When you have kids, saving money seems impossible. Expenses add up quickly and never end—diapers roll into day care; day care rolls into summer camps; summer camps roll into braces and on and on until you’re broke and facing college. You know you should save, but you’re already stretching your paychecks like rubber bands. So it goes. If it’s any comfort, you’re not alone. For reasons ranging from stagnant wages to addictive consumer spending, Americans don’t hold onto their money. In fact, a 2016 study found that almost 70 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings.
Luckily today’s technology can see the big picture for you. By relying on algorithms and data analysis, a handful of personal finance apps take matters into their own hands, syncing with your bank accounts and working in the background to squirrel away money you don’t realize they’re taking into savings accounts and mutual funds. Detailed updates keep you informed of what you’re saving and spending and you can tweak the parameters to put away less/more as you see fit. Here are five apps that effortlessly save you money.
If you’re completely hopeless with saving, download Digit. The app syncs with your checking account and analyzes such information as spending habits and income. Then, it stealthily removes money it knows you won’t miss — $5 here, $15 there — and places it into a savings account. Often, you won’t notice that it’s been pulling out nickels at a time from your checking account until you have a $4,000 emergency fund (but texts you updates weekly, or even daily if you’d like). And fear not: Digit is programmed to avoid checking account overdraft fees. Digit recently announced they are implementing a $2.99 monthly fee but are increasing their savings bonuses to offset that cost. Available on IOS, Android.
Mutual funds are great investments. With professional management and variety of holdings, they minimize risk and generate reliable returns. Unfortunately, most funds require steep initial investments. Acorns allows you to invest in mutual funds with what’s essentially pocket change. Whenever you buy something with a credit or debit cards, Acorns rounds up the transaction to the next dollar amount and puts it towards an investment. If you spend, say, $2.25, Acorns sets aside $.75 for an investment. When you hit $5, Acorns invests your money in a Vanguard-managed portfolio of your choice, ranging from conservative to aggressive. The round-ups are a pain-free investment strategy that’s been emulated by a number of services, but Acorns did it first and still does it the best. The fee is $1 a month — which is often covered by dividends alone. Available on iOS, Android.
If you made a list of fun ways to use a dollar, stashing it in a savings account would fall miles behind such crap experiences as paying tools or getting extra for avocado at Subway. But if you don’t save your money, you’ll never be able to buy that house, put your kids through college or retire. Rize creates an automatic saving plan based on your goals. Tell Rize your goals and it creates a tailored financial roadmap to get you there. Their savings accounts pay out a better interest rate than most banks but, more importantly, they make it far easier to save than a traditional financial institution. And unlike fee loving banks, Rize has no charge — they just request customers voluntarily contribute a portion of their savings. Available on IOS, Android.
The Clarity App is like having a financial advisor in your pocket, only minus the coffee breath and boring Power Point presentations. Like other personal finance apps, Clarity tracks your spending and how money is flowing through your different accounts. But it goes a step further than its competitors by analyzing your spending and actively finding ways to save money. It will let you know if you’re going over budget and suggest ways to reduce your spending. It finds you discounts on credit rewards programs you qualify for; it cancels subscriptions you’ve forgotten about or just never use. Hell, it even contacts service providers on your behalf to attempt to negotiate and lower your bills. And the app is completely free. Available on IOS, Android.
You probably don’t define yourself as a person who invests money. Managing money is a boring chore with no connection to the things you care about. Stash can build investments that line up with your values. For as little as a $5, Stash lets you choose from a curated set of investments based your responses to a set of questions. Their investment portfolios include funds geared towards world travelers, environmentalists, and culture lovers. Stash is $1 a month for portfolios less than $5,000 and charges a 0.25 percent annual fee for portfolios more than $5,000. Available on IOS, Android.