Fn 10: How Are Personal Finance Apps Changing Our Money Habits?

"There's a lot of power in the solidarity of realizing that other people have been in the same situation that you are in. You're not alone." — Varun Krishna

Saving money is at the top of a lot of people's lists of new year's resolutions. According to Fidelity Investments, nearly one-third of Americans want to make some type of money resolution for 2019. Maybe you want to pay down debt, or maybe you just want to save more of your hard-earned cash. Regardless of the goal, there are a number of mobile apps to help you make it happen. But are they worth the download or do they just make you feel bad about your spending routines?

We're kicking off 2019 here on Function with a look at personal finance apps. Anil sits down with Varun Krishna, VP of Product at Intuit Consumer Group, the company behind the apps Mint and Turbo. Varun says money can be the primary source of stress for most people, and personal finance apps can help transform the nature of finances for households and individuals. Anil also talks to author and personal finance coach Tarra Jackson, better known as "Madam Money". Tarra shares the apps she uses for her own spending habits and discusses how personal finance apps help her clients re-evaluate where their money goes.


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Anil Dash: Welcome to Function. I'm Anil Dash, and happy 2019 everybody. We're back with an episode and I know a lot of you have on your minds "new year, new me, new resolutions." We're gonna help you with that a little bit, especially if you're concerned about your finances and getting your money right in 2019.

Now there's a lot of apps that help you manage your money. Whether it's Mint, You Need A Budget (YNAB), or Acorns, you give them access to your bank account, they'll track your finances, they'll even show you where your money is going or how close you are to that goal of saving up for a vacation.

The question is though: are these apps really helpful? Do they change your behavior and the way you think about money? Or are they just giving you pretty charts and graphs? Later on, we're gonna talk to a personal finance coach about the advice that she gives to people in the real world who are trying to get better at managing money.

First, I talked to Varun Krishna. He's the vice president for a product, Intuit. Intuit's a company that makes TurboTax and the budgeting app Mint. We talked about how these apps work and also how they help you manage your money.

Varun, thanks for joining us.

Varun Krishna: Hey Anil; a pleasure to be here.

AD: So walk us through the experience a little bit. I've decided I wanna get my financial house in order. A friend of mine said, "You should check out an app like Mint that'll help you out." What's the experience for a normal user when they want to get started?

VK: So the way Mint works is it's a free app. It works on Android, on iOS, and on the web. So the first thing you do is basically go to the App Store on your phone and you can download the app, and it'll ask you to create an account. What Mint will ask you then to do is it'll ask you to provide access to the various financial accounts that you have, whether it's your credit card accounts, your bank accounts, or investment accounts. And Mint is automatically able to connect to over 20,000 different financial institutions. It basically asks you to provide access.

Once you provide access, what Mint will do is it basically tracks and analyzes the data that's coming in from those accounts and it aggregates it all in one place for you. There's a couple things that make that really awesome. The first thing is that you don't have to go into all those different accounts to see where your money is going. All that cashflow is tracked in one place. What you can also do is you can get access to interesting concepts like your net worth. You can actually track your net worth over time.

Mint also has a free credit score included in it as well. So what it does is basically aggregates all the different aspects of your financial life together in one place. It has a couple of pretty interesting features on top of that that help you manage your finances. You can set budgets and get notifications on when you exceed and undercede your budgets. You can set goals. Mint will basically work toward helping you achieve those goals and send you notifications based on when you're ahead or when you're behind.

Then finally, Mint also provides a capability that we just launched that we call Mintsights. And what Mintsights do is they leverage behaviorally informed intervention in the form of insights, notifications, and calls to action that help you improve your financial decision making. So ultimately Mint is an all in one solution to help you track and manage your entire financial life. Think of it as a personal financial advisor for the every person.

AD: What's the typical path for somebody that comes to you? Are they saying they're in a panic about, "Where is all my money going?" Or are they more of the plan ahead person who's thinking, "Okay, I wanna get a handle on this stuff before it gets out of control."

VK: Yeah, it's a great question. What's interesting about a product like Mint is a lot of our approach is to look at data and use data to understand our customer better, which is a big part of Intuit's product philosophy around understanding the customer. To answer your question; it's really the entire spectrum. But there's sort of a fundamental commonality which is that for many people it's just simply a matter of saying, "Look, I need to get in control of my finances."

