Saving Money in the Age of Apps


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Saving money is hard. Everywhere you turn,there are people, places and things that want you to spend, and very few voices pleading with you to hold onto what you earn. And while I can talk about saving and investing until I’m blue in the face, that’s not going to make it any easier for you to do.

Fortunately, a handful of tech companies are fighting to help consumers make the most of their dollars. Everyday folks like you and me are out there making financial apps designed to solve real issues,and a few of them can make a big difference when it comes to saving and spending.

While you can find dozens of good financial apps beyond the ones I’m listing, here are six I’ve come across that can have a real and immediate impact when it comes to saving and investing.

1. Digit

Digit is like a little house elf, wandering around, picking up the pennies and dimes you’ve misplaced and collecting them in a piggy bank. Fortunately, the actual app is a little less intrusive than a small creatures that searches your house for money.

This software works by linking to your checking account and transferring a little bit of money into a savings account each day. For people who already practice saving money by moving a certain amount from checking to savings each week, this works a little differently.Digit monitors your habits and earnings, and bases the amount transferred on those analytics. More often than not, you’ll hardly notice the pennies being ushered out of your account. However, on a month when you’re particularly flush,you’ll see a little more scraped off the top.

While Digit is not one of the many free financial apps, customers get a 100-day grace period so you can try the software with no strings attached. If you decide that this is the perfect way to save, it will cost you $2.99/month thereafter. That puts your spending at just under $40 each year to have money moved into a savings account. For some people, this doesn’t make a lot of sense; why pay to save when you can just choose to save at no cost? For others – those who never remember to put money away, or who get charged after a certain number of account transfer – this is$40 well spent.

One of the hardest parts of growing your wealth is taking action and putting money aside. With Digit linked to your bank account and analyzing your finances, you’ll have a little money elf to handle the hard part for you.

2. Truebill

Be honest: how many subscriptions do you have that you willfully ignore? The first rule of saving money is to stop spending it, and way too many people throw hundreds of dollars away each year on things they don’t even use.

Truebill to the rescue.

While most financial apps want a long-term relationship, Truebil’s sole purpose is to track down extraneous subscriptions and take the axe to them. Got an old gym membership you forgot to cancel? Still paying $9.99/month because of a free AOL trial from 2002? Truebill uses an impressive algorithm to sniff out defunct subscriptions and have them dealt with. Just by using this free service, users around the world have saved hundreds of dollars by cancelling unwanted subscriptions.

Unlike Digit, Truebil is one of the free financial apps that gets by on advertising and payments for premium services. A few types of cancellations might come with a small fee, but most people employ this app without paying a dime. If you think there’s a possibility you have outstanding subscriptions sucking you dry, you have every reason to take Truebil for a test run.

3. Metromile

Before I get your hopes up, Metromile is available in just seven states. At present, only people living in California,Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington enjoy the fruits of being Metromile customers. Nevertheless, I’m including it on this list because I would not be at all surprised if that coverage expands within the next few years.

While Metromile isn’t technically an app, this auto insurance provider brings app-like simplicity to the tedious process of insuring your vehicle. After you download the Metromile app on your phone, you can quickly get a quote and figure out if this option will save you money.Should you go with Metromile, you’ll start paying per mile for your insurance,and the company estimates anyone who drives less than 10,000 miles a year could save a decent amount of money.

Think about how any system of insurance works:customers pool money that gets used to cover any number of policyholders’expenses. Insurance companies butter their bread with money coming from low-risk clients – those who pay in but never need to access the funds. In the auto insurance world, that means someone who doesn’t do much driving and has a clean record is paying for someone else who’s always behind the wheel and prone to fender benders.

At Metromile, the majority of customers fall into this low-risk category. The company caters to those who do limited driving and will likely be less exposed to accidents and tickets. You get access to cheaper coverage, and Metromile charges you a fair rate based on the amount of driving you do.

Between the app on your phone and the onboard device issued by the company, your mileage is tracked and charged each month.The company has good reviews when it comes to financial stability, so it stands to reason that as more people take advantage of this option, it will become available to more consumers. I apologize for taunting anyone who lives outside of those seven states, but I do think you should keep checking back to see if Metromile expands to include your region.

4. Betterment

Betterment does so many things well. This company is the solution to a lot of the problems I have with standard investment managers. Best of all, it’s an easy tool for people without much investing experience.

