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New App Promises a Budget in 60 Seconds

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Despite the fact that there are myriad tools available to create a budget and get your financial house in order, most of us aren’t doing a very good job at it. But a new iPhone app, Wisely, aims to make it easier for you to budget and track your spending.

There are numerous benefits to tracking and monitoring your spending, not the least of which is making better purchase decisions. And there are all kinds of ways to do that, ranging from low-tech ways like the envelope method – putting cash from each paycheck into envelopes earmarked for each expense category – to high tech solutions like online money management programs.

Nevertheless, some two-thirds of us don’t have a written or computerized budget, according to a Gallup poll conducted in April 2013.

One of the biggest reasons we don’t? Getting started. It takes time to set up a system and figure out how much to allocate to each spending category, then it takes effort to input your information or track purchases on an ongoing basis.

If you have an iPhone and an American Express card, though, you might want to rethink the “I don’t have time” excuse. The Wisely app can help you set up a budget in literally 60 seconds, and then track your spending each time you swipe your card.

How? Download the free app from the iTunes store to your iPhone then link your American Express card. You’ll see your average spending by category for the past three months, and that information will be used to populate your new budget. If it looks off – maybe you spent a little more than usual eating out in December? – a simple slider will let you adjust the targeted total for that category. Going forward, you’ll have access 24/7 to how close you are getting to your limit for that spending category for the month.

This app won’t show everything you spend money on; after all, you probably don’t charge your car payment or mortgage. But you probably already know how much you spend in those categories each month. It’s that amorphous “discretionary” spending category that trips most of us up, and as long as you charge those purchases to your linked card, they will be tracked.

What you’ll also see on this app: your total spent at specific merchants.

“I was shocked to see how much my wife and I spent at our favorite sushi restaurant,” says Wisely Cofounder and CEO Mike Vichich. (Note: Vichich has contributed articles to Credit.com.)

I personally can’t wait to find out how much I spend at Publix. I feel like I am at the grocery store every other day and I’d love to know how much of my paycheck winds up there.

Where Do You Want to Go Tonight?

The simple budget tracker is one small part of what the Wisely app offers. “Our goal is to democratize spending decisions,” says Vichich. He points out that online reviews of restaurants and other establishments can be manipulated. But what can’t be faked is where consumers spend their hard-earned money. Toward that end, the app will let you find establishments in your area (or one you are traveling to) and see how much the average person spends there, as well as how many repeat customers they have. Merchants can be ranked by popularity or repeat customer visits.

“Every day people swipe their cards. This creates an image of the entire economy.” Vichich says. “Imagine if you could use that information to find the best spots that meet your taste and price range?”

The app also allows you to scan your loyalty cards into it so you won’t have to carry the card in your wallet or purse. It currently supports around 200 popular loyalty cards such as those from retailers Walgreens, CVS, Gap and Best Buy; gyms like YMCA and Lifetime Fitness; and grocery stores such as Kroger, Safeway and Piggly Wiggly.

Customer data is protected with the same level of encryption banks use, and Vichich says, “We don’t collect info we need. Any information we do request is encrypted. When a link is made to your bank we don’t save your username and password anywhere. ” In fact, a feature that plots your purchases on a map can be an early fraud warning tool.

The Wisely app is available for free in the iTunes store. Currently American Express is the only card that can be linked to the app but the company is working on integration of several other popular credit issuers, such as Chase and Bank of America, as well as an Android version.

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