So you have people at one end of the spectrum that are a little more...we call them trackers. They have that more OCD personality, they wanna see where their money is going, they will check Mint multiple times daily, and they're more the organized mentality. At the other end we have slackers, in a colloquial term. But really people that they may have financial challenges and this is really a first step for them to start to take control of that...really be even more transparent with themselves about being more cognitive of their finances, having a financial plan, just even starting to look at things like their finances on a day to day basis.

What's interesting to me is money and finance is a very nuanced concept for most consumers. From Intuit's background of working on TurboTax, Mint, and seeing the spectrum, there is a little bit of a cognitive bias between what people believe in themselves when it comes to their finances, what they tell other people, and then the mathematical reality. So we see that spectrum pretty broadly. What it helps us understand is there are many different ways of solving these problems depending on where you are in the spectrum.

AD: So this is really interesting because you come back to the sense of people want to feel in control. They want to feel like they understand what's happening with their money. It seems like there's these very deep-rooted emotional aspects to what our...if you look at this passionately, this is an app on my phone with charts and graphs that should be just some data. But people have these feelings that go into how they see themselves, what their relationship is with their partner or their spouse, what the relationship was like with their parents and how the house they grew up in talked about money. Do all those things come into play?

VK: They really do. What's interesting is there's so much research out there that just talks about the role that money plays in the average consumer's life. I read an article yesterday that for most couples money is the number one source of stress in their financial life. Millennials state that money is the number one source of stress in their life.

So what's interesting is there's sort of an underlying currency of the role that finances and money play. It's different for different people, but there is something that makes it a very central element of the rest of your life. What we found is that if you look at the spectrum of solutions that are out there, not every kind of product or solution is geared toward the customer's best interest. The average consumer doesn't understand something like underwriting. So if they go into a car dealership and try to understand, what they're thinking about is, "Hey, how can I get this car that I want and drive off the lot?" They don't understand that if they take dealer-offered financing versus just shopping, whether they get a 2% interest rate, an 8% interest rate, or a 20% interest rate, those concepts are sort of foreign. They're deliberately foreign because there's a lot of money that's made by the various players in the financial industry depending on how that works.

The implication of a 2% interest rate or a 5% interest rate; that has an implication on their financial life potentially five to ten years in the future. So most consumers are not able to make that leap between short- and long-term financial planning. There's a part of me that believes that they shouldn't have to because technology data can actually obfuscate that if it's just more representative of the customer.

I'll give you another example, which is bill payment. I'm sure maybe you use your online bill payment system, whether it's Chase or Bank of America, to be able to pay bills. But there's a reason why if you're gonna miss your bill payment, there aren't things like reminders that help you escape late fees because it's easy for the bank to make money when they charge you overdraft fees. What's interesting is there isn't truly a lot of players out there that are very agnostic of their own potential interests, and really just focus on how can we help you save money. How can we help you make your money work for you? Data and technology can be incredibly powerful to go after that.

You mentioned an interesting point which is kind of around our household. This is something that we have been innovating in with a new product that we've launched, which is a sister product to Mint that we call Turbo . It's the notion of finances really being more of a household affair. One of the things that you can do inside of Turbo is you can share your finances with other people in your household. You can share your credit score, you can share your income, and you can have a combined view. Part of it gets to the notion of just transparency and honesty as a mechanism of creating trust.

We spent a lot of time talking to customers about the nature of household finances and realized that no one is really solving this problem today. We still think that there's a lot of opportunity to drive innovation.

AD: So it sounds to me like where all of these tools are headed is giving us a reflection of what we're doing, but also hopefully steering us away from the fact that so many of the platforms and so many of the companies that we work with are just trying to make a buck at our expense. They're hiding the places that we could be saving money and putting out front the places that might be costing us a couple extra bucks every day.

VK: Yeah. I think that's a fair point. I think it's a confluence of two things. I think one is on the consumer side. There's definitely a psychology and sort of a behavioral economics construct. Most people don't want to face the reality that they may not be making the best financial decisions with their lifestyle choices. They need a little bit of coaching; a little bit of nudging. No different than getting healthy, no different than dealing with fitness. Behavioral economics definitely reveals that human beings are imperfect financial decision makers.

