Today’s Savings App Grew From ’80s Mini-Computer

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web dataTalk about savings.

Back in 1987, when cellphones were the size and heft of a solid brick, a Sacramento software designer created the MoneyDiary. It was a pocket-sized, hand-held computer device for tracking your spending. Sold in local electronics stores, it cost $199.

Today, the same MoneyDiary is an iPhone app downloaded from the palm of your hand.

Cost? 99 cents.

Trinidad Esquivel, who created both versions, says his first MoneyDiary was “ahead of its time in the ’80s. People didn’t realize a computer could be that small.” Especially when the cellphone they were holding was so big.

Fast-forward about 25 years. Esquivel, 58, spent about three months writing the computer code for his iPhone app. Launched on iTunes in April, it lets you track your spending by any category you choose: credit cards, groceries, mortgage payments, pets, health expenses, you name it. From your phone, you can tally and track your spending, and transmit it to a spreadsheet if you want.

As such, it’s one of thousands of budget-minded websites and online tools aimed at helping folks track their spending.

And with more than 425,000 iPhone apps competing for downloads, it’s not likely that MoneyDiary will become a hot seller. In the iPhone “Managing Money” category alone, it’s got plenty of competitors. Some are pricier, such as PocketMoney ($4.99) or PageOnce ($12.99). Others are more comprehensive (and free), such as Mint.com’s Personal Finance app.

Personal finance experts say tracking your spending is the first step to financial stability.

“I don’t care if it’s a Big Chief paper tablet or a fancy software program. Whatever works for the individual – and will be consistently used – will do the trick,” said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

As for the MoneyDiary, “I’d say it’s 99 cents well spent.”

That’s what Esquivel is hoping, too. But it’s not likely his MoneyDiary app will make him rich. For every 99-cent download, he gets about 70 cents.

Esquivel, who’s also created a “RealQuote” loan calculator and the MoneyDiary for Palm users, says he got the idea back in the ’80s when he was traveling the country as a mainframe computer consultant. He tallied all his business expenses – hotel rooms, meals, car rentals – on paper, then would deliver the lists to his CPA each year for tax expenses. “One year I told her, ‘I’m gonna have that on a computer one day.’ “

Eventually, he did. He spent “tens of thousands” to design the first “MoneyDiary” hardware/software package for a Tandy PC-6, one of the early hand-held computers. Encased in a tiny black binder with its own user manual, the Tandy package sold for about $200, mostly in local World Electronics stores.

As the MoneyDiary’s inventor, Esquivel said he’s “never used any other accounting software in 25 years,” and likes it because he can create unlimited categories, from car repair bills to rental property expenses to hobbies. Some parents, he says, even create children’s categories to track what they’re spending on their kids’ allowances or college costs.

“It’s a tool so you can see where your money is going. You don’t have to know accounting terminology; just create categories that (fit) your life. … It makes it real simple.”

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.