Level Money is a new iPhone app that brings budgeting to millennials.

Its approach is deceptively simple: Give the user one big number representing what they can spend each day.

Tapping this figure brings up more detail.

And other, under-the-hood options automatically save money for you, and roll over unspent free cash like some cellphone plans do minutes for later use.

Laden with strong, clear visuals that update in near real-time, Level Money is designed for the young, connected spender. Of course, it seems just fine for an older, connected spender, too.

Co.Design

Level Money Wants To Be Mint For Millennials

How do you get millennials interested in budgeting? Make it thought-free, make it real-time--and don’t call it budgeting.

To our parents, millennials spend money on weird things. We care less about status symbols like fancy cars and houses than we do the small, everyday luxuries. So we might go cheap on every single aspect of our lifestyle except on a $12 bottle of craft beer to reconcile our lot in life each day. And in this sense, traditional budgeting--food vs. rent vs. transportation vs. other--might not apply the same way to us.

At least that’s the bet behind Level Money, a new iPhone app that you could bill as Mint for millennials, or the wallet of the 21st century. With $5 million in KPCB-led funding and talent from places like Visa and Ideo, Level wants to rethink the traditional models of investing and budgeting. And step one of that process is removing the idea of a budget entirely.

Much like Mint (Level Money and Mint actually share a backend by Intuit), all you do is connect your bank account to the app, and it will analyze all of your income and expenses for you. Level Money’s biggest difference is on the front end--that it will leave you with with one big number in one big circle: A "money meter" that explains how many dollars you have left to spend that day, in whatever combination of mustache wax, pickling spices, and calf-hugging denim you see fit.

“Millennials want to be able to buy that $12 beer or $4 latte, whatever makes us happy on an impulsive basis, to do the things that fulfill us,” explains co-founder Jake Fuentes. “But we need to know when we’ve hit the limit.”

And that limit can be a tough thing to quantify in an age where physical cash is dead, and in turn we attempt to counterbalance the speed and anonymity of digital transactions through tools like spending categories. (Is a $12 beer food or entertainment?) So Level Money ignores categories altogether. All the app considers are three divisions of money: 1.) What you make. 2.) What you need to set aside for bills. 3.) What you save. In other words, how to spend the leftover cash is completely the spender’s prerogative.

“What we found was people don’t think [in budgeted categories],” Fuentes says. “They think, 'Am I generally feeling rich today?' and 'Am I generally not?' That spans the categories. It’s not limited to one.”

Another interesting design fix to old electronic budgeting models is that they don’t accommodate outliers. I, for instance, might have set aside money for a new laptop. Or Fast Company may be reimbursing me for a pricey plane ticket. Mint has categorized both of these expenses as me breaking budget (which has caused me to stop using Mint). Level Money recognizes them as “unusual spending” automatically, and it’s smart enough to ignore them in terms of my daily totals--saving me from dreaded alerts.

The Level team assures me that this app is just step one in their larger mission, to be “the first financial organization designed for the next generation in mind.” Beyond how they’ll even make money (which is still unclear, though I’m assured won’t involve selling data, ever), their mantra might sound like lip service. Because after all, are millennials really different from any young generation before? Maybe, maybe not. But the team is quick to point out that our environment has changed drastically, that we save almost 10% less than our parents did 50 years ago. And furthermore, they point out that Level Money, for as simple as its near-real-time interface may look, wouldn’t have been possible to conceive just three years ago, when banks posted transactions far slower than today.

Regardless of whether millennials are really all that different from every young generation before them, we’ve certainly become accustomed to the speed and convenience of digital technology, and we’re saving less money because of it. Level Money is a smart app because it designs around our contemporary impulses, whether they’re all that original or not.

Download it here (free).

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16 Comments

  • skylabcity

    I was interested in giving Level a try until I watched the video on their website. Does everything have to be so cute and condescending? Do people really call themselves Millennials? I need a nap.

  • $4485292

    Really? Millennials wants to buy a $12 beer? Maybe hipster millennials in Brooklyn do. But I don't think you can say that about the majority of millennials.

  • Rachel

    This solves a big issue that I had with Mint - and that is the "buckets" that all my money was placed in. 

    Looking forward to seeing what this app can do and if it works better for me. 

    Thanks for the article!

  • clairemariec

    There is definitely potential here but they need to improve their error messaging: "Logging into your bank account with that username and password failed. Try typing them in over and over again and getting increasingly frustrated." That's when I deleted the app. 

  • Guest

    Hi Kirindave. Thanks for your response. It was actually the wording of the error message that made me delete the app, not the fact that there was an error. I usually appreciate the use of conversational language in web and app experiences, however in this case the phrasing came across as insulting. I figured that the messaging likely wasn't tested with users and it made me wonder what else wasn't tested with users. I love what you guys represent, but I'll wait to give it another go after a few updates. Thanks. 

  • kirindave

    Well, Clairemariec. We're trying to put a smile over a pretty annoying UX. Some financial institutions are terrified of what Level and other companies like it represent, because they lose their opportunity to shove ads in your face and to shove financial services down your throat. So sometimes, they support logins from external sources very poorly. 

    Still, we think Level works pretty well with the institutions we support. We wouldn't have launched if we didn't have a high success rate with those institutions, and we're using the same backend that Mint uses.

    So please, do give us another try? If you have this problem again, give support a tweet or email or use the Olark interface on our site and we'll make sure to help you work through the issues.

  • clairemariec

    Hi Kirindave. Thanks for your response. It was actually the wording of the error message that made me delete the app, not the fact that there was an error. I usually appreciate the use of conversational language in web and app experiences, however in this case the phrasing came across as insulting. I figured that the messaging likely wasn't tested with users and it made me wonder what else wasn't tested with users. I love what you guys represent, but I'll wait to give it another go after a few updates. Thanks.

  • kirindave

    Julie, I'm an engineer at Level. We're already working on the Android version, and it's starting to come together. We'll be starting an Android alpha and then beta fairly soon. If you go to Level's website you can sign up for Android interest, and people who are on that list early will be invited to alphas and betas.

  • lindberg89

    in the canadian app store? i noticed someone say its only available in the us app store.