Although I’m just starting out in managing my own money, I’ve already figured out one aspect of my financial personality: I like my finances to be as simple as possible.
I can’t stand having bank accounts at different banks, and I worry splitting up my funds will affect how I think about what money is available to me. But as I’ve gotten older (and started working with Money Under 30), I’ve learned keeping all my money in one place isn’t necessarily doing me any financial favors.
That’s where online personal finance manager (PFM) apps come in. David has previously written about using PFM apps to make budgeting more tolerable. He’s also reviewed Mint — a well-known PFM – as well as some new, promising Mint alternatives.
Signing up, and deciding not to link accounts
I loved the idea that when using these sites, understanding my money is simple again — it’s all in “one place” (my HelloWallet or PowerWallet account), even though I now have multiple bank accounts and student loans to worry about.
But when signing up for each service, I took a major pause when I was asked to enter my bank account information. Each site promises government-level security, but that didn’t silence the little voice in my head saying, “Don’t do it! You’ll regret it later!”
I even called my local bank branch to ask what they thought about these services specifically. And, get this: They strongly advised me against giving my password to any site, no matter how reputable I think it is.
I trust that advice; giving up a password just makes me uncomfortable. But fortunately both PowerWallet and HelloWallet have options to manually enter financial information, so it’s possible to use them without linking them to your bank account, which is what I did for my tests.
Here’s what I liked about each service.
- Both sites have a feature that allows you to budget your money each month electronically. But HelloWallet’s is extremely detailed and seems so relevant to my actual expenditures. There is even a category called “coffee shops.” How much do I spend at coffee shops in a month? I have no idea, but I probably should.
- HelloWallet has a great mobile app that is easy to use and completely free. It looks very much like the site, and is especially helpful when manually adding financial information. It’s more likely I’ll have my phone with me than my laptop, so after I spend it would be smart to get in the habit of entering that information in HelloWallet.
- HelloWallet analyzes your spending and shows trends in where your money is going. You can look at a spending trend for a particular merchant, for several merchants or expenses you “flag,” and for an entire spending category. This spending awareness is an extremely beneficial feature, and in my opinion is a great reason to use HelloWallet (even if you’re entering that information manually).
- HelloWallet gives a complete view of spending because it also includes categories like “action steps” and “goals” it can help you stay on track to accomplish. I think it would make a goal seem more real to have my progress toward it right in front of me. And goals are an important part of anyone’s financial life.
- PowerWallet features a point system that rewards you when you’ve stayed on track financially, or even merely logged in to the site. It was unclear what the points will be redeemable for (on the site it says that’s still in development … which I found a little weird), but even as a psychological reward, it lets you know you’re doing well.
- This site also features deals and coupons for its users, a great extra perk of using the service. It sends out reminders of these deals via email as well.
- My favorite aspect of PowerWallet is its prominently displayed “alerts” feature. The site will send you an email if you have overspent in a certain area, which I know would personally help keep me on track (and help me spend less on take-out Pad Thai, I hope).
- PowerWallet seems to send more frequent emails than HelloWallet, but the amount is still not overwhelming. I like having a little reminder in my inbox that I should be watching my spending, and I look forward to the emails from PowerWallet.
Even if you have to enter all your financial information manually, I think both HelloWallet and PowerWallet serve an important function. In theory, even entering this type of data on a paper spreadsheet would be smart, and both of these sites are a higher-tech version of doing that.
BUT: I don’t think I have a complicated enough financial life right now to use them consistently.
I swear by my online banking, and I check my accounts activity extremely frequently. Besides these day-to-day expenses, my primary bills are rent and tuition.
I’m not willing (at this point in my life) to take the time to manually enter every expense I have. I wish I were. I would love to have the analysis of my spending that these sites provide. But training myself to use them in the last few weeks was like trying to teach an old dog a new trick — I kept checking my online bank account statements, and adding them to another site like HelloWallet or PowerWallet felt like a chore.
When I begin to invest money and have more bills, I can absolutely see myself using one of these sites consistently. It goes back to the seeing-all-my-money-in-one-place idea. Both sites make that whole process streamlined, and they absolutely have utility, even without being linked automatically to bank accounts.
Disclosure: After this review was originally published, PowerWallet and MoneyUnder30 became affiliate partners, so we may earn a fee if users sign up for a PowerWallet account. If you choose to support us in this way, thank you! That said, we did not alter the content of this review in any way.