10 Best Personal Finance Apps For Success on The iPhone

This article has been requested by a small army of readers. For many of you, this article won’t apply much at all – for a few of you, hopefully this article will prove quite useful.

IponeAs I mentioned a while back, I received an iPod Touch as a Christmas gift this year. An iPod Touch, for those unaware, is basically an iPhone without the phone – but also without the ridiculously high monthly phone bill. Over the past three months, I’ve used it a ton – but not as an iPod. Instead, I’ve been exploring the mountains of free applications available for it that you can download at your convenience right on the device.

There are literally tens of thousands of applications available for the iPod Touch and you can simply browse through them at your heart’s content, downloading the ones you want to try. Many of these applications are completely free – no cost at all – but many of the truly useful ones do come with a fee.

Given my interests, it’s not surprising that I’ve dug deeply into the personal finance apps and productivity applications available for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I’ve literally tried out hundreds of these applications over the last three months and, in the end, I’ve found only ten that I would actually recommend to others – and six of them are free.

An aside: I do not think the iPod Touch or iPhone is a necessary purchase for anyone. While I have found uses for it, I do not think it is worth the out-of-pocket entry price. Don’t view this as a list of reasons to buy one – look at it as a list of very useful things if you already have one.

Let’s dig in.

Six Essential Money-Saving Free Applications
These six tools are free for download from the App Store. I use each of them on a regular basis, particularly Bloomberg and the tip calculator.

Mobile Banking
Several different banks (Bank of America, Chase, PNC, and Citi among them, as well as several smaller banks that use a combination tool from AT&T) offer tools for the iPod Touch/iPhone that allow you to access online banking from anywhere. Depending on the bank, these offer the ability to check your account balances, do online bill pay, and even locate nearby ATMs (if you’re using an iPhone). These tools are perfect for doing your bills while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, for example. Hey, ING Direct! If you’re listening, such an app would be an awesome addition to your tools!

Bloomberg
Bloomberg’s stock-tracking app is a huge improvement over the default “Stocks” tool that comes by default on every iPhone/iPod Touch. The tool provides financial headlines, a stock market ticker, and the ability to set up your own portfolio of stocks and index funds to follow. The data this tool provides is a great way to do basic research into stocks and index funds on the go, though it’s not a perfect tool for day traders. It’s just what I needed, though. [App Store]

My Budget Money Management
There are several free budgeting tools for the iPhone/iPod Touch – this one is the best of the lot, by far (in my opinion). It’s pretty easy, actually – you just define any number of spending categories you want (Auto, Entertainment, etc. – it comes with ten categories by default, but you can remove and add to your heart’s desire), how much you want to spend in that category, then just enter expenses as the month goes along. If you already have a household budget worked up in a spreadsheet or on paper, it’s pretty easy to switch. Even better, if you have a Mac, there’s a desktop client for My Budget that enables you to do most of the work on your computer, then do the little expense entries on your handheld device. [App Store]

Mint.com
Mint is a nice service for managing your finances all in one place, but I have some personal information security concerns about it. If you’ve decided for yourself that the benefits are worth it, then Mint’s iPhone/iPod Touch application is really useful for keeping an eye on all of your finances easily in one place on the road. There were a few other personal data aggregation tools for the iPhone/iPod Touch that were quite slick, but the security of such tools makes me nervous (and thus makes me not recommend it). [App Store]

CheckPlease Tip Calculator
How much is an appropriate tip? What if you’re splitting the ticket and tip among several people? Most of the time, when this comes up, people just make ballpark estimates, but a good tip calculator (and this is the best free one available for the iPhone/iPod Touch) can make such calculations easy. Just type in your total, set the percentage tip you want to leave, and the number of people splitting the ticket, and the calculator will tell you what tip you should leave. It also adds the tip to your total, making filling out a credit card receipt quite easy. This is a lot better than just “rounding up” for your tip. [App Store]

Bankarama Lite
Bankarama is basically a checking account ledger on your iPod Touch/iPhone. It’s an incredibly useful way to keep track of recent debit card uses and thus keep you from accidentally overdrafting your account (due to transactions that haven’t hit your account yet). This application would have saved me many times over the years. [App Store]

Four Essential Money-Saving Paid Applications
I also discovered four paid applications that are well worth using. Each of these can easily pay for themselves with even minimal regular use.

