Category: Opinions

Tips from a Money Coach: a Talk over Coffee with Debbie Katzav

In times when the lockdown is slowly being lifted, life is more confusing than usual. From a financial perspective, the global pandemic brought us new challenges. The good news is that we now have time to reflect on what is happening to our personal finances.

Experts note that when the situation gets uncertain, people should not rush to make big decisions or make hasty changes in their financial pictures. Seeking professional financial advice might be a useful step to help. 

Having that in mind, we have decided to talk with the financial coach Debbie Katzav and share her tips on how to manage personal finances in a time of global crisis. 

We’ve met with Debbie by video call over morning coffee. She inspired us immediately with her vivid energy and positive attitude. Here are the moments from our talk.

Debbie, could you please introduce yourself? What is your job?

My name is Debbie Katzav. I live in the center of Israel, just north of Tel Aviv. Officially, my title is Personal Finances Advisor. It is also known as a Money Coach in certain countries. 

Basically, what I do is I guide people – it can be singles, couples, or small business owners – towards understanding, managing, and organizing various aspects of their finances. It can be their budget, expenses, their incomes, or their savings. I explain how to reduce expenses and create savings, to make sure they put some money away for pension time and so that they know what’s going on with their insurances. I’m not an insurance agent or broker. However, I have enough knowledge to point my clients in the right direction and ask the right questions of their brokers and advisors. As those areas are full of information and terminology, whenever people get a report or request from their agent, they get scared and don’t know what to do with it. But I know how to deal with it.

One of the reasons why I am in this field is that I’ve gone through different things in my life, all of which had financial implications. I migrated between countries three times. I was married, got divorced, got married again. I lost my dad at a pretty young age… So I’ve had a lot of different experiences and more… I made money, lost money, bought and sold properties, and so on. All these events had implications also on my finances, so eventually, I wanted to help other people to avoid financial problems and mistakes. 

Besides this, I love organizing. I love knowing where I can find information quickly and be able to use it. And I enjoy everything digital: apps, programs, technology… For instance, I’ve been using Excel and PowerPoint since the 1990-s. Now I learn how to use any new app very easily and quickly. 

To go back, I became self-employed 9 years ago, I’m 52, by the way. Till then I was always an employee in large organizations for over 20 years. I worked very hard building my business and raising two small boys at that time. And I was really lucky to get great marketing opportunities at the beginning which took me further. I charged forward with those opportunities, as I knew that I’d need to step outside my own boundaries in order to succeed as a small business owner. Taking those risks paid off and I managed to build my business very well. For example, I had a regular column on one of Israel’s biggest websites and that led to TV appearances, radio broadcasts, and other media contacts. Right now I prefer to invest in my own media: website, blog, and podcast (in Hebrew at the moment).

Wow! That’s amazing.

Yes, that’s a lot of life behind me! (Laughing)

You’ve mentioned that you love to use the apps. How did you get to know Toshl?

I use the Toshl app for more than 4 years. I don’t really remember exactly but either I’ve heard about it through a client or my sister who lives in New York. Anyway, I’ve been a paid Toshl Pro customer for 4 years and it is really worth the money… I did explore other apps at that time and I found that Toshl was really intuitive, nicely designed, and user-friendly.

As a financial coach, could you please share: what should we focus on when managing our financial life?

Obviously, the first thing is control of the day-to-day expenses. I call them variable expenses – expenses that occur daily and we actually have to put a hand in our pocket to take a credit card or cash, or use online banking to make a transfer – all of these expenses need to be tracked because it is very easy to lose control over them. 

Aside from those, we have fixed expenses. Although they are repeating every month, we need to control them and think if there is a way we can reduce them. Some people say: “Oh this is fixed. I can’t do anything about it”. But sometimes you can. For instance, in Israel, we have a pretty cheap cellular service for less than 10 dollars per month. And I still see some people using the more expensive program even though there is no reason for them to have it. 

Then, we need to make sure that we have savings, liquid savings. Especially now, in the times of the global pandemic, a lot of people suddenly didn’t have an income… And if you have some money to put back in your current account that you’ve saved up for a rainy day, you are in a much better position than people who haven’t done that. So you need to have money that is pretty liquid and you need to have savings for retirement or when you stop working. It can be in many formats: rent from the property, saving accounts, investments. 

