Last Updated on 13 July 2021 by Dan
Hello everyone! I recently wrote about my experiences of giving the Money Dashboard Neon budgeting app a go, my first experience using a budgeting app in some time. It’s a sector that has seen considerable growth in the last few years as “open banking” has come in and changed what’s possible in this space. Today I’m looking at the competition and moving on to test out the Emma Budgeting App.
Emma helpfully has a “scramble mode” which doesn’t show real transactions if you’re showing the app to friends and family, so if you’re wondering why any images appear to show Japanese Yen, that’s why!
How long has the Emma Budgeting App been running?
The Emma Budgeting app was launched in the UK in 2018, classed as “your best financial friend” (hence the company logo being a cuddly bear!) and with the simple aim of making managing your money more easy. The Emma app grew organically, seeing a rise to significant prominence online after it was featured as the “App of the Day” on the Apple App store in 2019. The Emma Budgeting App also expanded it’s operations to users in the US and Canada in 2019.
How does the Emma Budgeting App Work?
The app uses the “Open Banking” infrastructure which is provides limited read-only access to your bank account and to your credit card accounts. You can select what accounts you want to give access to, however you obviously need to integrate every account you spend or are paid into for a complete view of your finances.
Your first thought might well be “is that safe to do?” – I’ll cover open banking in more detail after the review below.
As with other apps, integrating those accounts is a relatively seamless process. If you already have say, the American Express app on your phone, the two work together very effectively to make adding each account very easily.
Adding your Accounts into the Emma Budgeting App
Emma also features a good range of savings and investment accounts the app works with, and has added a number of cryptocurrency exchanges as well recognising the trend for this. I would note that whilst the banking side appears to cover nearly all major providers, the investment side is geared more towards the more FinTech focused investment providers, with the coverage of more traditional providers a little more spotty.
The app will then categorise any transactions into broad buckets like “General”, “Groceries” and “Eating Out” – it was largely successful with how it did this, but I noted a few things went into the “General” category which I had to make manual changes for. Some of these were surprising as it was pretty obvious from the name they should have been a different category, but I believe the Emma app is reliant on data from the card providers.
If you prefer, you can also easily adjust to simply see your spending with each merchant.
Creating an Budget in the Emma Budgeting App
Once you’ve got the accounts set up, the app then invites you to set a budget. What I liked about the way the Emma budgeting app does is that beyond setting an “all spend” monthly budget, you can also set a budget by category as well – so you can “bucket” a certain amount to eating out or entertainment. Often in reality you want to set money aside for certain things, so I thought this was a really sensible way to do it.
An example of how the budget page works in terms of being divided by category:
The app will make default suggestions based on your history for what might be a sensible amount to budget for each category based on the history. It’s really important to make sure you’ve fixed any issues with things unintentionally going into “general” BEFORE you do the budget set up step though, as otherwise it can skew your numbers.
What the Emma Budgeting App does well
I’ll start with the interface – the front page is really slick and as you scroll down it, has lots of categories that might be of interest – like how much you spent at the weekend when spends might be a bit higher for example. More generally, the app is very intuitive – I never had any problem finding any information I wanted and moving around in the app always made sense.
Once a week, Emma will compile a report on your spending. I found this generally quite useful – it worked by providing “bite sized” pieces of information to you, flagging up that you were spending more on eating out than you’d planned, or that you were spending significantly less at a particular merchant than you usually did. The usefulness of the information was a little variable, but I generally found them good “nudges” to mentally check in with.
Here’s an example of data on Emma’s front page, and the generally strong design seen in the app:
I also appreciated that the app brought up a window specifically referencing subscriptions – as it’s something that people struggle to manage. Alas, the idea is slightly mitigated by the fact that the app classified quite a few things that are more simply regular bills I can’t actively manage (like my water bill) alongside those I could adjust if I wanted to (like Netflix). If anyone from the Emma App team reads this, I’d suggest this is an area worth tweaking as done right, it could be really useful.
I also liked that the app monitored for any fees you’re paying to banks or credit card providers as a way of monitoring overdrafts – an important part of debt reduction.
The app also encourages you to receive notifications updating you on your daily financial position. I found this both a blessing and a curse – the information is generally useful, but I received so many various notifications that I felt I was under “notification bombard” and generally switched them off, which the setting field allows to you do so. I’d have preferred if I could have kept some notifications, but been able to adjust the frequency to make them feel less intrusive.
