A Stylish App That Helps You Stick to a Budget

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Pennies is a new spare, but colorful,
personal spending app, created by
two British app designers.

Emile Bennett and Ollie Aplin have
tried out over 50 personal finance
apps. They’re not schizophrenic
spendthrifts, or trying to hide their
money from the government or
anything like that—they’re
designers who, for a over a year,
have aspired to build a better app
for tracking expenses.

“It’s insane
how complicated they are,” Bennett
says. “Some of the top budgeting
apps don’t even tell you how much
money you have left. It’s just a list
of what you’ve spent. But I don’t
care, what I really want to know is
how much I have left today, or this
week.”

Recently, Bennett and Aplin
launched Pennies, a spare but
colorful app for sticking to a
budget. The prototypical Pennies
user is young—no family or kids—
has a steady income, and has pretty
straightforward recurring expenses,
like rent and bills and beer.

This kind of user doesn’t need charts or
digital ledger balances, he just
needs to know if buying that new
pair of shoes is going to blow his
weekly budget or not.

The Pennies
creators understand this type of
user, because Aplin says he is was
one: “I’m notoriously terrible with
my money. I have no idea what I’m
spending it on and then I have no
money left.”

To that end the duo, who live and
work in Brighton, England, built a
simple UX for Pennies that asks
users to enter only a few pieces of
information, and in turn, gives little
more than an “overview so I can
know how I spent today, and how I
can spend tomorrow,” Bennett says.

To set up, you specify four bits of
criteria: What’s the name of the
budget (like, “Lunches”), how often
should it repeat (like monthly,
weekly), what’s the currency, and
how much money you’re starting
with. From there, anytime you buy
something, you tap a ‘+’ sign on the
bottom of the screen, plug in the
amount, hit the check button, and
your remaining funds instantly pop
up in a friendly looking, rounded
typeface.

You can even type in an
expense before you make it,
immediately see how that will
affect your funds, and make a
decision from there. There’s very
little room for confusion.
Pennies doesn’t link to users’ bank
accounts, like Venmo, so each
expense has to be entered
manually.

That extra step—reaching
for your phone in the bottom of
your purse, while juggling
grocery bags and subway tickets—
leaves ample room for
forgetfulness, which poses a
problem for Pennies: the app might
work best for Type A personalities,
who don’t really need it. That could
change in the long term, as mobile
payment apps like Apply Pay
become the norm. As that the shift
from wallets to phones takes place,
users will need a new way to track
and organize spending. Once the
payment happens on a phone, the
user already has his phone in
hand, so there’s no fumbling. That’s
when the Pennies UX will become
more useful.
In the short term, Bennett and
Aplin approached that potential
negligence problem by making the
app feel like a toy for grown ups.

A simple color code communicates
how healthy or out-of-control
spending is: “If you’re spending
quicker, say you’re halfway through
your month and you’ve spent 75
percent of your money, Pennies
shows red, so slow down,” Bennett
says. “If you’re halfway through the
month, and you’re green, go buy as
many records as you want.” When
you punch in an expense, the app
emits a chime, like when you score
a banana on Donkey Kong. “It’s like
a Fischer-Price toy.”

These positive reinforcements tie
into the underlying philosophy of
Pennies: Spending money shouldn’t
make you feel guilty. You’ve earned
money, and you’re allowed to have
fun with it—just be smart. “We
want to make [users] feel confident
with their spending, so they can
quickly see, ‘Okay I’m safe to
spend.’”

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