Grocery IQ
Cost: $0.99
This is the most effective tool I’ve found for making a truly effective grocery list. Just type in the first three letters or so of an item you want to add to your grocery list and the program automatically fills in the rest of the information and adds it to your grocery list. The list itself is auto-sorted for you into sensible groups – dairy, bread, frozen foods, etc. – so that you can snag all of the items in that area of the store all at once. You can also organize the list by aisle in your favorite store by assigning these item groups to aisles once – after that, your list will automaticlaly list items by aisle as well. This tool has made grocery shopping substantially faster, which means I spend far less time wandering the aisles – which means far fewer impulsive buys at the grocery store and thus money saved. Excellent tool. [App Store]

iXpenseIt
Cost: Free for lite version, $4.99 for full version
While the above “My Budget Money Management” is the best free budgeting tool, it is clearly surpassed by the full version of iXpenseIt. iXpenseIt is pretty much the closest thing to Quicken in your pocket – it’s a thorough, robust, and flexible tool that handles virtually every budgeting or expense tracking task you can throw at it. My recommendation is to try out the free “My Budget Money Management” first to see if it fits your needs, then investigate this tool (by trying out the free “Lite” version) if you’re sorely needing a few particular features. [App Store]

Gas Cubby
Cost: $4.99
I’m almost obsessive about keeping track of the mileage on my truck. I like to see how different things affect the mileage – does it do better on the highway or the city? How much does inflating the tires help (quite a bit, actually)? Does an oil change and other regular maintenance help (actually, a fair amount)? Gas Cubby not only works as a perfect mileage tracker (with plenty of room for notes), but it also functions as a very useful maintenance calendar, alerting you to any and all maintenance you need to do based on your current odometer reading. If you keep a maintenance calendar for your vehicle (a great way to keep your vehicle running well) and also want to keep tabs on your mileage, this is an essential tool. [App Store]

Remember the Milk
Cost: Free (sort of)
I’ve tried almost every task management program on the iPhone/iPod Touch and I keep returning to Remember the Milk. RtM is a free web-based task management tool that I’ve been using for years – and, because I’ve used it so much, I was quite willing to pay extra to support the tool and become a “pro” user (it costs $25 a year, but it’s worth it for me to support a tool I use so often). With that “pro” membership comes an iPod Touch/iPhone application that has all of the functionality of RtM, except that it can be used offline, anywhere you are. The application is usable for two weeks without a “pro” account if you want to try it out. Given that I use this to manage everything in my life – personal things to do, work-related things to do, managing projects – it’s well worth it to me. There are many other options for task management on the iPhone/iPod Touch, but I’ve not found one that matches RtM for me. [App Store]

Bonus: Five Free Google Mobile Tools You Need to Bookmark
Google offers a ton of goodies for people who have mobile devices like the iPhone/iPod Touch. Just point your web browser at these URLs and bookmark them.

Gmail
http://gmail.google.com
I don’t use the email program that comes with the phone at all. Instead, I use Gmail – it centralizes all of my email in one convenient place. The “mobile” view of your email is very easy to read and it lets me check for new messages, read them, and punch out quick responses without much effort.

Google Reader
http://reader.google.com/
I use Google Reader to keep up with about fifty different blogs. The mobile version of the site allows me to browse through the fresh articles on all of these sites in a format that’s very readable on such a small screen.

Google Calendar
http://calendar.google.com
Again, I use this as my primary calendar tool both on my iPod Touch and on the desktop. I find it much more useful than the iPhone/iPod Touch built-in calendar tool, though I do sync up my Google Calendar with it so I can get my appointments and important dates even if I’m offline.