I think what makes it worse is there's a system of finance that is designed to make it difficult to know what the right financial decisions are because there are profits and other types of things that are made. So I think the two things combine to create the perfect storm that make it hard to not only have the realization that you need to get back on the financial treadmill, if you will, but then actually finding the path to get there. Getting the best deal, knowing what types of budgets to set, setting goals, and also doing it in a positive way. Because at the end of the day, there is a lot of pain out there. Finances are kind of a taboo thing.

"Most people don't want to face the reality that they may not be making the best financial decisions with their lifestyle choices." — Varun Krishna

What we found is it's really hard to provide insights that are honest and yet motivating. So a lot of what you asked about Intuit, is that concept of leaving the customer feeling empowered is challenging because sometimes it's facing the reality of a situation that may not make you feel good, but it's the starting point of something better.

I think the two things combined...there's sort of a psychological element that is very consumer-centric and then there's the rest of the system and protecting customers from some of the things that they can get trapped into.

AD: So somebody's feeling overwhelmed about their financial situation or they're feeling the stress. Even if they're okay financially, whether they're bickering with their partner about where the money is going or they're worrying about saving for college for the kids. Do you think that apps and the tools that are out there can help reduce some of that stress? Is that a goal that you all have in mind when you're building these apps?

VK: It is. And I think you hit the nail on the head, which is that ultimately it's a cause of stress. Your finances; money in general. The number one thing it ultimately fuels is probably your stress and anxiety. You think about it daily, weekly, monthly. What's interesting is, there's two things. One is, there are things that you can do about the situation, and we want to make sure that we can educate people on what that is. Like, if you have multiple credit cards and you consolidate them into a personal loan, you may save $5,000 to $10,000.

If you have $200,000, $250,000 of student loan debt, there's a pretty good chance that if you have a good job and you have a reasonable income, you can refinance that debt, and save maybe $10,000 to $20,000 over the lifetime of that loan. Those are opportunities that people don't take. So, I think just helping them with those? There is a goal of reducing their financial stress.

The other thing I think that also helps with this is, is not feeling alone. Because as we've looked at...we have millions of customers that use TurboTax, so there's a lot of data that we get from the tax returns of one in five Americans. And there's a lot of data that we get from Mint as well. So, one thing you realize is there's a lot of power in the solidarity of realizing that other people have been in the same situation that you've been in. You're not alone.

What's even more positive is people have taken steps to escape that situation. So, a lot of what we do is try to understand that, and codify it to try to help people with the goal of reducing that stress. Getting them on a path to financial stability. Then our real vision is ultimately to drive prosperity, but it's a journey because for many people it's about just getting back on track first. And then actually once you're able to have money, for example, you can get that money to work for you.

So, we do feel like this is one of those challenges that could take us a lifetime to go after, but that's what makes it worthwhile. And that's what excites me to go after it.

AD: Well, Varun, thank you for joining us on Function. I appreciate you taking the time and doing the work.

VK: Thank you, Anil. This is really fun. Happy to be here.

AD: We'll have more with Tarra Jackson after the break.

"The apps just help you to see where you are. It's not a magic wand." — Tarra Jackson

AD: Welcome back to Function. I'm Anil Dash. Now, you heard a little earlier about the apps you can use to manage your money. But we also talked to a personal finance coach who works with people who are trying to spend more wisely. Tarra Jackson, who's also known as "Madam Money", is a financial coach and author. Her book, "Financial Fornication", explores the emotional mistakes we make with our money. And at a practical level with her clients, she also recommends apps that they can use to manage their money, like Mint or You Need a Budget.

What she told us is that it's great to have these tools, but ultimately the way we spend and feel about our money is personal and emotional. And changing that involves changing the way we feel about ourselves and the way we spend our time, not just our money.

Tarra, thanks for joining us.

Tarra Jackson: Thank you for having me.

AD: I want to start right at the beginning. What got you interested in personal finance? What brought you to even care about this issue, let alone become an expert or an authority on it?

TJ: I think what made me really passionate about it, is because I made so many major money mistakes that I did not want people to have to go through that. Or, if they went through it, to know that there's life after. So I became very passionate. I was running a financial institution, and I realized there were a lot of people that just didn't know the basics. So I wanted to help them along the way, so at least if they did make mistakes, it wasn't because they didn't know.

