smart spending

Use your cell phone as a budgeting tool

How to budget with your phone

Setting budgets via Xpenser is pretty simple, using the service's "reports" feature. For example, you can set up a report online called March 2010 and set the nickname for it as "mar." As you head out of the grocery store, you can text to Xpenser, "exp 38.00 groc mar." You'll get notification that the expense was received and you'll get the total for March so far. You'll know instantly when you're nearing the monthly limit you set for yourself, so you can skip the temptation to head to the mall.

Others use these services to track hours or mileage. Jeff Lehman of San Diego and his fellow search-and-rescue team members for the San Bernardino County sheriff's office must report the number of hours spent on each activity such as searches, rescues or training. He began using Xpenser a few months ago to track his time and his mileage and gear expenses, which are tax deductible. "After carefully keeping track of hours for the last few months, I realized that I have been underreporting my hours for many years. The Twitter interface allows me to update them on the fly and easily," he says.

It's a good idea to keep a copy of receipts for tax-deductible expenses. Xpenser and Texthog enable you to do that by simply taking photos of a receipt with your cell phone's camera, then sending it along with the expense information. Then you can throw the receipt away if you wish. Xpenser allows this on free accounts; with TextHog, only paid users (plans start at $7 a month) get this option.

Those who aren't fans of texting or who don't spring for unlimited SMS/texting plans can still use their phones as budgeting tools. Both programs allow you to submit expenses via e-mail or Twitter. Lehman prefers a Twitter app made for his BlackBerry. "I never use SMS because it's a big rip-off," he says.

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