I think it is also important to be a smart consumer. It means not being roped in by clever advertising or a friend or celebrity who posts an Instagram photo of an item that was just bought but rather  – to investigate, do price comparisons in advance. I’m not saying: “Don’t buy”. I love buying myself and I think it’s fun. Just let’s be clever consumers.

It is better to buy one good-quality expensive item than many cheap ones. Personally, I don’t like online shopping for cheap clothes… That’s just like… Where I’m going to put it?! (Laughing) It might be the wrong size or colour, or maybe the quality of the material will be very low… I’d rather buy good things, more expensive and not so many. That’s being the smart consumer.

To sum up, just control your expenses, make the savings, and be a smart consumer.

Do you suggest looking at it individually?

Oh, absolutely. For instance, a situation in my family is very different from the situation of a family with small children. Yes, I can give very general advice but at the end of the day, each person or family and each household is in its own situation. All in all, it is very individual. 

You know, I cannot tell a family who has a coeliac kid to spend much less on food. They will spend more because that gluten-free food is very expensive. So everything needs to be adjusted. Only when I do individual work with a family, I can point out the areas that are not in line with what it should be.

Now we live in times of the global pandemic. Some of us could experience uncertainty about our financial future. Are there any specific tips on how to act in these circumstances?

I think you need to put on your creative hat and realize that you have to move out of your comfort zone. For example, what I’m doing now (as I finally had the time during the 2 months of lockdown) is putting together an online workshop. Yes, it is a lot of work but I’m moving out of my comfort zone to create new services which will bring me new clients and new income. That is what we need at the moment of uncertainty. 

On the other hand, we need to exercise restraint. As the lockdown is lifting slowly, I see that people are so craving to go to the mall and buy… And maybe they don’t have money… They need to think first: “OK, the mall is open but it doesn’t imply that I HAVE to go and spend!”. You know, don’t go to the mall, go for a walk around the block! 

So we need to become restrained and keep being optimistic and learn some new skills. I think there are lots of opportunities to learn skills that you can sell to create an income. These things could be a little bit more difficult, though it’s worth trying.

What else? We should put off some purchases… For example, before the pandemic, you planned to renovate your house during the summer. But now, if your income has changed, you need to put it off, to leave some money in your bank account. 

This is also a time to review the budget of your monthly expenses. You need to do it every month but in times of uncertainty, you need to adjust it even more. And in this sense, Toshl is a very handy tool.

Recently, the global market has shifted to the Internet. Many people purchase goods and services online. Are there any hints on how not to overspend?

It’s a big problem. I see it with a lot of my clients. Apart from purchases that require delivery services, there are subscriptions for online products. When my clients go through their bank statements having transactions from App Store or Play Store, sometimes they can hardly answer what that online purchase was for. When you’re buying online, it is very easy to think: “Oh, it’s just three dollars!” I think our minds are not capable of aggregating everything that we purchase over a period of a month and we cannot work it out unless we see it on a screen (in Toshl!)

Another thing… Most of my clients use Toshl manually. One of the things I teach them is that they have to enter their purchases on the same day. Because the next day you wake up, your mind is like a blank page and you don’t remember anything. I’m also quite a big online purchaser of services for my business Yesterday I paid for Zoom and I put it in Toshl right away. And that’s how I can control myself because it is very easy to get lost.

Could you describe: who is your typical customer?

I have three types of customers. The first ones are couples or individuals that want to learn how to manage their finances. I teach them how to analyze their expenses and how to create, maintain, follow, and track a new budget. These people come to me to learn and I guide them in that. 

The next type is people who ask me to manage things for them as a personal financial assistant. Typically, these are older people. Normally, they are well off, and if they want someone to deal with it for them, they can afford it. I’m the one to clean up the messes and consult them. 

