Finance is one of the areas that many of us are concerned about all the time. Whether you want to grab dinner, pursue higher education, or go out on a date, planning your expenses in advance is very important. Based on my personal experience and conversations with people around me, I noticed that many people were struggling to manage their finances. I was wondering with all the resources available in the market how did we all not plan our financial wellbeing in a more effective way. There simply needs to be an easier way to do this. The deeper I went into understanding this problem, I felt the need to create a solution for this that would eventually help all my friends and people alike including myself. I started working on my own app that could address the gap that exists in the current market.
The average American has 3.1 credit cards with balances reaching thousands of dollars. 43% of Americans carry over a credit card balance every month, and the credit card debt has been increasing every year. Based on the research that Urban Institute conducted in November 2015, 15% of families in America report spending more money than they receive each month.
According to the Federal Reserve’s 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households
, almost 40% of American adults wouldn’t be able to cover a $400 emergency situation with cash, savings, or a credit card charge that they could quickly pay off. Compounded with a bad credit score, this financial state could affect families’ credit score which will result in higher rates of interest for any kind of loan and, if a family keeps carrying over their credit card debt, an inability to save money, leaving them unprepared for emergencies or any unexpected expenses.
How did I understand this problem?
I started reaching out to people in two different age groups with a survey to start with. This survey was apart from my desk research I had already completed understanding the larger issue across the country.
The first group targeted respondents who ranged between the ages of 18–30 and the second survey targeted slightly older or middle-aged folks between the ages of 36–58. Survey outcomes revealed that more than half of both the generations had either struggled or were still struggling to manage their finances. The first survey which targeted about 30 participants had some interesting takeaways. It revealed that 9 respondents from the younger generation answered that they were only using credit cards. 8 people from the older generation answered that they are only using credit cards. Based on the survey results, I was able to confirm that both the younger generation group and older generation groups struggled to manage their finances in general.
Focus group experiments to analyze spending behaviors
I approached a few people who were willing to participate in an experiment that would give them some strategic tool that I designed to specifically analyze spending behavior. A total of four were recruited for this project and these four people were divided into two groups. The experiment was spread across 2 weeks. All the participants who were recruited had similar income levels and resided in the same geographic area.
The first group was asked to use only cash for a week, and the second group was asked to use only credit cards during the first week. Each participant was asked to maintain or cap their spending within a daily budget of $40 U.S. dollars.
The participants were given a paper prototype of a spending aggregator app and during the second week, the participants were asked to plan and record their spending by using the low-fidelity paper prototype or at least via text messaging on their phones.
The difference between the 2 weeks was that one week had the participants did not record and plan their expenses and the 2nd week they were strictly encouraged to record their spending including receiving daily reminders.
After running the experiments for 2 weeks, I invited each participant for an in-person interview to uncover their experiences and how using specific payment methods (Cash vs card and recording versus not recording their expenses) had affected their spending habits and influenced their decision making.
Assumptions and outcomes
I went into the interview sessions under the assumption that the cash-only group would show better behavior and stick to their budget compared to the group that used only credit cards. During my interviews, I uncovered that the first week’s results were similar within both the groups. Three out of the four participants had failed to maintain or stick to their budget during their first week.
The second week’s results were as I had expected. All of the participants successfully maintained their budget. Participants said that the reminders were very helpful for them to remember their goal. One participant was even able to save extra and take his saving total to $104 during the week. He said this is the first time in many years that he actually felt like he didn't have to worry about the credit card bill. Going forward with this approach he would be reducing his credit card debt and eventually get out of it. He mentioned that the planning and tracking of his expenses and the reminders helped him stay within his budget.
The goal of this experiment was to understand if people were more reckless when they used plastic money (credit cards) which research points as the primary reason for increased debt and less savings, as we discovered earlier in this case study. I went into this experiment with a general idea that these problems occur more often when people do not plan their spending in advance, and people just generally don’t know where to start or how to be responsible for their financial wellbeing.
My approach to wireframing and beyond!
Even though I am still evolving as a good sketcher :) I can draw some basic things to communicate my ideas before I take it to high fidelity designs. However, in my experience, I have noticed that having flows of hand drawing sketches actually saves me time since I can see the flows visually and instantly like all other designers I would strongly advocate for this. After hand-drawn sketches, I recreated the screens on Figma which laid the foundation for my designs which got easier. I had already created a design system for my project borrowed from a previous template of mine. To keep it tight while I raced towards a tight deadline, I decided to present only key features and the flows instead of fleshing out and designing the entire app. I plan on getting it all done in the near future.
To track their spending users are encouraged to register with the app by creating an account followed by their entry of each transaction. When the user taps the + button on the bottom right corner from the home page, they can input their entry. To encourage the users to utilize the app more and be more engaged, I decided to have an ‘add photo’ feature in the app. Through this feature, users can add pictures of their expenses, receipt, or anything that can be stored for future use more often as a visual indicator to their spending with details. Users can select the category, add a specific caption, and or enter a note when they are adding an entry, allowing users to search for the specific expense.
Based on the survey results, I decided to add the notification feature. As per my expectation, both the younger group and older groups answered they would like to have a visual alert on their phone on a daily basis that will be helpful for them to remind them of their financial goals. Under the settings tab, users can choose the date and time for the push notification that is going to remind users of their goal and their current status. For example, if a user’s total budget is $500 a week and the user’s goal is saving $100 a week, the user will receive the pop-up notification/alarm that is saying ‘Hi there! You are doing pretty well. You’ve spent less than $200 this week and you can save more than $100 this week!’ or ‘OMG you spent too much this week already. If you spend more than $30 bucks today, you may not be able to afford your lunch for the rest of the week.’
The last feature that I want to introduce is a budget setting. This feature may not sound that special, but setting a budget and goal is actually very important in financial care. Something that I also validated during my experiments with the test users. The test results proved that people spend less money when they plan in advance. In this app, when users set their budget and goal, they can review it and update it all the time, allowing them to manage their finances effectively. After the user sets their goal, they will be able to see it on the goal tab under the analysis page. Users can always update their goals whenever they want, and the new goal setting is going to be reflected in their alarm setting.
This app is part of my thesis toward my Master’s degree. At this point in time, this is a concept and has so far proven to be successful based on the experiments that I have conducted with a set of users. In the near future, I am planning on fleshing out more flows and features and test end to end flows and dig deeper into spending habits among millennials and other demographic groups to uncover more behavioral aspects and build a robust set of features to help us all achieve that financial wellbeing through planned spending. One key takeaway for me personally was how I was able to review my own past behavior related to my finances and my spending habits to help me personally streamline my spending and financial management. I am hoping this idea and post will give everyone reading this a chance to review their own financial wellbeing and current spending behaviors and habits that can take you towards your own financial goals. Please feel free to send in your thoughts and comments and ideas if you have any that I should be considering as I plan my next set of testing.
Li, Wei, “Americans’ Debt Styles by Age and over Time”, November, 2015. PowerPoint Presentation
United States, Congress, “Federal Reserve Bulletin.” Federal Reserve Bulletin, vol. 103.
McLean, Sionnadh, Gee M, Booth A, Salway S, Nancarrow S, Cobb M, et al. Targeting the Use of Reminders and Notifications for Uptake by Populations (TURNUP): a systematic review and evidence synthesis. Health Serv Deliv Res 2014;2(34)
Raghubir, P., & Srivastava, J. (2008). Monopoly money: The effect of payment coupling and form on spending behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14(3), 213–225