Spenz Money App

Spenz aims to help Gen Y with money management

There's nothing worse than a reformed smoker. My dad used to smoke a pack a day and since he's quit he loudly exclaims how disgusted he is by smokers whenever we pass one on the street. I'm not a reformed smoker; I'm a reformed personal finance screw-up. A couple years ago I decided that I didn't want to be perpetually in debt, so paid off all my debt and started educating myself on personal finance. I read personal finance books and blogs, watched shows like Til Debt Do Us Part and lectured friends on their wanton spending habits.

So I was intrigued when I saw the launch announcement for Toronto-based startup Spenz, billed as "Mint for Gen Y" by founder Justin Hein. The app aims to answer the question "where did my money go" by helping you track your spending by category. The app launched at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York City last month, and was the only Canadian company chosen to present on stage. Hein says the app is targeted specifically at college and university students who are getting their first dose of money management.

I'm Gen Y, and I love money apps. In fact when Mint launched in Canada last year I was overly excited - after all, it's probably the best-known online personal finance tool in the market, and the $170 million sale to Intuit didn't hurt its credibility. I quickly added my accounts and set budgets, giving me a snapshot of my finances. But in the several months since that day, I've barely looked at my account. In fact the only time I think of Mint is when I get emails telling me my account has a low balance - pretty depressing.

I realized the reason I don't log in every day is because I can already see my account snapshots using my banking app, and what I'm really more concerned with is what I'm spending my money on day-to-day. Mint is great for tracking your spending with debit and credit cards, but otherwise it leaves users in the dark. That's where Spenz comes in. Using the web version or free mobile app, one can enter purchases by entering their amount and categorizing them with tags to represent people, places or items. For example you might enter $5 and tag it #coffee @starbucks. You can add as many tags as you want to a purchase, and edit them at any time.

It also allows you to set budgets for spending categories, view your recent purchases, and unlock badges and achievements (hey, Gen Y needs game mechanics to stay engaged, right?). Hein's team is self-funded and is currently working on the next version of the app, which will add-in spending comparisons to friends and other users, and offer real-life discounts based on your spending activity. Once that functionality is in place, it'll be a lot more useful. Right now I have a list of everything I've spent, but it doesn't offer any kind of analysis.

Based on the number of differences between Mint and Spenz, and their target demographics, there could be room for both in the marketplace. Mint tracks your spending automatically; Spenz is user-generated (meaning if you don't enter any purchases then it's useless). Mint tracks only debit/credit spending; Spenz is payment method-diagnostic. Mint is a comprehensive tool that gives you pie charts and investment graphs; Spenz is really just meant to help you track everyday spending.

But it all comes down to user motivation. How many people are personal finance nerds like me and want to enter every single purchase they make in order to recognize spending patterns? If I think of myself in first year university I certainly wouldn't be rushing to enter that bar tab on a Sunday morning.

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