And the last ones are small business owners. If you are a small business owner, you have to sell your service or product but at the same time, you need to manage your business on your own. A lot of small business owners don’t know how to manage the financial aspects of their business. Most deal only with the tax aspects and amounts that need to be paid to the authorities. I’m the one who really goes into the numbers and says: “Oh, you spent too much on equipment!”. What I do with small business owners, I look at the details and advise them every month on what they need to be more careful with. I look at the numbers from a different point of view than the accountant does.

And now I might have one more type! These are the people who are going to learn and do everything on their own using the Toshl app. 

Yes, we’ve heard about the workshops you organize to share your knowledge with others. Could you tell us more about these events?

The workshops are my new service. It’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of years but it was quite challenging to get people to come at the same time and to the same place. Then the pandemic came… And now everybody meets and learns online. So I said, “OK, now it is time”. What I want to share is completely teachable in the online environment. 

Basically, I run the workshop to teach people how to use Toshl to manage their personal finances. I’ve discovered over the years how to use the app correctly and stick with it over time. It needs to be set in a certain way and I’ll share these tips at the workshop. The session lasts for 1.5 hours and it is in Hebrew. There in fact going to be 2 workshops – for beginners and an advanced session. I also have an idea to do it in English for clients from all over the world. And hopefully, I’ll also sell the workshop as an online course.

Which methods and approaches do you use in your work?

First of all, my approach is that order and efficiency are the basis for effectiveness. If you have all your ducks in a row and everything organized in a clever way, then you are probably going to be efficient and effective in whatever it is: your business or saving. Another approach is that at the beginning you’re always sweating a little bit more until you get everything organized, and then it goes pretty quickly and smoothly. 

In terms of actual methods or tools, I use a lot of different ones to run the business. With my clients, I use Excel and Toshl: Toshl – for tracking the day-to-day expenses and controlling them and Excel – for looking at the big picture and doing more complicated analysis, etc. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

During the last two months, many people were writing statements such as: “Now I know that it is important to save, spend money on the right things and not to overspend”. I think in a few months most of us will go back to our old habits because we are creatures of comfort and we like buying items and experiences. But I do hope that more and more people will understand that it is OK and not so boring to control personal finances… It can be done quite easily and in a more calculated way. There are so many handy tools for that! So do not forget what we went and are still going through with Covid-19 and spend wisely. 

Useful links: Debbie’s website, Facebook page, blog, about the workshop (in Hebrew)

Posted in Family finance, Opinions, Personal finance, Tips & Tricks

The Toshl Web App Gets a New Design: a Chat with Janez and Jan

We’re starting something a little different on our blog today. Instead of just telling you what’s new, we’ll have a chat with Toshl’s team members. Today we’re meeting Janez and Jan. No, they are not one of the Toshl monsters, they are humans and they are real. Or at least we certainly hope so. ;) One envisions the app’s unique design, while the other puts the ideas into practice by coding. In this chat, we’ll talk about the redesign of the Toshl Finance Web App and their work in this project.

Guys, could you introduce yourself? What are your main duties at Toshl?

Janez: I’m in charge of the design and illustration. This part is quite important for Toshl Finance apps. So my job is about creating the interface of our apps and graphics in general.

Jan: I bring designs of Janez to life. I’m in charge of web app development. In other words, it is my task to transform the data into web pictures in the browser, so they look like we imagined them. And, of course, we discuss how things should look like together with Janez. It’s constant teamwork.

Toshl’s web app has changed significantly with the latest release. What was the purpose of this transformation?

Janez: We wanted to achieve a new feel for the whole app, so that it looks lighter. We paid attention to optimising the entire experience, not only the bare graphical interface.  

Jan: We saw a chance to make the app look fresh. The previous version of the web app was developed about 4 years ago, and these are light years in the IT industry. Thus it needed some updates. The timing of the overall redesign coincided with the code refactoring that we did. Now the things comply with the latest industry standards and it is easier to make additional upgrades.

How could we see it in user experience?

Jan: The previous version was very flat and hierarchical relationships between view parts and elements were not really clear.  Now, when we added different shadows to the elements and made them look floating, when we put some things in the background and placed others in the front, it looks more clear. With the recent changes, it is quite simple to understand what you need to click next on the screen.

All in all, the whole experience became easier, didn’t it?

