How to get the most out of your budgeting apps

Investing a little extra initial effort in your new budgeting apps can pay off in a smoother and more useful experience. 

Manu Fernandez/AP/File
A Samsung Galaxy S5 is demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

Budgeting apps like Mint and You Need a Budget are surging in popularity as more and more people seek for ways to manage their spending and budgeting on one platform. However, as with apps of all kinds, users often get tired of checking their budgeting apps, or just never put in the time to master the features.

Investing a little extra initial effort in your new budgeting app can pay off in a smoother and more useful experience. Here are some tips to get the most out of your app.

Train Your App

While the main advantage of a budgeting app is to provide a ready-made framework for your finances, the responsibility of filling out that framework falls to you. For instance, one of Mint's features is to automatically sync transactions on your checking balance and file them into categories that can show you a breakdown of your monthly spending. However, Mint doesn't know how to categorize every single merchant out there (yet). For at least the first few weeks, you'll need to manually assign category labels to transactions that slip through the app's default filters, especially if they're recurring expenses for you.

Eventually, the app "learns" how to sort your expenses and starts to function as it's designed to. While you could rely on the default settings and still benefit from a budgeting app, taking the time to tailor it to your individual preferences results in a far more productive experience. In addition, your repeated interaction with the app will increase your own confidence and familiarity with the functions, making you less likely to regard budgeting as a chore and more as a personal project.

Check the App on a Regular Basis

Setting up your budget properly is an important first step, but it's only the beginning. Writing out a budget isn't very useful if no one goes over it on a regular basis, and the same holds true for apps. You should make a habit of glancing at your app once or twice a week, keeping an eye on your balances and making sure that new transactions haven't gone unsorted. Since most money management apps can now display balance and transactions fed directly from your bank, this can also help you stay on top of your checking and savings account balances.

Regular checkups not only keep the app relevant, but also give you the practice necessary to become a true power user. As you get used to the program, you should explore any additional options it provides. You Need a Budget, for instance, lets you schedule savings goals within budget categories, then automatically informs you how much you should save each month in order to make the deadline. Other apps will let you link to investment accounts as well as regular deposit accounts.

Of course, you shouldn't feel pressured to utilize every single feature simply because it exists. But just like any piece of software, a budgeting app will feel more helpful the more time you spend trying it out.

Enable Alerts and Notifications

If you aren't willing to look in on your app that often, you should at least consider employing alerts so it can keep you informed when something important happens to your finances. Most budgeting apps are able to send push notifications that pop up on your phone screen, informing you of overspending, monthly reports and bills coming due. These notifications can be useful ways of staying engaged in your finances without too much extra effort. However, you should check your app settings to make sure that you won't be bombarding yourself with irrelevant messages. Excessive notifications will swiftly turn any app into a nuisance.

Whichever app you decide to download, you should consider whether it's something that you'll be able to use easily and often. If you find an app to be too aggressive about alerts or too crowded with extra features, don't hesitate to switch over to something else. Like any tool, a budgeting app requires time and attention to mold itself to your grip; once that happens, building up your savings won't require nearly as much work as it used to.

This story originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

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