AD: Right. It seems like there's these two universals that happen when you're a young adult, which is that you will get your heart broken and you will screw up your finances. Maybe at the same time, right?

TJ: Yeah, probably at the same time.

AD: You sort of draw a line between how we see our love lives, our personal lives, our relationships, and how we see our relationship to money.

TJ: Absolutely. I wrote a book called "Financial Fornication", and it really...

AD: That's an easy one to Google.

TJ: That's an easy one to Google, "Financial Fornication", I tell you. It's everything the title says it is. Even though I had a lot of celebrities and athletes that were my clients, and I kinda saw their real financial standing versus what they were blinging out on TV, I had to look at myself. I realized I was financially promiscuous with credit cards, multiple, and I kinda end up with financial STDs — Substantially Tremendous Debt — and they hurt.

I figured I probably wasn't the only one that was dealing with that, so I created cures that I'd used to get out of it...to heal myself financially. And I put them in a book because most money books are very technical, in a sense of what you should do. But this is more emotional because relationships are emotionally driven. So we have relationships with money and relationships with financial institutions, and it's emotionally driven.

AD: Right. And sometimes they're a little bit co-dependent. Sometimes they're unhealthy.

TJ: Very unhealthy. So I was having a very unhealthy relationship with my financial institution and my credit cards. It felt good at the time, but it's like waking up with your ex.

AD: If you or your clients have gotten into an unhealthy place with money in their lives, what are some strategies you bring to them, or some of the context you give them to help all of us rethink what role money plays?

TJ: Well, the first thing, if you're dealing with some financial unhealthy relationships, the first thing I do is to practice financial abstinence. Financial abstinence is when you stop using credit cards. You've got to kinda see where you are. Try to balance out how much everything is, and try to make a plan on how to reduce the debt, or take a good...even financial abstinence using a debit card. Because sometimes use our debit cards and we don't pay attention of everything that's coming out of the account. So stop, right?

AD: Mm-hmm.

TJ: And maybe use cash for a specific period of time, and once that cash has gone, you kinda feel it. So, when I talk about financial abstinence, we need to stop the behaviors that's getting us into the trouble, which could be credit cards. It could be the debit cards. Of course, we got to pay bills, we got to do all of that.

AD: Right.

TJ: But if we're going to do things outside of what our normal required spending is — life — then we should use cash, and try to flush out where we are. The next thing I do is tell people that they have to use financial protection, which is a budget. So, to name your dollars, to make them work for you. But you have to tell your money where it's gonna go, or your money will tell you what you can't do.

AD: Right.

TJ: As far as spenders, we don't like the word budget. So that sounds like diet, die, deprivation. I can't. And we rebel against that, so we like to hear "spending plan". So, we spend on savings, spend on investing, spending on life.

AD: It gets to that pleasure. That emotionally rewarding aspect of it.

TJ: The pleasure principle. Absolutely, and that's what I talk about in my upcoming book, "The Four Financial Languages", because we all speak a financial language just like we speak a love language. So, spenders, there are triggers for us. Savers, there's triggers for them. Investors and givers, there's triggers for them. If they're negative triggers, that's when we retreat, and we do the opposite of what we're supposed to do.

AD: Right. You fall into shame or bad behavior, bad patterns, that kind of thing.

TJ: Yeah, exactly. Telling a spender not to spin, yeah, they're going to spend everybody's money. So we don't want to do that.

AD: The instruments that people are using, whether that's debit, credit, cash, the other tools that they have, that's one way to do that reset and look at spending. Are there categories people tend to look at, whether it's food or entertainment or something like that? Are there things that people tend to look at? I mean, the classic thing is the stop spending five bucks on Starbucks, but putting that aside, are there more meaningful things people can do?

TJ: Yeah, I hope nobody asks me to do that.

AD: Right.

TJ: But, yeah, I mean the biggest one is probably eating out, right?

AD: Mm-hmm.