Janez: Yes. Now it is easier to understand things. Colouring and shapes of the elements help you orient throughout the app.

Jan: Web app navigation got better, too. We have developed advanced animations that show what happens when you click some element. Before, when you clicked something, the next screen popped up immediately. It was not easy to process this instant change for the user. Now it transforms smoothly. Also, when some element gets hidden, it animates into the button that can bring it back. So you know where to find it to revert your change. For instance, all toggles, steps, and buttons on “Add budget” dialog are dynamically animated to give a sense of where they came from or where they go when we don’t need them anymore. Everything became more intuitive.

Janez: We worked on the systematisation of the app’s design as well. It relates to the changes in the buttons, there are some changes in the fonts. In this area, we made the first steps towards a wider design system that could better evolve over time.

Jan: Or, for instance, we improved the contrast. The background got light white, the fonts got darker. So the app is easier on the eye.

Could this redesign confuse the people who use Toshl Finance?

Jan: Not at all. All the elements are in their previous places. Some important parts are just more emphasized. Some less important things are in the background. The first contact with the overhauled app should be quite effortless.

Could you remember any funny story that happened on the way of this project?

Janez:  We are a serious company, no jokes.

You are serious but you have Toshl Monsters. Did they change somehow?

Janez: Monsters reflect Toshl’s humour. They stay the same.

Jan: Monsters are eternal. No need to change them.

Are there any hints you would like to share with Toshl users?

Janez: Overall, the app stays the same. So far functionalities did not change with this web app design update. It is just a refreshed look.

Jan: We didn’t want to complicate… Gradual changes are always a better option.

Otherwise, do you use Toshl Finance in everyday life?

Jan: Yes, I do.

Janez: Yes. Sometimes I fall asleep and forget to enter some cash expense in Toshl. Then I wake up and come back to the app… You know, we must use it because we’ll get lower salary otherwise… (Laughing)

Posted in Development, Opinions

The Missing Pieces in Apple’s In-App Payments System

The in-app purchases on iOS have evolved greatly, if not rapidly, over the years since Apple has introduced the option to pay from within iOS apps using their payment system. They’re available everywhere where the App Store is, subscriptions are now available for most apps, webhooks were added, reporting is better and the Apple fee now drops to 15 % after a customer is subscribed for 1 year. All good improvements, but a giant and glaring omission remains, making the user experience worse for customers and lives more difficult for developers. Further still, Apple doesn’t show any inclination to fix the situation and fill in the feature void:

It’s impossible for app developers to search, cancel or refund iOS in-app payments.


Why is this important? 

To provide a better service and user experience for our customers.

Refunds. Sometimes a customer just upgraded short while ago, but accidentally made a double purchase or had different expectations of the functionality. In such cases a customer would contact our support and request a refund. When this happens best we can do is to tell them to contact the App Store support, as we can’t authorise the refund ourselves. This can be a bit difficult to understand for some, as we’re the ones operating Toshl otherwise.

Cancellations API. Our apps are available on multiple platforms. Let’s say a customer previously used the Android app and subscribed through Google Play or used the web app and upgraded via PayPal. Then, the customer buys an iPhone and extends the Toshl Pro subscription using in-app purchase. In this case, we’d automatically cancel the previous subscription on Google Play or PayPal, so only the most recent subscription on iOS would remain going forward.

This isn’t possible in the other direction. If a customer first subscribes using an iOS in-app subscription, then upgrades via PayPal, we’re not able to cancel the existing subscription on iOS. Best we can do is to tell the person to follow these rather convoluted instructions to cancel the previous subscription on iOS.

Unfortunately, this can quickly lead to accidental double payments as the customer forgets to cancel the previous subscription manually. Logically, they’ll contact to our support, requesting a refund where we can again tell them only to request it from Apple’s App Store support, thus creating more ire and a user experience quickly approaching Kafkaesque territory.

Search. Sometimes, we need to look up a specific payment. Either we’re not sure if it was completed successfully, we’re investigating a potential double payment or testing something. There are many reasons why this would be useful and of course goes hand in hand with the ability to refund or cancel subscriptions as mentioned above. This isn’t possible with iOS payments. While some of the data could be checked via APIs, most can’t, there’s no graphic interface to check.

