Here at iPhone Appstorm, we’ve reviewed a lot of apps that would fall under the category of “Personal Finance,” but what about the finances that aren’t strictly personal? Out of convenience and necessity, we don’t all always pay our fair share of purchases and expenses at exactly the same time: sometimes a friend pays for drinks to spare you the ATM fee, sometimes an Internet bill can only be connected to one credit card. There are an increasing number of apps out there that combine the financial and the social, helping you to keep track of IOUs and split expenses between friends, families, or roommates and hopefully preventing arguments and forgotten favours.
Lets take a look at some of the best apps in this “social finance” category after the jump!
Splitwise is a web-based service to help you and your roommates keep track of who owes what on items ranging from utility bills to takeout food. It offers a fairly straightforward interface for adding recurring and one-time expenses, as well as a “quick add” feature for modifying balances without having to identify specific expenses. Splitwise also neatly keeps track of each roommate’s balances, focusing more on how much is owed than on the details of each expense, which helps keep things simple.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the web-based approach: It’s great that information syncs automatically, and that balances can be accessed through a web interface on your computer, however, users have reported occasional server errors, and sometimes you just don’t have access to an Internet connection. One of the most useful features of Splitwise is the fact that there are apps for both iPhone and Android, as well as the web app, so you don’t need a houseful of iPhone users to keep track of expenses.
OU1 attempts to simplify the process of keeping track of favours and IOUs by focusing on the “social currency” of food and drinks. Part of the idea is to keep track of those “thanks for your help, I’ll buy you a drink sometime” promises that often get forgotten, and keeping track of actual IOUs without letting things get too specific and petty. OU1 connects through Facebook, which can be a bit of a pain, but it’s pretty necessary if you’re going to be sending IOUs to people that don’t also have the app.
OU1 is refreshingly simple to use: the main screen shows only two options: send an IOU and find out who owes who, as well as displaying a list of recent IOUs. It’s interesting that while you can’t send someone else a “You Owe Me,” you can send someone a “nudge” if they’ve sent you an IOU.
OU1 is definitely a cool idea if you’ve got a bunch of friends that all use iPhones and are organized and coordinated enough to be keeping track of these kinds of things, but I don’t know how convenient it would be for the average iPhone owner.
Group Expense is specifically created to help groups of people keep track of expenses for specific events, like a group vacation or a big party. The app lets you add in contacts from your address book, then start adding bills for various events, keeping track of who paid the original bill, and who still owes money to them. Group Expense will split bills evenly for you, and lets you quickly see an overview of group member balances, payment histories and outstanding bills.
Though Group Expense was created with events in mind, it could be used to monitor everyday bills and expenses between roommates or friends, and it’s a bit odd that the developers have made the app so specific when it could easily be more generally useful.
Despite it’s very spartan interface and basic functionality, Group Expense does a very good job of making group expense tracking straight-forward and clear. I like that it can all be done locally without required involvement from other group members, but also gives you the option to send reports via email to group members.
FriendCash performs similar functions to Group Expense, but features a slicker interface, tighter Contacts integration and iCloud support. FriendCash allows you to easily view a list of friends’ owed money in a friendly and appealing graphic list. Like Group Expense, FriendCash lets the user keep track of expenses without the input of other users, but allows syncing between devices using the same account via iCloud.
Though FriendCash will split bills evenly for you, you also have the option of customizing the way each bill is split. The app will let you customize the weight of each person’s share of the bill, so that you can account for situations where each friend isn’t responsible for the same amount.
Bank of Me is a straightforward IOU application that features Contacts integration and a flexible currency system. Bank of Me feels more serious than the other apps, with features like receipt numbers and and prompts to “email bill” that make it seem more like an invoicing app than a social app, but it definitely works just as well for both purposes.
My favourite feature of Bank of Me is the mixed currencies. Instead of only being able to keep track of dollar amounts, you can also keep track of what you owe in terms of drinks, favours, or even hugs, without having to type it in every time. You can add your own currency type, so you can remind yourself that you owe your roommate one trash take-out. My only complaint is that he “Pay Back” feature is a bit clumsy, you have to click on the person, then the IOU, then the transaction history before you get the option to pay back.
I have to say that overall I was a bit disappointed with this category despite my initial excitement. It seems like it should be easier to keep track of IOUs in this modern day and age without having to connect to the Internet or type in too many details. I’d like to be able to just tap on a name from my Contacts, tap on an expense type (e.g. drink, cash) and then punch in a number (or not).
That being said, there are definitely situations where you need a more robust solution, when you’re keeping track of travelling or living expenses, or large amounts of money.
How do you keep track of how expenses are shared or owed? Have you tried any of these apps or do you rely on old-fashioned spreadsheets or whiteboards? I didn’t get a chance to try out FriendCash (iOS 5 only) so I’d like to hear your thoughts if you’ve tried it!