TJ: We spend so much money on eating out because nobody likes to fix a freaking sandwich. Sometimes we got to look at maybe instead of eating out seven days a week, let's try doing it for four, and cook for three. Let's start being financially abstinent on eating out every single day, and it's not just one meal. They're doing breakfast, lunch and dinner. Entertainment — going out with your girlfriends or your guys. Everybody's balling out, and nobody wants to feel like they can't ball with them, so a lot of people spend money that they really don't have to stay in that clique.

AD: Right. So a little less bottle service?

TJ: Yeah. Go to the liquor store and buy a $2 bottle. I promise you it's cheaper. Those things, any other entertainment that...I even look at my cell phone service. See if there was a way I can reduce some of that. Cable. I only watched two channels on cable, but I was paying like 300 bucks. I tried to say, "Oh, it's because my Internet and phone." Well, I never used my landline, and I only needed the Internet. So what else could I do to save some money there? It just helps you to re-evaluate where the spending is going so you can make better decisions.

AD: The theory that we have, in so many things in society today, is technology's supposed to make things easier. We talk about all these very fraught aspects of money in our relationship and our lives. It's so emotional. It's so stressful. I always hope: "can't the apps on my phone solve some of this for me?" Tell me about your experience with that. I'm curious about you as a person first, before you're this expert on personal finance. If I look at your phone, what apps have you got to manage your money?

TJ: It's funny, as I pick up my phone, I have a folder in my phone.

AD: Oh, you got a whole folder of money apps?

TJ: I have a whole folder called, Financial Apps. It's literally a whole folder of it. I think it's two pages worth of financial apps. I organized them because I have Acorns. I have Cash App. I have my PayPal. I have Digit, Qapital, Robinhood, Mint, all of those.

AD: Okay. So, hitting some of these categories. So, the things like Cash App, and PayPal may be for sending money to friends or Venmo and splitting the bill on something. Acorns could be like taking little pennies out of your account and putting them away into savings.

TJ: Acorns is like investing. You can start investing with $5. It's doing that even if you Stash. I love Stash.

Digit or Qapital, Q-A-P-I-T-A-L, that's good. I have so much money saved in Digit and I didn't even know it, so it pulls pennies and a few dollars...

AD: It's just happening in the background.

TJ: Right, in the background. And I just don't pay attention to it until I go into my Digit app and see that I got a couple hundred dollars stashed away. Which I always think people should have a reference account, a savings account that's separate from their checking account anyway. Because you don't want to pull from it.

AD: Then something like Robinhood is like the even more advanced version of that for intentionally investing.

TJ: It is. Robinhood allows you to invest in individual stocks. So, when I wanted to invest in Nike, individually I can do that. So when Nike goes down, I bought a couple stocks, and then when...

AD: Oh, when they did that ad with Kaep, and you're like, "I got to get in on this."

TJ: Yeah, I did. I gotta do it. Two years ago it was at 50 something, then it was at 75. I was like, "I got to do it." Then it dipped, so I buy in the dips.

AD: Sure.

TJ: It went on sale, so I bought some more. I did it through Robin Hood.

AD: That's funny. That is a spender's mentality. The stock is on sale.

TJ: Yeah.

AD: So, you got this whole host of financial apps, and probably a lot of folks that are listening are going to have three, four, or five money apps, right, on their phone? And it's everything from, like I said, Venmo to split the bill when you go out to dinner, to whether it's Acorns or Digit that are doing an automated task. I'm curious, in particular, about that category of these apps that are sort of going almost behind your back. Without you knowing, they're just pocketing, secreting away a couple of dollars and I think a lot of us have a behavior of like, when you take out your winter clothes and you find $5 in the pocket and it feel like you've won the lottery.

TJ: Sure, that's happened to me. Oh, my god, I pulled out a coat and had 10 bucks in there and it was the best gift ever.

AD: Right, right. It's like a gift to your future self you didn't even intend.

TJ: Exactly.

AD: Is that a healthy way for us to look at these apps? Is it okay to do that? Or is that like cheating on your diet? How does that fit into a good plan?

TJ: It's only cheating on your diet if you're spending that money and you're not using it for purposes of your future self. Because I'm a spender, I know I'm gonna have to stash money away that I don't see because if I don't have access to it I'm not gonna spend it. That is a great way, without me knowing, but I do know that it's going someplace else. I see the transaction happen so it's not like the money's going somewhere and I don't know where it's going. I know where it's going and if I need access to it, I can have access to it. But that's a great way for me, as a spender, to save without me having to physically save. The apps are helping me.

