Designing a Budget

1. Balance is Overlord

Overlord: the best gender-neutral replacement for ‘King’? Also quite great: Potentate (mostly because it sounds like ‘potato’).

The Balance: big and in your face. Also, my tour of the salt flats of Bolivia was a bit more expensive than expected…

2. Make Spending Easy

And when I say ‘make spending easy’, I’m talking about logging spending. Capitalism has already made spending easy — that’s kind of the problem.

  • Keeping the balance accurate
  • If you go to log your spending before you make the spending decision, it creates a decision point (‘Can I afford this?’) that didn’t exist before. This can change your behaviour in the moment, and has done so for me on multiple occasions
  • Every time you log your spending, you look at your balance, helping you to internalise it (this is why it’s important that logging is manual — even if I could make it automated, I wouldn’t)
You can do everything you need to log spending without ever changing screens or scrolling (except on an iPhone SE. Those screens are tiny!).


A feature that is absolutely necessary for logging every spend, however, is currency conversion. When I was building the app for myself, I was manually building the currencies I was using into the app each time, changing that list in code whenever I changed countries. Obviously this won’t do for a wider release.

The screen for editing which currencies are ‘active’. Guess which part of the world I’m in?

3. Be Kind

I’ve tried a lot of apps that aim to change behaviour, and designed lots of schemes for myself to change habits. What I find happens a lot with these sorts of things is that they frame success and failure in black-and-white terms. You succeed if you do the thing every single time, and if you don’t, you fail.

The message that appears the first time your balance goes negative… and I just realised that I used the wrong “You’re”. This is what beta testing is for — fix incoming in v0.6.1!

The End of Principles

That’s about it for now. There’s a lot of other small interface details I’ve not really discussed here (the design and purposeful limitations of the ‘history’ tab, the spend %age bar that shows how much of your budget the current spend), but they’re secondary results of these three principles.



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