The Key to Savings May Be in Your Pocket
If you have a hard time putting money aside or keeping your spending in check, you’re not alone. A 2019 study found that 137 million Americans are in debt—and that sad news came before COVID-19 plunged so many into the ranks of the unemployed. Responsible spending and saving is difficult in the best of times, and it may feel almost impossible to dig yourself out of the hole as interest rates accumulate. Fortunately, there are helpful apps and tools accessible through your smartphone, tablet, or computer that can help you stick to a budget, save money while spending, and even invest spare change into a mountain of cha-ching. Take a look at what’s available and start growing some green today!
A popular free budgeting app, Mint will automatically sync with bank accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts so you can view all your financial data in one convenient place—and get a high-level overview of your investment portfolios’ performance. The app automatically creates budgets based on your spending habits and organizes your expenses within several categories, chosen and labeled by you, with suggested spending limits. This automated saving and budgeting process is great for reluctant savers because it does what you find excuses not to do. Plus, Mint gives you free access to your credit score and the value of your home so that you always know where you stand.
Goodbudget operates on the idea of an envelope budget: separate your expenses into several categories, each with a set limit, to become more successful at spending within your means. Once separated, the budgeted amount is the total available in that category. If you exceed your budgeted amount, you can borrow from another envelope, but you shouldn’t increase your overall budget—you learn to accept, for example, losing $200 from your vacation fund to pay for an unexpected car repair. What’s more, Goodbudget can work for a household, not just an individual, so the entire family can share the financial responsibility—especially cool if you’re all saving toward a vacation or other collaborative expenditure. The app gives 10 envelopes for free, but further diversification requires a $6 monthly fee.
MoneyWiz is a budgeting app that allows you to sync all your financial data into one location and also has a live syncing feature so you can sync data between devices in real time. This means you can use your computer to see account information without waiting hours to see account updates after completing a payment, transfer, or expense on your phone. The app has one-time and recurring budgeting categories that help keep track of solitary saving goals (buying a car) or regular bills (utilities) to ensure you have the money set aside. The free version requires you to sync accounts manually, but for $4.99 monthly or $49.99 yearly, MoneyWiz will automatically sync accounts for instant viewing. The budgeting app also gives you access to multiple reports, graphs, and custom financial reports so that you have a complete view of your financial stability.
YNAB (You Need a Budget)
An acronym for You Need a Budget, the YNAB app will automatically sync to your accounts if you wish or—for folks suspicious of sharing financial information—you can provide the current total of your bank account for an unlinked option (this method requires manual entry of income and expenses). The app works by prompting users to follow four rules:
Give every dollar a job, meaning to assign every dollar to a specific category when you receive it instead of after spending it.
Embrace your true expenses, which encourages users to put money aside for non-monthly expenses, like property taxes or holiday gifts.
Roll with the punches. This rule for emergency savings prompts you to move money from less essential categories, like a vacation, to fund emergency expenses, like a car repair.
Age your money. Instead of spending your entire monthly income, set some aside for next month's bills so that you can begin to get ahead in your expenditures.
YNAB costs $11.99 monthly or $83.99 yearly (at $6.99 per month) with the first month free. Sounds pricy but the app claims to help users save up to $600 in their first two months!
A daily commute can really eat away at earnings through constant trips to the gas station. Fortunately, GasBuddy will help you find the best fuel prices in the area so you can plan your route bargains in mind. The app is free to use, and when you pay with GasBuddy, you save five cents per gallon at participating gas stations.
The budgeting app Wallet also aims to make saving easier by providing a single location to view and categorize your finances. While it doesn't boast the same budgeting tools that other apps feature, its unique “Was It Worth It?” game lets you rate purchasing experiences as love, neutral, and dislike. The calculated average gives you an idea of how happy you are with your current spending habits, helping you see the broad implications of the emotional impact your spending has on your overall happiness and mental health. The free version requires you to upload or enter expenses for categorization manually, but the paid version ($21.99 yearly) will automatically sync to your accounts.
Functioning like a financial assistant, Trim can sync to all of your accounts for transaction analysis and expense recommendations. After expenses are analyzed, the app will suggest areas where you can cut down or costs that you can cancel altogether—such as the amount of fast food you buy or subscriptions that no longer interest you. Once Trim has organized and cut back your expenses, it begins searching for more affordable service providers for cable, insurance, internet, and more so that you can save in every area of your life. Trim is free, though some premium features do have monthly fees.
PocketGuard syncs with your accounts in both the free and premium versions, but the premium version ($3.99 monthly; $34.99 yearly) allows you to track cash transactions. So if you withdraw $20 from the ATM, receive $10 from a friend to repay you for coffee, then spend $8 on lunch, the app can track the $22 you have in cash as well as organizing your digital expenses.
The app allows you to create a budget and set spending limits with alerts when you approach the limits. It also tracks your spending habits and monitors your accounts for unwanted or unauthorized charges, including hidden fees, billing errors, scams, and fraud. The app’s In My Pocket category is the amount of disposable cash available beyond bills, savings goals, and regular expenses so you know how much “fun money” you can spend while still being responsible.
Acorns uses micro-savings to collect small amounts of money from everyday purchases to build an investment account. The app can sync to your bank accounts, allowing it to track every transaction and round up to the nearest dollar. The total due is paid to the vendor, while the extra amount goes to your savings account. For example, a bill of $8.25 would cost $9 using the app, with $8.25 paid to the vendor and $0.75 saved.
Once your savings reaches $5, Acorns can then use these savings to invest in a diversified investment portfolio to grow your money over time. The Found Money feature also allows you to save on purchases with Acorns' partners. The collected amount is added to your Acorns account, boosting your investment potential. The app comes in three different versions, with an increasing monthly fee ($1 for basic, $2 for intermediate, and $3 for premium) for access to additional features like earning tax advantages and reimbursed ATM fees for unlimited free withdrawals.
Mvelopes takes the idea of envelope budgeting and turns it into a fully accessible digital platform, similar to Goodbudget. However, Mvelopes is more focused on providing ongoing learning, personalized consultations, and one-on-one debt management advice than allowing the app to stand on its own.
The basic version of Mvelopes ($6 monthly) lets you categorize your spending into various envelopes while syncing to your accounts for detailed budgeting and control over where your money goes. The Plus subscription ($19 monthly) includes a quarterly account review with a financial trainer, access to educational resources, and debt reduction tools. The Complete subscription level ($59 monthly) provides everything the lower tiers offer plus monthly finance trainer sessions, a customized budget, and trainer-guided financial education.
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