Google Tasks
http://www.gmail.com/tasks
If you’re just looking for a very simple task list on the go, this will probably do exactly what you need. Just add tasks, then check them off as you do them. It’s at least as good as any free task list tool on the iPod Touch/iPhone, plus you can edit it at your desk if you prefer.

Google Notebook
http://m.google.com/notebook
I use this to take longer notes and save them for future reference. Often, I’ll jot down notes on my iPod Touch, then look at them later when I’m at my desk so I can appropriately deal with the idea/material.

Good luck!

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  1. Great list, very comprehensive.

    One correction, Google is no longer adding features or offering Notebook for new users. They will “maintain service for those of you who’ve already signed up.”

    http://googlenotebookblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/stopping-development-on-google-notebook.html

  2. Jimmy says:

    Great write up Trent, although I have to disagree with you on Grocery IQ. At first, like the iPhone itself, it was a neat little app that I enjoyed using, but when it came time to actually put it to practical use in the grocery store, it was maddening! Trying to navigate the crowded aisles while tapping and flicking on the iPhone was an absolute nightmare and it actually ADDED to the overall amount of time that I spent shopping. Going back to an index card and pen for my grocery list was a dream in comparison.

    One caveat, after owning the iPhone for a tad over a month, I absolutely loathed everything about it (except the excellent Facebook app), so perhaps I’m slightly jaded. When compared to a BlackBerry, it took me longer to do nearly everything on the iPhone…and took two hands to do it!

  3. fred says:

    Great article! Have you had any trouble getting used to typing on the touch screen?

  4. I can’t speak for trent but the touchscreen is quite easy to use even for someone with sort of big hands like myself. It’s no replacement for a keyboard, but I write emails, post comments, and have even edited my blog with my iPhone.

    I’ve used Mint.Com a lot for getting a quick look at my finances. The App is fantastic.

  5. Manny says:

    Regarding Google Notebook, don’t know if you were aware that GOOG has stopped development on it (http://googlenotebookblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/stopping-development-on-google-notebook.html). You never know when one day they’ll pull that out completely.

    I think there are two alternatives to this. First, there’s Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) that has typical office applications available online. The word processor actually overlaps with Google Notebook quite a bit. Maybe that’s why GOOG decided to stop R&D on Notebook. And, the iPhone version of Docs is pretty slick. Documents are still read-only on the mobile version, but spreadsheets are editable now.

    Second, there’s Evernote (http://www.evernote.com). The cool thing with Evernote is that you can save picture notes (e.g. upload a pic taken with the iPhone as a note) along with text. You can tag all notes and organize them into different notebooks. It has a free iPhone/iPod Touch app as well as desktop clients, all that can sync with the web app.

    Most of the items in your list are accounted for in my iPhone, so I feel pretty good :^)

  6. JTC says:

    Trent, I have a few of these apps as well and I love them, especially mint.com. Another tool I use is Road Trip Lite, for tracking gas expenses and calculating my MPG.

    As far as typing on the iPhone/iPod Touch goes, it should be noted that the screen responds to both physically touch and the electronic pulses from a human finger. I work at an Apple Store and have seen that most people tend to push really hard on the screen to hit the buttons, when they really only need to come within a millimeter of the screen for it to react. Screen protectors dampen the sensitivity to require you to touch it, but still just barely. So the moral of the story is: you don’t need to poke the crap out of your iPod. A loving caress is all it takes

    Hope that’s helpful for some people. Keep up the good work, Trent

  7. Robert Dyspn says:

    Great article! I can highly recommend xpenser at http://xpenser.com for expense tracking. While they don’t have an iPhone app, they do have an iPhone-optimized version of their website which works great.

  8. Lindsay says:

    I loooove Grocery IQ. The best app I have ever paid for, and I bought it when it was $3, no regrets. I have no problem using gmail through the phone’s email button…everything works just as well as if I were actually in gmail in a browser. I don’t see a reason to clutter it up with a specific gmail button.

