By Jayla Johnson

In the age of e-finance and the ease of transferring money online, the issue of money management has become more important for students. In recent years, many of them have turned to apps to manage their spending.

Michael Thomas, a financial planning, housing and consumer economics professor at the University of Georgia, said that the best app he has seen for improving money management is You Need A Budget (YNAB).

YNAB is a paid personal finance app that offers a zero-based budgeting system, meaning all of your money is allocated to different categories. For example, if you make $1,000 a month, every dollar that you have will be allocated to a category in your budget. The app offers a one-year free trial to college students, but after that it costs about $12 a month.

“It’s intuitive, easy to use, great educational tools, and a lot of the app is designed by using science and psychology to not only track your money but present your money,” said Thomas. “It will promote certain financial behaviors or prevent certain financial behaviors.”

However, a student doesn’t need to necessarily pay for an app. Other popular free options exist, such as PocketGuard, Clarity Money, Goodbudget and EveryDollar.

Thomas said a good financial app has key components in order for users to get the most out of it. It must be easy to use because usability can be one of the biggest barriers for using the app, especially with many students liking things “readymade,” Thomas said.

“Thinking about short attention spans and the expectations as it relates to the use of apps, that’s a big piece. Beyond that, it’s what additional ongoing education does the app provide? You’re doing things with your money so does it give you helpful insights?”

Jalen Springfield is a senior computer science major at the University of Georgia and uses YNAB. He says he started using it as a way to “get on top” of his spending.

“This [app] fits well for me because I am very detail-oriented,” Springfield said. “Knowing exactly how much money goes where is pivotal in making changes to my spending and saving goals, but it’s accessible so that anyone can budget better. They provide articles and video tutorials that help navigate the process as well.”

Springfield said he looked at what he spent in a prior month to determine how to budget for the current month. He realized that the earlier he started budgeting for the future, the better.

“By repeating these steps, making mistakes and learning, I’m able to increase my age of money,” Springfield said. “That’s how long my cash stays solvent until I spend it. My goal is to reach 30 days so that I’m living on last month’s money and not paycheck to paycheck. Although there is a steep learning curve, the functionality is unmatched.”

Springfield said the app has taught him to manage his money differently compared to apps like Mint, which he said is good at “showing money I already spent in hindsight.”

Once he saves a certain amount of money using the app, he said he will make a plan for the future.

“YNAB ensures that I plan for the future with money I have today,” Springfield said. “YNAB is full of features to automatically track incoming and outgoing money and categorize it to their respective roles. Mistakes are bound to happen. Overspending will happen, but YNAB has features in place to shift money around.”

Jayla Johnson is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.