Investing Wisely

Getting Hands On: How I Saved $100s in My Monthly Budget

Phoebe Berline
Getting Hands On: How I Saved $100s in My Monthly Budget
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How do you get proficient in handling your money?

Well, you actually need to get hands-on with your money.

There’s never been a better time to get interactive with your financial picture. In the business world, human-assisted AI is making it easier and faster for companies to understand customers. Now expense tracking chatbots and algorithm driven budget tools are making their way into consumer hands.

So it got me to thinking, if Fortune 500 companies are using human-assisted AI to make it easier and faster to organize data and drive results, why can’t I?

What if instead of coming home and saying “Alexa, order pizza”, I put a fin-tech chatbot to work on my bills?

I’m not a natural saver. I have a budget, but I keep it on a spreadsheet that I don’t always interact with. Plus it’s a hassle digging through a pile of bank statements, and credit cards to do a financial health checkup. But what I am good at is, carrying around my mobile device and laptop.

So I tried out three new mobile apps, which are all designed to help you get a positive handle on your money:

Cleo – a chatbot that’s an intuitive and intelligent assistant for your money

Trim – a mobile app that saves you money by analyzing your bank and credit card accounts for money-saving opportunities, or by canceling subscriptions (that you no longer need)

WeVest – a mobile app, that delivers a self-service financial planner to organize all of your assets and debts neatly in a dashboard

The idea here is that by taking an active “in the driver’s seat” role, instead of inaction you can change poor money habits over time.

Boy, was I in for a shock.

Cleo

How it Works:

Cleo is an AI-powered chatbot that acts as a replacement for your banking apps. Chat to Cleo in Facebook Messenger, any time, anywhere. Cleo securely links to your accounts, to make handling your money feel easy - like your personal AI helper.

Cleo can access up to 12 months data, scanning your transactions and turning into useful, actionable information.

Developed by a data science team and machine learning experts who want to take on banking apps

Cleo is a digital assistant you trust to give you the real picture of your financial experience and where you need to set aside money every month.

Here’s what happened:

Setting up Cleo was surprisingly easy.

Cleo (using bank-level encryption, that is read-only) in a matter of minutes, was essentially logged into my bank account, Venmo, and credit card on the back-end.

Cleo performs through existing messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Skype, Slack, and SMS. But I am not a millennial, I do not normally spend any time on Facebook messenger. So I chose to use the app on my laptop

Using Cleo felt like going through my bank statements, credit card, and budget all at once on steroids.

I got a summary via the dashboard, in categories – it’s all neatly laid out to show what you’re spending month-to-month.

I could drill down into the month in categories – it’s all neatly laid out for you via icons for each purchase. For example, I could quickly see all shopping transactions for the month, and exactly where I was spending from Costco to Starbucks.

Was I tracking my Amazon shopping on a month-to-month comparison, before using Cleo? No. What I hate about my online bank statements are so clunky, as PDFs with no categories, and no way to drill down.

It took me about 3 clicks on my laptop, to figure out what it would’ve taken me the good part of an afternoon trying to slog through my Wells Fargo Bank Account statements.

There is it was right on the Cleo app:

May, 2018 – Amazon – 12 transactions - $345

June, 2018 – Amazon – 11 transactions - $419

August, 2018 – Amazon - 20 transactions - $1,299

March, 2019 – Amazon - 2 transactions $60.00

It doesn’t take a financial genius to see that my Amazon shopping had gone off the rails, in August 2018. I’d normally been spending roughly between $60.00-$400. But in one month (and in 20 transactions) I’d spent $1,299.

Action I Took After Using Cleo:

I put myself on an Amazon shopping moratorium (for a month) – estimated monthly savings was $350.

More importantly, because Cleo makes it so easy to get Sherlock Holmes with exactly where your money is going - I could figure out a long-term solution. I’ve decided to limit myself to two Amazon purchases for each month. (So I can put the savings aside of roughly $300 per month, towards my long term financial goal of a down payment as a first time home buyer.)

This one Ninja Budget Move (thanks to Cleo’s actionable data), has helped me turn around my entire budget.

Why Use Cleo?

Cleo is intelligent, very fast, and just coughs up the data in a simple to read format with zippy little icons. You can deduce the damage control. Just Ask Cleo anything like ‘What’s my balance?’ and it comes back in seconds.

I’ve been put off by money managing apps because they shout at me. With annoying messages like “You’re over your budget!”, I felt l was being talked to as if I was ten-years-old. Cleo bills itself as “easy intelligent help” for hip millenials and or other, and I found this to be accurate.

Bottom line, Cleo was an equally fun and horrifying, financial deep-dive experience.

It was like talking to my financial personal assistant. I tap “balance” icon and Cleo tells me “Phoebe, here’s your top three expenses this month”. We had a good, productive chat Cleo and I.

“It’s a proactive bank, it’s a bank that talks to you, and tells you on a Monday morning, ‘hey, you know, you can spend £100 ($130 US dollars) this week’,” explains Cleo CEO Barnaby Hussey-Yeo

I prefer using Cleo on my laptop, at home. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to be that person, talking into my iPhone in the Starbuck’s line: “Hey Cleo, how much did I spend this month. Can I buy coffee?” But I am impressed, and think financial chatbots like Cleo have a promising future.

Verdict? I’m no techy millennial, but I am loving Cleo.

Trim Financial Manager

Buckle down on Bills, Save Money

Do you know how you spend every dollar each month? Are you still paying for services you no longer use? If you answer to either of these questions is no or maybe, you can benefit from Trim Financial Manager.

How it Works:

Trim is free chatbot can save you money in seconds, by analyzing your bank and credit card accounts for money-saving opportunities by canceling subscriptions, fighting bank fees, and can even help you renegotiate your car insurance.