  9. Marsha says:

    Nice post – I had no clue the iPod Touch was so multifunctional. Also love the Ric Ocasek wallpaper. :)

  10. Zannie says:

    You talk about the Touch as if it had internet access wherever you go, but I was under the impression you needed to have access to a WiFi network to use the internet with it, since it’s not on a phone network. Am I wrong? Or are there really free WiFi networks so abundantly these days that coverage is pretty constant?

  11. JC says:

    @Zannie Yes you need to have wifi hotspots available to use the touch.

    One application would be access to your stock broker. I know Ameritrade has an app. But this way, you can buy/sell stock.

  12. Mark says:

    Google App

    Instead of having 5 shortcuts on your home screen for google services, you should try using the Google app. It’s not just for voice search, but has an application tab with most of their services available with a single click. When you exit the app, it remembers what tab you’re on so when I launch Google app, it automatically opens to the apps tab. Try it!

  13. Brent Jones says:

    Trent,

    It’s worth mentioning that Google Notebook has stopped development and isn’t accepting new users ( http://googlenotebookblog.blogspot.com/2009/01/stopping-development-on-google-notebook.html ). If you’re already using it, your data is safe and they’re not cutting you off, but they just aren’t improving it anymore.

    As a substitute (for those who haven’t signed up for Google Notebook and now can’t, or for folks who want to switch), I recommend Evernote. Free desktop and iPhone/Touch programs, a Web interface, pretty slick.

    Other than that, great suggestions.

  14. I’m thinking along the same lines as Zannie… I know at least in my corner of Mississippi, once I leave my house I’m very unlikely to stumble upon a WiFi connection.

    I’m looking for apps that will be useful without any internet connectivity most of the time (maybe that will sync to a website once I’m home if necessary).

    Would love to see more ipod touch app reviews on your blog! :) I just won one in a blog contest. I can’t wait for it to come in the mail!

  15. JC says:

    @joyfulabode i guess it’s useful for me since i’m in grad school and my school and campus-wide wifi

  16. limad says:

    I use iXpenseIt almost daily, i can confirm it is rich in features and yet easy to use. It’s essential for those who want to keep track of their spending. To be honest I was clueless before using ixpenseit on where my money went. Now I know exactly where and what I spent not weeks ago, but months ago etc and it really helped me in better educated about my own expenses and result in more concious on future expenses.

  17. kev says:

    I love my ipod Touch, and I bought it for the reason you stated at the top… it’s like an iPhone but without the monthly bill. and like you, I use it daily, but hardly ever as an iPod.

    I know it’s not finance-related, but it’s my understanding that Google has retired Google Notes. May I recommend Evernote as a replacement? I absolutely love Evernote; the free version is more than enough for me. It’s the synching between ipod Touch, the desktop software and web that make it worth it. Plus the bookmarklet in my browser that lets me highlight any block of text and choose “clip to evernote”. It also detects text in images and makes it searchable.

  18. Michael says:

    I agree with Trent about Mint.com. I closed my account not too long ago because of paranoia. They have way too much personal information. If ANYONE hacks that database, we’re toast. Great application though.

    Some of the other apps got really bad reviews on the App Store. The My Budget Money Management reviews said it was mainly for Mac users, is this true?

    The Check Please Tip Calculator got horrible reviews, not sure why, it’s a good app, however, there are soooo many Tip apps out there, any will do, it’s simply a calculator.

  19. Eric says:

    THANK YOU!

    I’m always looking out for new apps to test…you saved me a lot of work.

    I know this only applies to a minority of readers but I hope you can keep us updated on apps and features you find useful. I love hearing about it.

    Thanks again!

  20. Kortney says:

    Trent,

    This is a great collection of apps (my husband and I are currently in love with Mint!).

    Just one word of warning: I used Google Calendar for about 8 months, and loved it and raved about it. The intuitive Google interface, and the speedy auto-sync with my phone made it the best and easiest to use calendar program I’d ever experienced. BUT…

    I realized about a month ago that G-Cal was randomly deleting events from my calendar. Not many events, maybe less than 1%, but enough to cause me trouble.