The lack of these crucial components is even more evident when comparing to the other payment methods that we use. All of the functions mentioned above are easily available on Google Play, PayPal and Adyen (our credit card processor).


Why isn’t Apple fixing this?

I can’t be sure, but other than the lack of time and focus on other areas, a few possible reasons come to mind. It could be that Apple is afraid of a loss of control here. But their refund policies with their own support are quite liberal as it is. Potential abuse of the refunds could quickly be algorithmically detected. Other payment providers can seem to make it work well.

Privacy could be a potential concern, but it need not be. We’re not asking for any card details of the customer, addresses and names can be hidden, as Google Play already does. What we need most is the unique ID of the transaction and the ability to search by it and email.

It is possible that the refund ratio of all purchases would go up slightly, but it’s doubtful it would do so significantly. In any case, it’s a better long term business practice to let your customer choose your product because they want it not because the cancellation process is so damn convoluted.


We’ve contacted Apple’s support regarding this, but all we got is a standard non-response:

“I do not have any information on whether this change is in the works. I can advise you that Apple does take your feedback very seriously. Many changes to our program have been implemented by feedback from our developers.”

I’m sure we’re not the only app developers, who face these problems and would greatly appreciate to see these issue sorted. If you agree, please share this article so we can get some improvements to happen.


We love Apple’s products and for the most part they make our lives easier, both on the user as well as the development part. This is why this feels so much more as a black spot on an otherwise great user experience record.


Apple we beseech thee, please help us make user experiences better for both your and our customers.


Posted in Development, Opinions

We support internet neutrality, let’s make sure The European Union does too

We don’t often take public political views at Toshl, but internet neutrality is a very important one, one that deserves our attention. The future free development of the internet depends on it.

The European Parliament will tomorrow (3rd of April) vote on an interesting piece of legislation. It’s a regulation, for all of you who aren’t EU-buffs, that means it’s directly applicable EU legislation. It’s directly applied in all member countries and is hierarchically above the national legislation. It’s entitled Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent – COM(2013) 627.

We know, quite a mouthful. Because it’s a regulation it will be in force everywhere in the EU. It goes a long way toward establishing a single EU communications market, synchronising spectrum auctions, improving consumer rights for the most part… Simply put, if this goes well, there will be pan-European internet operators (mobile and stationary) and you can forget about the roaming charges completely, since it will be all one market. This means better services and content across The European Union and great opportunities for companies, organisations and individuals to make our lives easier.

BUT! There is a caveat, the proposed regulation also contains some very harmful provisions when dealing with internet neutrality. It doesn’t guarantee internet neutrality, in fact, it establishes the right of communications companies to set up special service agreements, which are poorly defined and limited and could lead into the negation of internet neutrality. In practice, that could mean that content providers (think of any website, internet content, tool, app etc.) could be forced to pay extra for preferred access on the network, smaller latencies etc. This would in turn make it harder for smaller entrants to the field to compete as only large players would be able to afford such fees and skew the playing field. It would lessen competition and we would no longer have a longer playing field. In the longer term it could also have effects on freedom of expression if this results in a tiered internet, where content providers need to pay the telcos for decent access and operators are the ones who choose which services they prefer, instead of consumers.

These kind of things are already starting to happen in the United States, where the FCC decided not to enforce internet neutrality. Just see what’s beginning to happen with Comcast and Netlfix. These are only the first steps. It’s likely to get much worse. It can mean higher prices for consumers, less choice and more difficult entry for new entrants to the market. Disrupting old giants could become much harder for startups.

Slovenia, the home country of the Toshl team, already has internet neutrality enshrined into law. It’s the 203. article of Zakon o elektronskih komunikacijah (ZEKom-1 – Law on electronic communications). In that respect we have one of the most advanced legislations in the world as only The Netherlands and Chile guarantee internet neutrality to this extent.

Let’s ensure we don’t fall to the lowest common denominator and ensure that internet neutrality will become part of EU legislation as well.

Read more about the net neutrality vote on La Quadrature Du Net.

