I felt like giving personal finance management (PFM) another go recently since I had started working and felt that I should be prudent about how I spent my salary. Personal finance apps I tried a few years back were all quite unsatisfactory and Mint was not yet in Singapore (and still isn’t). I needed something that had an easy-to-use phone app and cloud sync, among other features.
Fast forward to today, and I was hoping to find something that looked good and worked well. My brother was using Toshl Finance, but I had already decided not to use it on my last outing. It looked nicer in 2016 though, but I thought I’ll try a couple other alternatives to see which one I liked best. Buxfer was one of the top few options in the Play Store that caught my eye. It’s an app that’s available on both Android and iPhone, and has a dashboard on the web. After downloading it and comparing the interface to Toshl, I decided to settle with Buxfer and try it out for a week. I’m liking it so far, and here’s why:
The first thing you see when you enter the app is a PIN number (if you add one). It’s good if you don’t want friends or family (or strangers if you misplace your phone) knowing your net worth so that you don’t appear to be attractive to kidnappers.
Easy and fast transaction recording
This is the most important feature. PFM apps have to make expenditure recording as quick and convenient as possible. Too many hoops and people will find it a hassle. Buxfer has a big cyan ‘Add Transaction’ button at the bottom of every page of their app.
There are 6 fields, but three are assigned to defaults. You only need to fill the expense description, the amount paid, and any tags (if you have them; it’s usually better to tag expenses properly if you want to have interpretable expense reports). The default fields which can be edited if necessary are the account the money is to be deducted from, the type of transaction (default is expense; they have either types of transactions available), and the date, which is set to Today. In all, it should take less than 30 seconds to log an expense.
I just checked my friend’s new Singaporean PFM management app Seedly, and while it looks pretty useful, especially since it can process bank statements to automate expense reporting and transaction recording, its disadvantage is its inability to account for cash purchases. In this scenario (which is still common for many people), Buxfer is more ideal. Also, Seedly has no Android app, so I can’t test it.
A customisable tagging system
I mentioned the tags earlier. I had some issue with using the app first; I wasn’t able to create tags until I created a couple on the website first. I think it’s a web-first service with a companion app; its full-fledged service is online while the app still has a few of these small issues left to resolve.
You can create tags for expenses, and even nest tags. My system for tagging meals was to distinguish necessary meals as ‘Eating Out’ from ‘Social’ (a tip I read from somewhere online), and I added a child tag ‘Weekday Lunch’ under ‘Eating Out’ to track how much I usually spent at the canteen at work. Establish a system that works for you, and Buxfer’s reports can elucidate your spending habits.
Here’s how reports on the site look like: a pie chart with a clear indication of where your money is going and how you could cut down. No effort to create them; just log your expenses diligently with the right tags and these reports summarise them like this.
Considers multiple currencies
You can set your currency to SGD and record different currency expenditures. A small but welcome feature.
About every PFM app worth its salt has the ability to create multiple accounts. Important for people with multiple bank accounts, less important for people like me with only one, although I did add my wallet as a second ‘account’.
This is something that was a paid feature in Toshl but is free in Buxfer: the ability to add repeating expenses or income, such as bills, subscriptions, or salaries. I have quite a few subscriptions to keep track of (Dropbox, Netflix, etc.), and I didn’t want to manually add my salary every time payday came, so having this was important.
I actually prefer Splitwise for this, but not everyone who I owe money to (or owe me money) have Splitwise, so while not a dealbreaker for a PFM app, it was nice that Buxfer allowed me to record debts and deduct/add to my net worth accordingly. However, I wasn’t able to add debtors/debtees on the phone app itself, a limitation I hope they’ll fix.
Forecast (Paid Feature)
Most of the core features of any PFM app which I have already mentioned are free on Buxfer, which I greatly appreciate. However, a very useful premium feature (which I haven’t seen on any other PFM app yet) is the Forecast, which can predict how your fast your account will grow with the expenses and income you are recording. This could be especially useful for freelancers. If Buxfer proves to be satisfactory, I might consider paying for this.
When it comes to PFM apps, there’s no clear winner for which one is best – at least, for Singaporeans. Buxfer actually also has a bank statement upload feature like Seedly, but requires the bank statement to be produced in particular formats – except PDF, which is what POSB/DBS exclusively uses. So no luck for us there. As long as you find a PFM app that works for you, it doesn’t matter which one it is. But for me, a Singaporean Android user, it’s Buxfer.