    This sometimes happened to past events — on one occasion, this cost me money because I invoiced for too few hours of work — and sometimes to future events — this almost caused me to miss a job, and in another instance, to double book on one date. In researching this on the help site, I discovered this was a known issue that’s been plaguing G-Cal for some time.

    For me, this was a deal breaker, as I need to know that my calendar is accurate at all times.

    Just a word of warning about what’s otherwise a good program.

  21. Ryan says:

    Great post, I LOVE the bloomberg app. Even though I don’t really check it too often (I’m frequently sitting at a computer during the market being open).

    I’m also checking out a few of the others, I have the iPhone so I’m always connected. Even with the stupid-high bill, I still love the thing.

  22. This has inspired me to find other uses for my iPod Touch. The only problem I can see is that I have issues getting internet anywhere beyond my apartment, at which point I would use my computer. I also find it takes a long time to turn the Touch on and off which might get annoying.

  23. Daniela says:

    you can go on the apple website and look at refurbished ipods for a lot less than new ones. and they are under warrenty from apple.

  24. rebekah says:

    Best ap ever.. totally not finance related, is the public radio app. I can stream any public radio station I want when I’ve got wireless. which, as was mentioned above, is not all the time. The iphone is always able to go on line as long as you have phone reception, the touch… only when it can connect to wifi.

  25. DelScorcho says:

    A great alternative the paying the RtM “pro” fees: Milpon

  26. Scott says:

    Thanks Trent, got a Touch for my b-day last summer and LOVE it as well. Looking forward to trying some of these apps. I have also been using a number of these Google sites too, love the Reader and have played around some with calendar and tasks. I’ve been pretty addicted to Outlook for many years, but may try more of these Google apps.

  27. Tbommb says:

    First of all the google mobile app, that google has already links to all the cool google stuff from within one app. Secondly I find Mint.com very limiting as it really does not give you a good picture of your overall fiancial status.

  28. Kim K says:

    ok… I know that I’m commenting on this a little late and it might not ever be seen again, but I downloaded a cool new app…’Coupon Sherpa’. It is mostly meant to function as an electronic coupon system (to help save the planet), but if the store doesn’t take electronic coupons then there is a way to e-mail it to yourself and print it out. There are other coupon apps too but I haven’t tried them yet.

    Also, another app that will help save you lots of money is Pandora. It is a way that you can stream lots of music for free. Even though my husband and I have tons of music on our computer, we’ve never had to transfer them to the phone.

    For my grocery shopping – I prefer the simple yellow pad of paper. It’s very easy to use. I usually have a few “sheets” going depending on what stores I need to go to. I can continually update the list where ever I’m at for whatever product I need. Say I’m at work and realized that I needed to pick up a gift for someone – just add it to the pad. I don’t have to try to remember to add it to a piece of paper when I get home. Plus, if I decide to send my husband shopping instead of me, I can just e-mail him the list. To “check off” an item I usually just add double dashes to the front of the item ‘–‘. This will offset the list so I can easily scan through the other items. If the store is out of a product I’ll usually put 2x’s instead of the dashes. Still offsets it from the rest of the list, but I know now to delete it. The yellow pad is not cumbersome to use at all. I don’t have to search through different categories to find the various items I want. It’s the same app to use if I’m going to the mall, home improvement shopping, grocery shopping, or Target/Wal-Mart Shopping (whatever that would be called). Each store that I have to go to gets it’s own list. Then on the main page for that app, you can easily go into and out of the various stores. I’ll usually create another page to list the stores that I need to go to as well and cross the stores off of that list. When the day is done, I can see that I accomplished all my errands (ran to the bank, went to Lowes, went to Target, and went grocery shopping), plus I didn’t kill a tree in the process. You can delete the “page” all at once, or just delete the items you purchased.

  29. Jean G. says:

    Instead of Google Notebook, try the much better Evernote, which has a free web version, downloadable versions, and an iPhone/iPod touch app. It is a great way to keep all your miscellaneous info in one place and organized without taking much time. It also is great for keeping track of recipes.

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