AD: So you sort of don't feel the pinch of it?

TJ: I don't feel the pinch, and they have a great overdraft protection type thing. It'll stop transferring money if it feels like you're gonna overdraft on your account, to avoid overdraft. It's a cool technology. I use it all the time. I use several savings apps, so I have money, actually, coming out from different things. Especially like the...are you familiar with the 52-week savings challenge?

AD: I think I've heard of this but tell me more.

TJ: Every day, the first day you save $1, the second day is $2, the third day is $3.

AD: Oh, wow.

TJ: Or, you can do it by weeks, so the first week is $1, the second week is $2, the third week is $3. By the end of the year, $52 you save, you've saved almost $1,400.

AD: Wow.

TJ: The Qapital app actually allows you to do that.

AD: And it automates it? It's structured for you, right?

TJ: Automates it. So every week, it's gonna do $1, and then the second week's gonna do $2. Or you can reverse it, so I reversed it. The first week was $52.

AD: And you felt that pinch, right?

TJ: I did. I felt it all the way up to 30-something dollars. I was like “aah!” But it grew my savings account much faster, and I knew I wanted less coming out closer to the holidays. It's a great way to save for the holidays.

AD: And most of us, if we're lucky by the end of the year, three dollars, four dollars...we're not gonna feel it so much.

TJ: Exactly.

AD: You might not even notice.

TJ: Exactly. My coffee was six bucks today. I didn't feel $3.

AD: That's right. That's really interesting because it seems this is different than...we use apps for whatever, for our food and going on a diet or exercise, something like this. But in this case, these apps with money, they can go behind your back. It can do something without you knowing, it can sort of be pushing the buttons. You set it up, but you might not initiate it on that particular day, “Move $6 into my savings.”

TJ: Right.

AD: But yet that could be healthy. The fact that we're not thinking about it consciously in this case might be good because we're otherwise gonna feel like I'm holding on to this money, I don't wanna let it go.

TJ: Yeah. It's good, when, again, you're saving for your future self, when you're saving on purpose, for whatever it is.

AD: Right, it's designed and intentional.

TJ: It's designed for an intentional thing. But, the great thing is, is if you're like “Oh, I can't deal with this right now,” you can shut it off, you can pause it. So you can consciously control whether the account is doing that. I do it on an account where I know when I'm gonna have money in there, but I do transactions or whatever, so it's just gonna save. Now, if it's account that I know I'm gonna keep low, I don't tie that account to it. You have to be very conscious of what account you're going to tie to these apps, as well.

AD: Yep.

TJ: But, for the most part, I love financial apps, especially Mint and You Need A Budget. Because it helps people that are not familiar with creating budgets to create that spending plan or that savings plan. And it makes it very simple. I live by Mint. I wake up and I look at Mint.

AD: So, even as an expert, you're like, this is a tool that's useful for you?

TJ: It is, because I wanna see what's coming in and out of my account, and that I categorize it. At the end of the month it gives me a cute little graph to tell me where I spent my money, so it gives me my reality checks. My vice is food and going to the bar.

AD: I remember when I first signed up for Mint and my wife and I looked at it, and the second biggest bar after the rent was restaurants and we were like, "well, we better enjoy these meals!"

TJ: Yeah, so, when I hit $1,200 on restaurants and eating out, I couldn't tell myself that I couldn't afford to save, that I couldn't afford to do certain things. So I had to make a conscious decision if I was going to continue to eat my food away, or if I was gonna maybe eat $500 and then put the other 600 someplace else. You know what I mean?

AD: Right.

TJ: So I can now make better financial decisions by seeing where my money's going.

AD: At some point this tech is almost holding up a mirror and you have to decide "Am I comfortable with what I see that thing reflecting back at me?"

TJ: Yeah. That's with anything, it's even with our health. We go to the doctor so the doctor can say, "Hey, this is what is going on," and you either take the prescription or you don't. You live or you die, it's your choice. It's the same thing with your financial life. You gotta know where you are because you may not be as bad off as you thought you were, or it could be a very serious thing and if you don't make changes...

