toshl: expense tracker makes budgeting easier

In the world of financial tracking apps and websites, Mint is the most well-known and most-used. However, it hasn’t worked for me. The two main reasons I dislike Mint are that (1) detailed personal banking information is necessary, which is just creepy, and (2), it wasn’t useful as a tool for budgeting and managing my expenses. In addition, I disliked the app for iPhone, which is clunky and often difficult to navigate.

The last time I wrote about Toshl vs. Mint, I had only been using Toshl for a few short weeks. Now, after nearly a year of use, I can definitively say it is the best and most used app on my phone. It has changed the way I manage my money, and I have seen significant improvement in my finances as a result.

There are two versions of Toshl: the free one, which is extremely limited, and the paid one, which requires a $20 yearly membership. I avoid purchasing apps, because they usually aren’t worth the expense; Toshl is the one app I have never regretted purchasing. Here are the top three reasons to fork out that money — or at least give the free version a try!

toshl is awesome1. The app rocks.

The first thing I noticed is that the app runs significantly better on my phone, and it tends to be more intuitive. I enter every expense personally, which means that each expense is immediately categorized correctly.

There are four main tabs: Expenses, Incomes, Sum Up, and Budgets. I won’t explain how the app works, but there are some key points. The first is that every expense and income requires a tag (you create as many or as few tags as you like), which places it in a category. It is easy, on the respective tags, to see where your money goes, and where it comes from. It is also easy to see a summary of expenses by day, which allows you to track your daily spending habits.

Second, the budgets tab allows you to enter as many different budgets as you need; as you create the budget, you can choose which tag(s) take money out of the budget. The main budget screen tells you how much is left in each budget, as well as where you have over-spent. It’s a great visualization tool for what you’re spending!

2. The analysis tools are great!

Toshl has all the analysis tools that I liked on Mint: graphs to show the trends in my spending, when I was over budget and when I was under, and when my income exceeded my expenses. A quick trip online allows me to view all this information easily, with clean, simple, and useful graphs. I love clean, simple, and useful graphs.

My favorite graph, in fact, is the “Sum Up” tab. It provides analysis of your current earnings and expenses in comparison to previous months, and it’s a great reminder that I should be attempting to spend less than I make every month. While I’m not always successful (Christmas is difficult!), I am more successful now than ever.

3. Toshl reminds me that spending money should hurt

Another reason I love Toshl is that it requires me to enter every expense on my own. One of the most notable disadvantages to debit cards is that it is often too easy to swipe a card without realizing how the expenses add up; the pain of separating from cash is reduced, and it’s easy to spend more than you intend. Using Toshl reinstates that pain, requiring that I acknowledge how much I am spending. It reminds me that every coke and snack and miscellaneous expense adds up. As a result, I weigh each purchase carefully against past and future expenses. Do I really need that coke when I’ve already spent $20 on snacks and drinks over the last week?

The pain of entering expenses into Toshl makes it a useful tool, in world of debit cards, for keeping to my budget. Every purchase I make is immediately visible against my budget, and I consequently make fewer unnecessary purchases. It is a constant reminder to spend less, and it has helped more than any other budgeting tool I’ve tried.

A miscellaneous note is that I am able to keep better track of my cash purchases, which is not easily recorded through Mint.

Toshl is for Budgeting; Mint is for Overall Financial Management

Toshl and Mint are different beasts. Mint’s greatest advantage is that it provides a mostly-up-to-date view of your bank accounts and loans, and thus your overall net worth. Mint is also useful if detailed information about certain expenses is necessary for taxes, or if you have more loans and accounts than you can easily keep track of in your head. If that works for you, or if you need that security, then great.

On the other hand, Toshl’s purpose as an app is not to give you a snapshot of your total net worth against your total debt; in my opinion, that is your responsibility. Toshl’s purpose is as a budgeting app. In this way, the month-to-month summary is the most useful, as it encourages you to spend less than you make every single month. And after all, that’s the only real way to save money.

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learning to love food, and learning to cook

This is a pretty personal post, which I am hesitant to share with the world. Ever since I was little, I have been picky. I’m not talking about your child who refuses to eat broccoli or sushi. I’m talking about your child who refuses to eat hamburgers, steak, lasagna, salsa, pesto sauce, avocado, spinach, pepperoni pizza, hot pockets, tater-tots. All sandwiches excluding grilled cheese and PB&J. Oh, and anything refrigerated and microwaved scares me.