They have also prepared email you can send to Members of Parliament or call them, to insure that net neutrality will become law. The members of ALDE, S&D, Greens and GUE/NGL have also prepared an amendment which includes much better guarantees of internet neutrality and stricter definitions and framing of specialised services that exist on the networks.

Keep in mind these is the first reading in the European parliament, to be followed by approval of Member States in the European Council and another round of voting after, depending on the amendments proposed. There is much to be done if the final text will become something that will be to the true benefit of the European Union, not just partial interest of electronic communications operators. The game is afoot.

Posted in News coverage, Opinions

Microsoft Responds to Our Woes, Publishing on Windows Phone Marketplace Much Improved

In July, I wrote about our experiences with publishing Windows Phone apps on the Marketplace and compared it to walking barefoot on broken glass. Few months leading up to the post we had horrible experiences with publishing Windows Phone apps that broke the camel’s back and I felt I had to share what’s been going on in hopes of improvement. I’m glad to say things have much improved on the Marketplace front since then.

What happened next

The blog post generated quite a lot of interest and a lively debate on Hacker News. It turned out that the post was making the rounds at Microsoft as well, as the next day Joe Belfiore, VP of Windows Phone at Microsoft replied in the comments apologising and promising improvements. It was very refreshing seeing people very high up at Microsoft responding directly to developer concerns. It’s something that Apple is very much unwilling to do, so Microsoft’s approach was truly a breath of fresh air.


In fact the next week I had a call with the team in charge of the Windows Phone Marketplace and we went through the issues that we faced in the past months. They explained some of the background issues and promised improvements soon. Since they were obviously instructed by the management to initiate this meeting to appease us I was a bit sceptical about the actual delivery on these promises.
Luckily, I was soon very pleasantly surprised. Microsoft indeed updated their Windows Phone Dev Center and addressed most of the issues that were causing us problems. Let’s look at our original complaints and whether they were addressed.


Publishing apps worldwide – mostly fixed
With the update, they’ve expanded the developer registration to a lot more countries, including Slovenia and have quickly been adding new ones. Microsoft guys mentioned that they were previously using some of the components from the xBox publishing side, thus bring a lot of legacy issues such as illogically limited country support along. We’re glad that’s fixed now.


Publishing tools – mostly fixed
Uploading is much nicer now, Silverlight components make a lot less appearances making for a much nicer process. I can finally enter data normally in various browsers. The new layout is also much clearer and pleasing to the eyes. Some questionable UX decisions still remain and I’m clueless why the latest statistics I can get for app downloads are a week old, but other than the statistics the Dev Publishing tools are now better or on-par with other app marketplaces.



Publishing time – fixed
This is an area with really big improvements for us. We needed more than a month to get the app up last time due to slow response times and incomprehensible rejections, but lately that time has really improved. We suspect that we might have been especially flagged due to the publicity from the last post so your mileage may vary, but we generally get the app approved by the Marketplace team in about 3 days. It’s a big improvement and much faster than the week or two Apple’s App Store usually takes.


Moving apps to other accounts – ?
To be honest we can’t really update on this one since we haven’t attempted this since the last time. If any of our readers have info on the possibility of moving apps among developer accounts please let us know.


Ridiculous morality standards – probably fixed
After quite long discussions we came to the conclusion that the funny sentences in our apps probably had nothing to do with the rejection. Turns out that they simply lumped all the local-rejection reasons into one policy, thus bundling together a China Bing maps issue with morality standards of Quatar and leaving the developer in the dark about what was actually the issue. They mentioned they fixed that, but I’d be curious to know if anyone got rejected for similar reasons lately and how were the reasons communicated?


In conclusion, many things have been improved and I certainly hope they continue to make lives of developers easier. The update my previous metaphor, publishing on the Windows Phone Marketplace is no longer like walking barefoot on broken glass, but reminds much more of a barefoot stroll on a pebble beach. What we’d like to see now is that beach become more popular with more people. We’d prefer to be flexing our abs on a beach where more than a few percent of the hot girls come to.


Good luck Windows Phone, may your user experiences be smooth!
Posted in Development, Opinions