AD: Then it's gonna be serious consequences.

TJ: ...it's gonna be really a serious consequence, absolutely.

AD: How much of getting right with money in our lives do you find with yourself, or even especially with your clients that you coach, how much of it is about the emotion of it? How much of it is about the feelings around what money means to us and how we grew up and whether we had any money growing up and all that?

TJ: It's a lot. It's mental and emotional. If your mindset says you're broke and all of this, well, your wish is my command, the universe will give you broke and give you things to perpetuate that. The hardest part is changing the mind. That's the muscle, that's the hardest muscle to change, is the mind. But once you change that, the behaviors start going.

Yeah, there's a lot of things in our past, but I don't think is just a
money thing, I think that's a life thing. If I was abused or I did this or whatever, we still have to take ownership and decide if we're gonna move forward, or if we're gonna live in the past. It's the same thing dealing with money.

AD: And it seems like any kind of change, whether it is money or your physical self, all these things, is this making yourself vulnerable. And I wonder about, does handing some of that off to technology make it easier to do that, where you feel less threatened, less defensive, because, well, the app is doing it for me and I'm not having to challenge myself or push myself in that way. I can be a little more passive and be a little less afraid of it?

TJ: The apps, again, just help you to see where you are. It's not a magic wand. It's not gonna change who you are. If you do analysis paralysis, you can get all the data in Mint and still not make the appropriate changes in there. What the apps do, most of them like You Need a Budget, help you to organize, and Mint shows you where the money's going. Acorns helps you to start investing so you don't have to believe that you need millions and thousands of dollars to invest. It just makes it easier to start doing the things that we say that we want to do. It helps us to have access to that, 'cause before these apps we couldn't just do $5. Or we could, but we didn't know where.

AD: Right, so it's almost setting you up to be able to ask the right questions?

TJ: Ask the right questions, and move towards action, in baby steps. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time, so you gotta take the first damn bite. Once you do that, then you can take bigger bites and you can move towards those goals.

AD: That makes a lot of sense. I've got one last question I wanna pose to you, which is almost a magic lamp question. Which is, if you could have an app be created, wave your magic wand, and it would help solve people's financial challenges, financial stresses, reduce their anxiety around money, what would you imagine it would do?

TJ: I'm so glad you asked. I so want this Madam Money App and I need a coder or somebody to love me enough to do this. The Madam Money app would have...it's almost like a budgeting or a spending plan app. You would set the amount of money that you want to spend, say for groceries, and you would go to the store, and there's a barcode on each item, so it would scan it and it would put price in there and deduct it from your budget, including the tax and everything. So, when you're at zero dollars, you know how much everything costs in your cart right now.

AD: So you see how much space you got left for this.

TJ: Exactly. If you are at zero dollars and you still need to buy more stuff, you may need to make the decision to put some stuff away because you don't need it, or you consciously will take money out of another category to put in there. But it helps us to be more aware of our spending. Have you ever been to the grocery store, you got all there, and you think you only spent 100 bucks and it turns out be $297 and you're like "What in the world?"

AD: That meant I was shopping hungry, right?

TJ: Yeah, I was like, “Man, I shoulda ate before I went,” but you know what I mean?

AD: Yeah.

TJ: My app would be able to help people understand where their money's going and be able to make conscious decisions on “Do I really need this right now, should I put it away?” Or, “I need this, I need to add more money to this category."

AD: All right, well, that sounds like a dream come true. Hopefully somebody will help you create that and we'll have the Madam Money App to look forward to in the future.

TJ: Whoever you are, I love you already.

AD: Until then, we will heed the advice that you've shared with us. Tarra Jackson, thank you for joining us on Function. We appreciate you being here.

TJ: Thank you for having me.

AD: Well, now you know everything you need to get your finances in order in 2019. That's it for this time on Function.

Function is produced by Bridget Armstrong. Our associate producer is Maurice Cherry. Nishat Kurwa is the executive producer of audio for the Vox Media Podcast Network. Our theme music was composed by Brandon McFarland, and big thanks to the entire team at Glitch.

You can follow me on Twitter at @anildash, and of course you can always check out Function at Glitch.com/Function. Please remember to subscribe to the show wherever you listen, and we'll be back next week with a brand new episode.