This Is My Secret Weapon to Avoid Wasting All My Money on Brunch
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With so many personal finance apps out there, it can be tough to know which ones to try — and even tougher to know which ones you might actually, you know, log into once in a while.
So when I heard about Charlie — a free tool that helps you manage your finances through Facebook Messenger or texts — I thought I’d give it a shot.
Its automated messages would make it easier to stay updated, and “Charlie” is also a cute little penguin… I figured if anything could make managing my finances more fun, it’d be that.
Getting Started With Charlie
Ready to put my money-tracking on autopilot, I surfed over to Charlie’s website, clicked on “Get Started” and connected my Facebook account.
That brought me over to Messenger where, unsure of what I was supposed to say to a robotic penguin, I typed in a cautious “Hey.”
Seconds later, Charlie responded with a friendly greeting. So far, so good, I thought. But before connecting this bird to my bank accounts, I had a few more questions to ask.
It sounded appealing — I’m all about putting more money back into my pocket.
I also appreciated that I didn’t have to download anything; Charlie would work within the Messenger app, which I already use.
Because the service is free and promises “better security than banks,” I decided I had nothing to lose.
Charlie asked to connect to my bank and credit card accounts, and I typed in my login info.
After just a few minutes, he popped back in my inbox with an update:
- The balances of my checking, savings and credit card accounts.
- The average amount I earn and spend each day.
“You are on a tight budget!” he quipped. If a banker in a suit and tie had told me that, I would’ve been annoyed — but this was a smiling digital penguin, so I simply nodded my head in agreement.
Then Charlie promised to help me.
Using algorithms and other technical stuff, he revealed how much I usually spend on food and drink, taxes (yuck), shopping, and bills — and at which companies I spend the most each month.
The info was eye-opening… who knew I was spending so much money feeding and watering myself?
How Charlie Helps You Manage Your Finances
After a few days, you could basically call me Mr. Popper. I had fully integrated Charlie, the financially savvy penguin, into my life.
Whenever I needed an update, I could just open my Facebook message with Charlie and click on “Dashboard” in the menu at the bottom of the screen, and it’d bring up an overview that included:
- A line graph of my spending this month, along with information about how it compared to last month.
- My total cash balances (across multiple bank accounts) and my total credit balances (across multiple cards).
- The most recent expenses I’d incurred on either my credit or debit cards.
Here's an example of the Dashboard:
Or I could text “Transactions,” and it’d show me all the money going in and out of my accounts.
I liked how it included transactions from both of my bank accounts and my credit card, so I didn’t have to log into multiple sites to see what was going on.
Besides the basics, life with Charlie was full of little tips and surprises.
He alerted me when a client deposited $200 into my checking account.
He suggested I check my credit report, then offered a link where I could do so for free.
He constantly dug through my finances, looking for financial tidbits to share.
(Ugh, I’m sorry, Charlie — but I’m a writer. Can’t cancel those news subscriptions, even if dinner at a fancy restaurant does sound fabulous.)
He offered to help me track my costs in a specific category. I chose restaurants, because in the past, I’ve been known to think I’m a “Sex and the City” character and eat brunch like it’s my job.
With my new Charlie-monitored budget, I can brunch freely, knowing he’ll nudge me if I approach my limit. I can also see a big-picture view of my spending by clicking through to my personal budget page from my dashboard.
Charlie’s also helping me save for a vacation I want to take at the end of the year.
I’m excited to get his reminders — as well as updates on my progress — because I know they’ll motivate me to make responsible decisions, like cooking the food in my fridge instead of ordering tikka masala on Grubhub.
It’s only been a few weeks, so I haven’t seen all of Charlie’s magic yet. Here’s what else he’s promised to do when the time rolls around:
- Alert me of surprise fees.
- Remind me when it’s time to pay my credit card bill.
- Find deals on services I’m already paying for.
While all that sounds nice, I think my favorite thing about Charlie is his constant, friendly presence.
I feel good knowing he’s got an eye on my finances — and the fact that, unlike the banks, he doesn’t have a stake in my mistakes (through late fees, overdrafts, etc.).
Charlie’s messages have made me more aware of what’s going on with my money on a daily and weekly basis. And as long as he’s around, I feel like there will be fewer financial surprises in my life.
The only thing I wish Charlie’s humans would add? Some real-life penguin cuddles. Maybe as a reward if I, say, meet my retirement savings goal for the year.
Let’s work on that for the next update, shall we?
Susan Shain is a freelance writer and digital nomad. She covers travel, food and personal finance (basically, how to save money so you can travel more and eat more). Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.
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