmark is available on iOS here.