Prototype of a budget app that focusses on the essentials.
I got frustrated with the budget app I am using and designed a possible alternative that focuses on my needs. The core concept is to drop all "nice to have" features and only provide manual entry and categorization of income and outcome. That would support me as a user to consciously spend my money and to notice and think about every expense.
I created a concept, mapped out the whole user flow, and build a prototype for the idea.
I'm using a budget app on my phone for ten years, carefully entering every income and every expense in my life. It helps me to keep an overview of my finances and to think before spending money. It also helped me to save hundreds, if not thousands of euros along the way, simply by forcing me to set a budget and making all expenses transparent to me.
Over the years, I started to notice a common pattern about apps that start small and become successful. The creators listen to user feedback and improve their products. They grow a team and build a company around it, thinking of more ways to make money. They switch to a subscription model. Prices increase and more and more features get added to the app.
After the last price increase, I was wondering if this was still the right app for me. It showed its value time and time again, but I did not need any more features, I wasn't even using most of the existing ones. And I wondered if others thought the same.
I did some research online and quickly stumbled upon a huge thread on Reddit. Thousands of people were talking about the price increase of the budget app and whether or not it was worth sticking along or using something else. At first, I was only interested in potential alternatives, but I quickly started to read all the other comments as well. I could see that there were other people like me: they liked the app, they used it for a long time, but they were thinking about making the switch as well. It got too expensive. It got too cluttered and bloated with features that many users did not need or want.
I looked into the ratings in the App Store and Play Store and found similar comments. The core concept of the app was still there and it still worked beautifully to help people create and stick to a budget. But–somewhat ironically–the budget app was getting too expensive for the perceived value it provided. Looking back at the e-mail I got from the last price increase, I also felt that there was no reason communicated other than "it's expensive to support an app and we want to be able to continue doing our best in the future".
I want to support the creators of good apps and pay them a fair price. But in this case, I got the impression that I am asked to pay for video tutorials I don't watch, features I don't need and a lot of "bloat" in the app I didn't ask for.
When I started to look for other budgeting apps, I was pretty optimistic to find something that would fit my needs. My only concern was how easy it would be to migrate my data. I quickly found out that there are, in fact, a lot of budgeting apps out there. Ranging from small, local apps to big, international software solutions, there seemed to be a lot of alternatives for me to use.
Looking closer, I got increasingly frustrated. On the one hand, there were a lot of options that tried to automize the process of budgeting. That is also the approach that the banks seem to be favoring. You analyze the users' transactions and categorize them, sometimes with the option for users to manually change these categories and train the algorithm.
That was exactly what I was not looking for. First of all, if I would be looking for a solution like this, I could just use my banking app and let them do it. But more importantly, I believe that automizing the budget makes you less aware of how you spend your money. You would need to actively look into your banking app and check the analytics. Most of the time, everything happens automatically, out of sight and out of mind.
It's convenient, sure, but I think manually entering every income and every expense has a huge advantage: you have to see and think about your spending. Apart from that, some transactions need to be entered manually anyway (for example when you pay cash) and you need to correct the algorithm categorizing your transactions, too.
On the other hand, there were small budget apps that either allowed you to budget manually or had this approach as their only option. Unfortunately, they all seemed to have poor UX and did not look very modern or polished. But if I decide to go for manual budgeting, I want the process of entering my transactions to be as fast and well-designed as possible.
Left with that, I decided to imagine a potential solution specifically for my use case, just for the fun of it.
Concept and design
I started with a concept in form of plain text to avoid any unnecessary distractions and flesh out the idea as well as possible before jumping into sketches and visuals.
The design document that came out of this was very helpful in outlining the necessary features and user flows. It also made very clear that such an app would by design not have a lot of features and instead focus on the main task users like me would use the app to enter transactions and categorize them and get an overview of their monthly budget.
I did some sketches to visualize the main screens and then laid out the whole user flow, from onboarding to creating the initial categories and budgets to entering a transaction. From there, I developed a UI design that supported the minimal, focused approach of the app. I also created a prototype to be able to easily show the idea to other people.
During my analysis of a successful minimal landing page, I created a design for a similar landing page for Frugal:
The app design of “Frugal” got nominated as one of the best easy to use app designs by Design Rush.