I Tried the Charlie App for Just One Month and Saved Hundreds on Amazon

updated Mar 2, 2020
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When it comes to my finances, I’ve historically been a “if you can’t see it, it’s not there” type of person. Read: I’m not a huge fan of parsing through my bank statement, or the emotions that come with it. As you can imagine, this has caused a number of issues for me and my husband—namely, I spend way too much money on little luxuries like takeout and Amazon shopping.

I recently heard about Charlie, an AI-driven service that helps people create and stick to a budget, and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. I like to keep things simple; I don’t want one more financial-related thing to worry about. I also didn’t love the idea of linking my bank account to a robot penguin who would judge me based on my Starbucks purchases. 

Credit: Charlie

In some ways, that’s what Charlie is. The goal is to set yourself up with little reminders about your spending goals so you can watch your money. More purchases than normal on Amazon? Charlie will tell you and help you come up with a goal for preventing them going forward. Bank account hovering close to zero? Yep, count on Charlie to let you know. The good news is, all these notifications come through Facebook, so I didn’t feel like I was adding something to my routine—the messages would just pop up whenever I logged into Facebook, which I do several times a day. (Maybe I need a robot to help me steer clear of that bad habit, too.)

After linking my bank account (Charlie assured me the utmost privacy), I began getting several messages a day recommending changes to my financial habits. I was roasted right off the bat: Charlie commented that I had been spending more money than usual on Amazon (it was my son’s birthday month, leave me alone!) and asked if I wanted to create a budget for those purchases for the rest of the month. For the sake of the experiment, I said yes. 

Credit: Ashley Abramson

Without thinking too much of the penguin staring down my bank account, I logged into Amazon Prime again a few days later to buy some decorations for my son’s birthday party. Right after the purchase, Charlie chimed in to let me know I had already maxed out on my Amazon purchases for the month. It sounds so simple, but knowing how much I had spent—and having “someone” to hold me accountable—made me think twice about ordering on Amazon again. My mindless purchasing behavior became intentional, which honestly probably saved me a few hundred dollars in February, compared to my past bank statements.

Another thing I liked about Charlie: It messaged me about ways to cut costs on my existing bills. When our car insurance payment went through on the 15th of the month, I got a message from Charlie recommending I shop other carriers. (Apparently, car insurance companies offer super-low rates to new customers to hook them, then gradually increase premiums over time.) I haven’t searched for a new car insurance company yet, but if we need to tighten up our budget, I know where I’ll start. 

For people who want to work up a more detailed budget, Charlie also does that. For example, you could come up with categories of spending, then set limits for yourself and opt into reminders when you get close to those limits. Charlie users can also come up with a game plan for saving, which is a nice add-on.

Honestly, I was surprised by how little overwhelm Charlie brought into my life. I expected to be annoyed or stressed when it made recommendations, but there’s some element of control. Every time it mentioned a possible change, it also asked “Was this helpful?” so I could basically see less of those types of suggestions. I can also turn it off anytime, if I want to. 

For now, I’m going to continue letting Charlie into my purchases. I know I’m ultimately in charge of how I spend my money, but it’s nice to have someone—even a robot penguin—looking out for me.