App helps college students build financial literacy

College students looking for ways to improve their financial literacy can do so with the help of a new app developed by a group of UMSI students and recent graduates. The Broke App, which helps users contextualize their spending, goes beyond simply tracking where money is spent to helping users understand their unique spending habits. 

“So many people have told us, ‘I get my $500 check at the end of the week. By Wednesday, it’s all gone and I have no idea where it went,’” said Jackie Wolf, a recent graduate of the UMSI master’s program and The Broke App co-founder. “What we are really trying to do with Broke is help people answer that question through developing a contextual understanding of their spending.”

Contextualized spending, Wolf explains, includes understanding both time- and location-specific reasons for spending. The app will not only help students recognize these trends but also supply just-in-time information to deter unnecessary spending,

“We’re really trying to get at the why,” Wolf said. “How do you give people context to their spending? Part of that is through trends of where they spend it, but also why they spend.”

She says this feature is lacking in most existing money management apps, yet it is crucial for developing healthy spending habits.

“You want to go out with your peers, and you want to socialize and you want to have a good time, but there are much smaller changes you can make that will eventually have a larger impact,” Wolf said. “If you don’t create those good habits when you’re younger, that’s going to carry over when you’re older.”

Wolf said the idea for the project came about during New York Innovation Trek 2014 when Broke App co-founder and fellow UMSI master’s student Michelle Fiesta became interested in creating something to help second-generation college students manage their personal finances. 

“Their story is financial literacy for students,” said Nancy Benovich Gilby, the Ehrenberg Director of Entrepreneurship at the School of Information. “Their research revealed that most existing services cater to slightly older young adults with money. However, nothing is targeted toward students who don’t have money and who are living paycheck to paycheck with big debt.”  

One of the team’s largest challenges, said Wolf, is developing an app that is sensitive to users’ emotional needs. 

“Ideally, we want to create something that meets the emotional needs of the users, something they check as frequently as they check the weather,” Wolf said. “We want to avoid the problem people encounter with diet apps, where they are really good at checking for the first two weeks, but then fall off the wagon and don’t check in for the next two weeks because they feel bad about it. So how do you create something that pushes forward small behavioral changes but also creates something that people don’t mind looking at?” 

Even though The Broke App is still in its development stage, the team has already received various offers for funding and corporate partnership. 

“The Broke team has already had two offers for acquisition,” said Gilby. “For the moment, they are carefully evaluating one offer and are likely going to test the waters first in a partnership. The team members are creating their own opportunities for jobs in an area of passion and creativity, which is incredibly exciting.”

Recently the team received the “Get Set” Award at the DTX Launch Detroit Showcase hosted by TechTown Detroit on July 30. They also won first place in the Inspiration, Innovation & Impact category and an honorable mention for Technology/Design among 40 student projects at the 2015 UMSI ExpoSItion in March.  

In addition to Wolf and Fiesta, who both graduated from UMSI in 2015, members of the development team include current students Christina Czuhajewski, Prashant Iyer, and Kristen Sheppard.

Posted August 26, 2015