Life Expenses Through Reporting

A smidgeon over a year and a half ago, I finally received my invite to Simple, the self-described “better banking” service that sits on top of Bancorp (and soon, will sit on top of Madrid’s BBVA). Essentially, Simple is an interface and customer support portal for banking. When they say they’ve “reinvented the basics of banking,” they aren’t far from the mark. It’s a digital-only service boasting such features as zero overdraft, minimum, or monthly fees (their network of 55,000 ATMS are free to access, and they never charge a fee on top of out-of-network ATMs, including overseas); automatic budgeting and saving, photo check deposits, free bill pays and check deliveries, instant money transfers between members, fee-free automated clearing house transfers (ACH) between banks, awesome support chat and call features (including real human beings that are approachable, friendly, and most importantly, funny), and an amazing reporting dashboard.

One of the neat approaches to banking that Simple seems to have down that no else has attempted is using all the data associated with a single transaction. Most banks ignore or hide this information from their users, but Simple has built an entire reporting function around it. Data like geographic reference (where did you make that purchase?), categorical alignment (was it fast food?), tips made on top of original restaurant expenses (what is my average gratuity mark-up over time?), exact time of purchase (what the hell was I doing in a McDonalds drive-through at 2am?), and smart grouping of like or same purchase points. While you don’t have to, the Simple interface allows you to add meta data to transactions as well:

  • Tags (using the hash mark)
  • Photo uploads
  • Comments and memos
  • Change name of purchase point

This flexibility allows for a lot of interesting ways to view your expenses (expenses in last 45 days? how much do I spend eating around dinner time? how’re my income vs. expenses doing?).

Work Lunch Expenses

My favorite is a #worklunch tag I’ve manually attributed to all at-work expenses, which are mostly my lunches and the occasional afternoon coffee. I check this report every few months to see how it’s going. It reminds me of the days when I obsessively checked NBA team standings throughout the basketball season — tracking which teams have overcome one another in an attempt to clinch for the playoffs. Instead, it’s a demented grown-up version: which embarrassing fast food restaurant still leads my work lunch expenses? What percentage of those lunch expenses happened over the last month? Year? Since I started tracking?

Without the pizazz of a sports reporter, here are the standings as of March 2014 (with considerations for dating back to July 2012, when I joined Simple):

Current Work Lunch Expense Standings

It’s amazing that Pret a Manger still leads my consumption habits (though it should be noted that tagging those afternoon coffees has biased this data, seeing as how 4% of my #worklunch tag is under Coffee & Tea), but Chipotle and Mezza are close behind.

As you can imagine, there is a beautiful cadence of expenses in motion. The actual “spending habit graph” (what else would this be called?) shows this rhythm of business day juts and weekend pits, with the intermediate vacations providing gaps every so often.

Lunch Expenses Over Time

You can certainly see how there can be some take-aways from these reports:

  • Spending habits
  • The kinds of food/locations (okay, obviously: how health you’re attempting to be)
  • Why don’t you try a new lunch place
  • Or bring your own lunch every once and a while
  • Or even better, try to lower lunch spending over time
    • My monthly average is $74.28, likely because some weeks I will actually bring lunch from home

If you want to sign up and try it, you can do so through my Simple share link and jettison your way through the waiting line. Otherwise, it still seems like Mint is a decent service that sits on top of your non-Simple banks, but it’s 1) owned by Intuit and 2) seems to have had issues pulling data consistently from certain kinds of accounts (based on comments I’ve read on sites and haven’t bookmarked for linking; oops).