Budgeting is no longer a painful exercise that requires a masterclass in spreadsheet software. Households can now keep track of expenses on their smartphones thanks to a plethora of personal finance applications that allow users to log and plan their spending.
Leading the charge right here in the UAE is Wally, the brainchild of a Dubai-based company headed up by Saeid Hejazi, the chief executive and co-founder.
Launched this year, the app allows users to monitor their spending and budget ahead.
"Initially we launched as an expense tracker," says Mr Hejazi, "now we have matured into a personal finance app that tracks your income too, so you can balance income and expenses to help you set goals for the future. Over the coming months we're planning as many as 12 further upgrades."
The upgrades - funded by a US$400,000 injection from regional investors announced at last month's ArabNet Digital Summit in Dubai - will include tying up with financial institutions in nine countries so that users can log in to their bank accounts through the app and track transactions every time they swipe their card.
While the UAE is not yet on that list of nations, which includes the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, France, India and Australia, work is in motion to bring the Emirates on board, says Mr Hejazi, who says other plans include adding more languages and enabling users to sync their utility accounts to ensure bills are paid on time.
"Currently we only have the app on iOS and just in English. We are starting on localising the app into 16 languages and building on Android. This will increase our market size since Android has a bigger market share."
Attracting 100,000 active users since the app launched and with plans to attract 1 million by the end of the year, it appears the Wally team are on to a good thing.
According to the mobile marketing website mobithinking.com, at the end of last year there were 1.2 billion app users worldwide with estimates there will be 500 million users of mobile financial services by 2015.
So, is this why personal finance apps are growing in popularity?
"There's two elements," Mr Hejari explains. "One is natural growth attached to the evolution of the smartphone. People can do whatever they want via their phone these days. It's only natural that people would also see it as the best tool to log their spending. Second, in light of the credit crunch, people can no longer take their income for granted; they have to be smarter and take personal responsibility for their finances.
"We feel the smartphone is replacing the wallet and as such is the perfect tool for someone to keep an up-to-date check on their spending."
With the technology to manage our spending habits now at our fingertips, there is no excuse for not keeping a closer eye on the dirhams in your pocket. To help you out, here is a guide to six of the most popular apps available today:
This app lets you get started straight away. Go to settings to choose your currency and start logging your spending for each day. Rather than keep all those pesky receipts you can scan them on to the app. The new Aspect visual aid helps users understand why there might be an unusual spike in monthly spending such as school fees or holidays. And there is an option to set up a savings plan, so it's not just about expense tracking.
• Best for Logging expenses on the go. Head into Starbucks, for example, and the app not only identifies the location but also the heading under which that expense is recorded (Cafe). Plus all currencies are available - a useful tool for expats paid in more than one currency.
• Drawbacks Currently only available for the iPhone but plans for an Android version are in the pipeline.
• Availability Free from the App Store for iPhone.
This app, launched in September of last year, is not as straightforward as Wally, as you must consider how you wish to track your spending first - weekly, monthly or annually - and whether you wish to set spending parameters. However, once the settings are in place it becomes simpler as the app is very strong visually. The main screen offers an instant summary of income versus spending along with the option of a real-time cash flow chart or graphs detailing your spending breakdown. As with Wally, the dirham is a currency option.
• Best for Quick summary of how much you have left to spend.
• Drawbacks Categories listed for expenses and income are limited - for example, the mortgage/rent category is not included as an expense requiring manual input.
• Availability Free from the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
A simple app with a clean and easy-to-use interface, the main screen lets you log your transactions quickly. Simply click on "create transaction" at the bottom of the home screen and you're away. There is also a handy pie-chart summary of your weekly/monthly spend and the option to log expenses for multiple accounts.
• Best for An easy-to-use spending tracker.
• Drawbacks It's almost too simple - no currency denominations are given, just numbers.
• Availability Free via Android.
This app is ideal for business travellers as users can sync all their bank accounts and credit cards. Expensify automates the entire expense tracking process and creates PDF reports that can then be filed at the end of each trip. It's like a personalised expense tracker for regular travellers. The company, which has had more than 1.5 million users, processes an average $2 million worth of expense reports a day for users working for 225 companies. Under preferences, either on the main website or the app itself, you can set the dirham as your default currency, so that your main reports convert back into the currency you are paid in.
• Best for Frequent business travellers who need to keep track of several accounts across multiple currencies.
• Drawbacks UAE-based banks are not available as auto options for bank accounts, therefore, local transactions still need to be manually uploaded.
• Availability Free from the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, Android and Blackberry.
From the developers who brought us Spending Tracker, My Budgets feels similar to its sister app. However, it suggests users set budgets for different expenses - food, holidays, gifts etc. You then apply any transactions to the appropriate budget heading so you can monitor whether you are on track. The dirham is a currency option.
• Best for Monitoring household spending.
• Drawbacks Requires the user to give more thought to how much they plan to spend.
• Availability Free from the App Store for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
With the launch of Spending Log's new iPad version, Corbenic Consulting are looking to build on the success of their iPhone version, which featured in the "App Store best of 2012". Visually the iPad app is stronger with a better view of all transactions alongside the account log. However, I highly recommend taking time to read the information page before applying your settings because this app is a little more complicated than the others.
• Best for Balancing what you spend against what you earn.
• Drawbacks The iPad app appears to be set to British pounds, with no option to change currency signage.
• Availability £1.49 (Dh8.34) from the App Store for iPad; free for iPhone.