Pluto Money: An App That’s Out of This World

It’s normal for people to spend $5 on coffee—sometimes twice a week—or $20 to go to a local concert, or even more on those jeans that fit just right but are full price. These are just a few of the daily spending choices of college students. Keeping head space to remember money management can be difficult. Many can forget to raise money for that backpacking trip they have been dreaming of, or more seriously, books and tuition.

CONNOR MERRION • THE SPECTATOR
CONNOR MERRION • THE SPECTATOR

The iPhone app “Pluto Money” is a new money-management app which focuses on the newer generation. It was created by students for students and their unique spending habits. It focuses on realistic money-saving goals with no small-font graphs or Excel spreadsheets. Pluto Money’s platform tries to make the relationship with money as positive, approachable and motivating as possible.

The app allows the user to set saving goals, with options to specifically pick the amount they want to save and what they want to save on. Instead of focusing on goals that a middle-aged businessperson may have, it focuses on simpler goals geared towards young people with a limited income.

“It gives you the motivation to manage your money,” said Tim Yu, Chief Executive Officer of Pluto Money. “If you want to go to a music festival or take a vacation, or you need to pay off your student loans, whatever your goal is.”

Yu had his own money-saving problems during college. During a summer internship with Expedia, he was spending all of his earning on things like expensive dinners, leading him to go back to school with nearly no money gained.

Chief Creative Officer and Co-founder of Pluto Money, Susie Kim, said she used an app called Mint to try to save money.

“The first week into using Mint it told me to open up a retirement account, and I was like ‘I don’t even have a savings account,’” she said. “There should be a product that recognizes our financial behavior better than we do.”

Kim and Yu met during their final years at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Kim had to cancel a summer study-abroad trip because she had not budgeted her money correctly beforehand. She specifically remembers a time when she went to Las Vegas for a birthday party and spent $70 to go to Kim Kardashian’s birthday bash. She said she still cringes at the memory.

Pluto Money is named after the Roman god for finance and wealth, Plutus. Kim worked with the idea further in the company’s brand: the app shows the user as a little rocket trying to reach the planet Pluto, which represents a savings goal. The app also specializes in dealing with the impulses and lack of experience of a young money-saver.

“We kind of ‘game-ify’ the steps you take with your finances,” said Yu. “The app allows you to create spending challenges where you pick your troublesome spending habits, and you challenge yourself to spend less on them during the duration of a week or month. It can be anything from spending less on Starbucks, fast food or groceries.

These challenges connect directly to the user’s goals. When they spend less than their average in a category, the app shows them how that money will help them save toward their set goal.

“It’s this idea of trade-offs,” Yu explained. “What you don’t spend today is what you have tomorrow. We just make that connection super clear.”

The Pluto team is excited to reveal their peer-insights feature, which shows the user how their finances compare to their peers. The app will even show users how they compare to people at their specific college campus.

For example, Pluto will tell users how much of a percentage more they spend on clothes compared to another student in their young twenties. The comparison feature is built using machine learning and is engineered to get better as more people use the app.

“You can give people advice on their finances all you want, but until they actually put that information in context and they know how much they are spending compared to students like them, they are going to have no idea what do,” said Dante Monaldo, the Chief Technology Officer, Co-founder and Seattle University student.

Monaldo got in contact with the program through an AngelList ad. As someone interested in the financial sector, he said the startup was a perfect opportunity for him.

“So many other savings tools just tell me that I’m spending too much money. Pluto actually looks at where my money is going and gives me the tools to cut back,” said Ciara Loughnane, a Pluto user and Seattle University student.

Right now, the three main university focuses are UCLA, Seattle University and the University of Arizona.

However, they have big visions for the future of the app: from transferring and withdrawing of funds, to enhancing the peer comparison app to encompass specific bands and stores, social budgeting where users share saving challenges with their friends and all the way to wealth management.

“Now that we finally have a publicly launched beta in the App Store,” Kim said. “Our goal is to continue improving our user experience and make personal finance a part of your lifestyle and not something really stressful.”

You can download Pluto Money by following this link to the App Store: http://apple.co/2zYpaFK.

Erika may be reached at
esilva@su-spectator.com

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