You get the idea. To make things worse, I am only just now growing out of my “picky phase.” From the list above, I now eat steak, avocado, pesto sauce, and spinach (all within the last three years).

My pickiness stems from an extreme aversion to the actual act of trying new foods. The act of trying it turns my stomach upside down, causes me to break out in a sweat, and makes me want to start crying – but once I’ve tried the food, I often find it enjoyable and come back to it again and again. I have trouble convincing myself, though, that this is true for nearly all foods, and thus trying foods should not be as emotionally terrifying as it actually is.

Over the past few years, I have learned a few triggers which make trying new foods more difficult. For the most part, as soon as someone has pointed out that I am trying a new food and comments on the novelty of such an event, my stomach seizes up and I put the fork down. I’ll go back to my plain pasta in butter sauce, or my chicken fingers, or a grilled cheese sandwich: anything plain, familiar, and comfortable. This means, sadly, that it is particularly difficult to try new foods around my family, who have struggled against my pickiness since I was a young girl, from keeping me at the table until I finished every bite on my plate (I starved instead) to bribes (upwards of $100). If it’s a big deal, I won’t – can’t – try it.

Conversely, I have learned a few situations where I find trying new foods less stressful. These situations tend to be with people I don’t know, or people who aren’t familiar with my pickiness. There are two ideal examples: when a cute boy cooks for me, or dinner parties with a group of friends. In both cases, the stress still threatens to overwhelm my senses – but it is outweighed by the stress and embarrassment of turning down the food.

Now, however, I am coming to a new phase in my life: I want to cook for myself, so that I am able to eat a variety of meals without eating out every night. This requires two things: 1) learning how to recognize recipes I would like, and 2) learning to cook.

Over the past two years of eating with cute boys and groups of friends, I have become more comfortable with the first requirement. When I look through cookbooks, I can now pick out enough recipes which sound interesting that would justify purchasing the book. I have also learned enough about online recipe websites which will allow me to cook a variety of tasty meals.

However, the second requirement is almost as overwhelmingly terrifying as the act of trying new foods on thanksgiving up on a stage, with my entire family in the audience and encouraging and commenting and judging…

The challenge comes, I think, in that I am unfamiliar with kitchens. I was so picky when I was young that I avoided any and all cooking lessons from my mother (sorry Mom!). Now, I am lost in the kitchen. I can make pasta and I can scramble some eggs. If I’m pressed, I can grill up some chicken (and maybe bake it?). But that’s literally the extent of what I can do.  For example, I understand the concept of making a grilled cheese sandwich, but it still scares me to actually get out the frying pan, butter, bread, and cheese… Because honestly, I don’t know how all of this works!

To learn to cook, I now have two cookbooks – one, a hefty conglomeration of a variety of recipes with pretty pictures; however, it assumes a basic amount of cooking knowledge, which is not true in my case. The other is Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, which is almost entirely devoid of pictures, but places an emphasis on teaching how to cook. It doesn’t say “sear the steak,” but rather, “this is how you sear something; now try it with steak!” It also explains the science behind cooking, as in “this is why searing works!” As a scientific person, I trust a person’s explanation so much more when they explain the science in addition to the process – and Alton Brown is very colloquially scientific in his book, allowing him to appeal to both the scientist and the layman.

One of my goals this year is to learn to cook for myself. My end goal is to start a personal cookbook – an accumulation of recipes that I have learned to cook, tried, and enjoyed. It will include a section for each of the following:

  • Vetted recipes for when I’m looking for something tasty to eat on a whim (or to make for a group of people, etc.)
  • Recipes I have yet to eat or make, as well as recipes I have eaten but yet to make myself
  • A list of recipes with similar ingredients, to make the grocery shopping easier
  • A weekly recipe planner

Additionally, I am donating the large number of chicken breasts I have accumulated to a friend for Thursday Night Dinner (TND), as I probably won’t be able to finish them before I move. TND is hosted by an awesome friend of mine who just enjoys cooking and company; as such, she cooks the main course every week, and everyone else brings the drinks, sides, and desserts. In exchange for the chicken breasts, my friend will teach me to make the meal she is going to serve, so that I might be able to make it for myself in the future.

I have been picky all my life, and while I’m starting to get over it, it still gets in the way. I think learning to cook is the last step in getting over this stubborn childhood fear of food. We’ll see how it goes.

the hundred push-up challenge: team awesome

I am re-starting the Hundred Push-Up Challenge. Last time, I did it for a little over two months and went from 6 push-ups (barely) to 28 (solid). Now that the stress of applying to Grad School is gone and I have refocused on my goals this year, I am excited to re-start this challenge.