Like so many online investment agencies, Betterment is a one-stop shop for your financial future. Unlike a lot of other brokers, this company is a fiduciary, so the only people being served are the investing clients like yourself. Betterment won’t put your money into a certain fund simply to meet a quota, and the company doesn’t have a slew of products it will try to sell you on.

The fee you pay for these services is a respectable .25 percent, or .4 percent if you go with the premium account. Splurging on premium gives you access to live chat and personalized customer service. Compared to other agencies that charge 10 times as much, even the more expensive Betterment account is a steal. You also don’t have to meet a minimum deposit, which is really as it should be; no one should be punished for wanting to start with a small investment.

If you’ve heard me complain about mutual funds, you know I’m not a fan of investors being clueless as to what’s in their portfolio. Betterment has experts and algorithms making decisions on your behalf, but they also allow you to state preferences as to how your money gets invested. You choose the social and economic issues you find most important, and the stocks you own will reflect those ideals. Putting your dollars behind companies you trust and respect will link your financial investments to your personal preferences. It’s always better when you care about how your money is being spent.

I’m also a proponent of the goal-based system Betterment uses. Upon your initial sign up, you’ll answer questions about your income and demographics. This information enables the algorithms to predict timelines and investment techniques you can use to your benefit. This process also gives you a better idea of exactly how Betterment plans to spread your funds.

5. Expensify

Some financial apps are associated with a certain niche, and that’s definitely the case with Expensify. The tools in this software primarily cater to business travelers – with ways to track company finances, catalog receipts and arrange reimbursement. These amenities are especially useful networking with other colleagues and assigning administrative duties.

For those who don’t spend workdays at airports, I still think this software can be useful. We should all do our best to hang on to receipts and track deductible spending so we can get the best return when the IRS comes a knocking. Tracking mileage in a notebook and keeping receipts in a little envelope works to an extent, but also creates a lot of clutter and makes it easy to misplace things. No matter what type of work you do, storing information electronically can help you stay organized.

In the modern workplace, categorizing business spending is especially important. Corporations might write the company’s largest checks, but freelance workers make up a huge portion of Expensify users. If you work for multiple employers and have 1099 forms coming out your ears, this software can act as your personal assistant and reduce some of those financial headaches. Tracking the money you spend is a big part of knowing where you can save, and the Expensify app makes it much easier to keep your transactions and future expenses in order.

6. Qapital

It’s hard to save money without a clear objective. Downloading this app and banking with Qapital forces you to set money-saving goals, and the software also keeps you on track to make sure those goals are met.

This program creates a nice balance between personal control and helpful automation. You pick what you want to save for,whether it’s retirement, vacation or a new cell phone. You then get to dictate how much of your money is siphoned into a savings account. Qapital works by rounding up on small purchases and setting aside the remainder. The app lets you decide at what point the rounding up begins, so that way you can have some control over how much money is fleeing your checking account.

After that, the bank does the rest. For example, after you buy a coffee for $3.49, Qapital rounds up to an even $4 and throws $.51 into savings. Every small purchase helps you save money for important things, and the pressure to actively put money aside is taken off your plate. After you get in the swing of things, you might adjust how the app rounds up so you can save even more.

Better still, Qapital offers interest on all accounts. Both your checking and savings will deliver returns, which is more than you might be able to say about your current checking account. You also don’t have to make monthly payments, put down an initial deposit, or keep a minimum balance. In addition to helping you save, Qapital does a lot of other things better than most standard banks.

As is the case with all financial apps,Qapital relies on you making smart decisions about your savings. If you set foolish goals, the app won’t keep you from buying foolish things. If you aren’t currently saving for retirement, you might want to use this service to help with that. If you have a retirement account and think Qapital could keep you from overspending around the holidays, set savings goals for gifts and travel.The point is to spend less, not put aside money so you can just make unnecessary purchases.

Online banking has opened doors for hundreds of small enterprises. With virtually no overhead, it’s easy for these companies to make useful services available to everyday people. However, you still have to do the work and make sure you pick apps geared toward your finances and your personal situation. Don’t fall in love with investing software when what you really need is an app that will help you budget and pay down your debt. Before downloading anything, you should prioritize your financial needs and then look for the software that addresses your most pressing concerns.

For many of you, I feel confident one of the above financial apps is the right choice. Each of these products aims to simplify your finances and help make the most of your earnings. Take a few minutes to check out the company websites, read some reviews and see if any of these apps can make your financial future a little brighter.

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