What the Emma Budgeting App could improve
Whilst I appreciate that the budgeting apps like Emma are commercial enterprises and do need to make money, I found that the commercial side of Emma unfortunately sometimes ended up undermining the app’s usefulness.
The biggest way this happened was by finding that some functionality that I would expect to be fairly standard required Emma’s premium subscription option of “Emma Pro” which you pay £2.99 a month for. A good example of this would be if you want to create a custom bucket to put certain transactions into, or simply rename how a transaction appears to make it a little clearer what it is.
Neither of those are groundbreaking additions, and I thought it was a bit cheeky to charge for that. I note some rivals offer this for free.
It’s also not a problem unique to Emma but I found the app could get quite salesy – constantly encouraging me to upgrade to Emma Pro or to use a linked in feature such as comparing my energy bill where Emma will make some commission on it.
I have slightly mixed feeling about those nudges – after all, actions like reviewing your energy bills is something I encourage people to do myself and doing it really can help reduce bills – but it felt like Emma was occasionally trying to hit on this point constantly to the point of slight annoyance.
How much does the Emma Budgeting App cost?
The Emma Budgeting App is free to use in basic form, however you can also pay £2.99 a month for Emma Pro which adds features – more on if we think that’s worth it further down.
Overall review of the Emma Budgeting App.
The Emma budgeting app does it’s core job well, and has an absolutely fantastic interface that is best in class along with sensible bucket-based budgeting.
Where it loses the points is where the commercial realities of the app clash with it’s aims – limiting some things you might quite reasonably want to do as part of effective budget management to Emma Pro. Coupled with the app’s relentless pushing of you to upgrade, it’s limiting compared to what’s offered for free elsewhere which is a shame, as otherwise there’s a lot to like here.
Where can I download the Emma Budgeting App?
(Note: We may receive a small commission for referring you using our link, but it won’t affect the service you receive and per our editorial policy, we always write honestly about what we review, no matter if we get paid or not).
Is the Emma Budgeting App safe?
As I mentioned above, the Emma Budgeting App uses the Open Banking initiative to read our bank account data, so I wanted to include a piece on the safety of open banking.
Open Banking is now a well established part of new rules brought in by legislation under the Payment Services Directive to allow organisations to access and make better use of financial data. The access you grant to apps like the Emma budgeting app is very highly regulated to keep it secure, however nothing can ever be said to be 100% risk free.
All you provide to the Emma Budgeting App is read only data – I.E it’s the equivalent of letting the app take a peek at your statement for a short period of time which you must re-permit each 90 days – you don’t give any access to the actual management or the direct login of your bank account.
On on that, just remember you should NEVER give any app or any person any of your account’s direct login details.
Therefore the potential direct harm or someone to make malicious transactions/steal your money is limited, however in a more general sense you should think carefully about who you provide read access to beyond the Emma Budgeting App. Given the wrong person read-only access could provide a fraudster or hacking with data on your spending that could help them commit identity fraud.
Is Emma Pro worth it?
Upgrading to Emma Pro will cost you £2.99 a month after the free trial. It offers a range of features such as the ability to create custom budgeting buckets, set specific savings goals, rename transactions and putting in accounts which are offline.
All of these are useful, but I find it hard to recommend paying for Emma Pro because these features are available in rival apps for free. There’s only one situation I might see as worth it, and that’s if you think it’s worth it because you want to keep using the Emma budgeting app’s absolutely excellent interface. Personally, I’d save your money.
Is the Cashback Feature in the Emma Budgeting App worth it?
Emma also encourages you to earn cashback by shopping via a link when you shop online, doubling that cashback if you’re an Emma Pro subscriber. It’s an easy way to make money and the principle of using cashback is something we strong recommend.
We looked at a variety of retailers vs. both TopCashback and Quidco. We generally found that if you were on the standard Emma Plan, you could get a better Cashback rate at either of the above sites. If you were getting the double cashback from Emma Pro, results were variable but it was sometimes the best rate on offer, and simply required checking.
There were a couple of retailers where I found I could only get cashback through Emma – Apple for instance will only give cashback for refurbished products via TopCashback and Quidco, whereas going through Emma also meant I could get cashback on new products.
As such, it’s always worth checking, but results vary so don’t assume it’s the best rate.
You can read more about the principles of cashback (I’ve had over £1,000 back from it) in my article on TopCashback here.
Have you tried the Emma Budgeting App? I’d love to hear your experiences or if you have any further questions! Just let us know in the comments below.
And that’s it!
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