One View of All Your Subscriptions

The Trim Financial Manager is also partnering with popular service providers like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner. So the chatbot can also save you additional money by finding discounts and promotions, to prevent you from overpaying each month.

I’ve uploaded my Comcast cable bill to, Trim will analyze your Comcast cable bill to see if they can lower it and still keep your same plan.

Here’s what Happened:

It was really easy to get started with Trim. The sign up page says “get your results in minutes” and they aren’t kidding.

I connected my bank account and credit card on the back end (Trim uses use 256-bit SSL encryption

Trim’s AI chatbot went through all my expenses, and pulled out each of my subscriptions. I was asked to confirm if Netflix is a monthly recurring charge.

Bottom line, in a matter of minutes I got a “Your Subscriptions” dashboard, with every service neatly laid out, including: Netflix, Verizon, and Time Warner.

What’s great about Trim is that you get one at-a-glance snapshot to see all the small one-off subscriptions that you’ve signed up for.

And for certain subscriptions the dashboard includes buttons “Cancel This Subscription” or “Let Trim Negotiate This”.

Action I Took After Using Trim

I’ve never been able to get the full picture of all my subscriptions. And for me, I’ve already seriously cut my Time Warner cable bill from $250.00 for a deluxe cable package to just wifi, which costs $65.00 – a monthly savings of $195.00.

But Trim still showed me where I could still save:

LinkedIn Premium - $35.00 – I was no longer using this service, so I cancelled.

Audible – $22.95 – I’d forgotten I’d signed up

Gym membership - $80.00 – I rarely go, since I started riding my bike to the office

Why Use Trim?

Bottom line it took me about five minutes on the Trim app, to start saving $1,655.40 a year.

And that’s not including any savings Trim may be able to come up with on my Time Warner, Verizon, and even auto insurance.

Trim makes it so fast and easy to cancel unused subscriptions, and can even help you renegotiate auto insurance bills. It’s a great use for chatbot technology, to crawl through your accounts and give you a “subscription snapshot”. Adding up recurring expenses like my Time Warner, Verizon, and auto insurance and seeing it on one page, hit home.

Verdict? Trim delivers on what it promises. Buckle Down on Bills, Save Money

WeVest

WeVest is a financial tool that’s built by financial planners, and uses smart financial models to give you actionable insights into your finances.

The best way to describe WeVest is like having an online meeting with a financial planner, and bonus - you get cool infographics and a dashboard. WeVest brings all of your accounts together and forecasts your entire financial future. You get powerful spreadsheets that put together your income, assets, savings, mortgage, and calculate your net worth in one app.

How It Works:

You can plug in a variety of scenarios. So if you want to buy a house in three years, then plug in how you’re doing from getting a raise, to paying off your credit cards, and how much you might have towards a down payment.

When you join WeVest you immediately learn:

How your net worth stacks up compared to a set of real people just like you.

How to allocate your money to maximize your future net worth and meet your financial goals.

How your net worth will grow based on our default recommendations or the custom plan you build for yourself.

WeVest markets itself as: “Instead of wasting time going to a financial advisor once a year, you have the full freedom and flexibility to check up on your plan anytime you want and make changes at the drop of a hat.”

Here’s What Happened:

WeVest as a self-service financial planner is not just marketing-speak. I did in fact feel like I was having an online visit with a financial planner, after plugging in my particulars to WeVest.

The best part about WeVest is the great Infographics, and flow charts it provides (designed by real-life financial planners) to help bump up your financial literacy

For example, Infographics showed me how rent is fixed vs. my discretionary spending for things like eating out

I also saw how subscriptions (that extra gym membership or magazines) would eat into my savings, over a year or five year horizon

And if you are saving for your kid’s college, it’s simple calculate how much that means saving per month (like $700/ a month)

I liked how WeVest showed me what will happen if I try to save $500 a month versus $800 a month. It’s one thing to look at a budget on a spreadsheet, but WeVest takes it to a whole new level, adding in an interactive graph over the next five or even ten years out

Action I Took After Using WeVest

The best thing about WeVest is that it got me thinking like a Financial Planner. WeVest calls 401K plans “free money”, and my employer was matching my 401K up to 4%.

But while I was contributing 4%, WeVest showed me how much my income was fluctuating due to three times a year when I’d rack up a ton of overtime and double time. What if I could contribute more (like 6% to 10%) to my 401K during higher paychecks?

WeVest’s tools felt like doing “back of the envelope” calculations, on steroids. If you’re someone like me who’s got a budget on an Excel sheet, but your investments aren’t tied together in one place - WeVest is a much more powerful tool.

Bottom line, WeVest helped me get more free money. Turns out I could put more in my 401K (6% instead of 4%) at strategic times during the year, grow my 401K faster, and still take home roughly the same paycheck.

Why Use WeVest?

Since the site was designed by a Wall Street former financial planner, it has all the flowcharts, graphs, and calculators to put you in the driver’s seat.

If you’re a do-it-yourself person, WeVest is for you. I got all the tools, and graph charts and I was in the driver’s seat. Other great tools include the Credit card payoff calculator.

WeVest pushed me to think strategically about how to use my employer-matched 40lK fund to the maximum benefit. And that put an extra almost $1,000 dollars for the year, in my pocket.

Verdict? WeVest’s mobile app neatly organize your assets and debts, and gets you actively tracking your net worth. This tool delivers, and then some.

My final verdict? AI chatbots are going to be part of the new interface with your finances. These algorithms are fast and can give you a cross-account snapshot of your money, that’s so much more powerful than checking your banking statement.

All of these mobile apps improved my financial literacy. More importantly they did it in a real time, intuitive and frictionless way.

Today’s fin-tech mobile apps are powerful, do yourself a favor – and give them a go.