Apps help newly minted adults become financially savvy

The Kansas City StarOctober 12, 2013 

When Nancy Pappas graduated from college last spring and started her first full-time job, she was eager to set savings goals, create a budget and manage her paycheck.

One of her first decisions was to download a free budgeting and money-management application for her smartphone.

"With smartphones being so prevalent, it just makes sense to monitor day-to-day spending," said Pappas, 22, a junior graphic designer with the Barkley advertising agency in Kansas City.

Pappas is among an ever-growing number of college-age students and young adults who are embracing smartphone applications to keep tabs on their money.

Think about it. Young people live on their cellphones. They check sports scores, gather restaurant reviews, and text and chat with their friends. So it's only natural to tap the cellphone to see whether the budget will be busted by a double latte, a weekend road trip or a cart full of groceries.

Some of the most popular personal finance apps have been developed by Mint.com, LearnVest and Expense Tracker. All do a great job of helping users track their credit cards and debit cards, checking accounts, cash expenditures, and savings and investments. They all have fairly similar features, and most can be downloaded for free.

Pappas started with Mint.com's app on her Apple iPhone. But the University of Kansas graduate soon dropped it in favor of LearnVest's money-tracking program because she thought it was more visually appealing.

She also liked LearnVest because of its easy-to-use format. Because she was renting an apartment with a roommate and sharing some expenses, Pappas wanted to be organized financially from the get-go.

Pappas looked at her expenses and her take-home pay and put herself on a tight budget, setting up expense categories and monthly money allocations for food, entertainment, rent, utilities and other items. That way, she'd know immediately if she went over her budget and needed to adjust.

Pappas also set some goals. She wanted to build up her investments and beef up her savings so she could afford to travel more.

LearnVest, like other budgeting apps, allows you to link your checking, credit card, savings and investment accounts so transactions can be monitored daily. During trips to the grocer's, for example, it's routine for Pappas to check her food budget on her smartphone.

The LearnVest app also can log cash transactions, and users can talk to financial experts and download articles on budgeting and other money management topics.

Even with the tool, Pappas still monitors her budget through her online bank account and monthly paper statements.

Pappas credits her parents for providing a lot of sound money advice and pushing her to become more financially savvy. Using a money management app was a no-brainer.

"I like the responsibility of managing my own money," said Pappas. "It's a good feeling."

Steve Rosen is assistant business editor at The Kansas City Star. To reach him, call 816-234-4879 or send email to srosenkcstar.com.

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