The last time I attempted the Push-Up Challenge, I had two friends who were trying with me. This time, though, we have expressed interest in attempting the challenge! In fact, the number of people who are participating has grown far larger than it is possible to tag in a single status, so we’ve created a little facebook group for general encouragement and

Some have already taken their exhaustion test, and others have started the first day of the first week. It’s interesting to see people I don’t even know gather together and help push each other to the next level of personal fitness.

My exhaustion test was 21 push-ups. Today, I completed the first day of week one of column three, which – and I’m really excited to have an awesome group of people to do this with!

Anyone who would like to join us in this challenge should let me know! I plan on buying a drink for anyone who reaches 100 consecutive push-ups with me!

in with the new

I am excited about this year. I’m looking forward to some big changes: I will (hopefully) move out of the South. I will (hopefully) attend Grad School, but even if I don’t, I will (definitely) leave my position at the Library. I am looking forward to these major life changes.

There are some smaller and theoretically more manageable changes coming this year, too. I plan on learning more about what I like to eat and becoming capable of cooking said dishes (more on this in another post). I also plan on getting back into running, which had been put on hold due to a foot injury. I will re-start the hundred pushup challenge, and I will not stop until I can complete 50 consecutive push-ups.

I am also making some changes in how I approach dancing, learning to dance, and blogging about dancing. The most notable change for anyone who reads this blog is that I will have a blog dedicated to dance, rather than splitting the focus of this blog between myself (let’s be honest — I like talking about myself) and various dancing thoughts (which is what most people who look at this blog are hoping I’ll write about in the first place).

I have decided to share my goals for the New Year on this blog. You might roll your eyes (“Sure. Another list of New Year’s resolutions. Great.”), but you should know that I actually completed the majority of my goals from last year. I believe some of the personal success I experienced last year was due to this blog, and a whole lot more of that success was due to the support and encouragement of my friends and family.

So thank you for your continued support. Because this year is going to be awesome.

***

So Important they Deserve their Own Category

1. Move out of Georgia.
2. Be awesome at Graduate school (assuming I am accepted). If I am not accepted, be more awesome and re-apply.

Personal

1. Read more books than I read in 2012 (at least 23). Try to maintain consistency in a reading schedule (meaning, try to fall asleep less often on the bus).
2. Complete at least 5 craft projects this year, and share these accomplishments. I want at least one craft project to involve sewing!
3. Learn to appreciate the good in others, rather than focusing on their flaws. In particular, I would like to learn to not compare myself to others in a way which is detrimental to either myself, the other person, or both.
4. Create two blogs with specific purposes: one for myself, my goals, my accomplishments, my successes, and my failures. The other for dancing, so that dancers do not have to wade through miscellaneous posts about lipstick and grad school.*
5. Maintain a Daily Memories Journal, as I did in 2012.

Health

1. Learn to Cook. Specifically, I have two cookbooks to buy: “I’m Just Here for the Food” b Alton Brown, and a basic “Four Ingredient” cookbook, which is fairly popular. I’ll have to look through them and see what I like. As I find recipes I enjoy, start a personal recipe collection.
2. Begin running again (slowly). Work up to a 5k, keeping in mind my injured foot and a tendency to get shin splints.
3. Use the “sworkit” app on my iPhone to exercise.
4. Begin the hundred pushup challenge again, and go as far as I can. Preferably to 100 pushups, of course, but I am aiming for a minimum of 50.
5. Stop drinking coke entirely.
6. Improve my posture.**

Financial

1. Continue to use Toshl to track all my finances.
2. Teach dance (beginner’s lessons, Tranky Doo lessons, private lessons, whatever) to raise money; use this money specifically for dance purposes.
3. Resist the trap of over-consumption. Don’t buy anything, and sell unnecessary things, especially as I prepare to move.

Dance

1. Become more involved in the organizational side of exchanges and workshops.
2. Learn the Hat Trick Shim Sham and Tranky Doo. Learn the Jive.
3. Choreograph one solo-jazz piece, focusing on musicality and clean transitions.
4. Focus on some core basics in swing dancing: posture, pulse, and a clean and consistent connection. When I say connection, I don’t just mean that I cleanly follow the move a lead is leading, but that I’m also interacting with him as a dancer, rather than being in my own world.
5. Make more eye contact when I dance. Practice keeping my head up, especially in solo and when doing variations.
6. Continue to improve as a lead. Dance at least a few dances every night as a lead. Look for feedback on how to clearly lead moves.