Three pillars of a solid personal finance strategy are to keep your expenses low, put money into savings, and make smart investments. The problem is, it’s not necessarily easy to put all three of these into practice at the same time… especially when you’re just starting out and learning about managing your money.
Fortunately, though, we live in the smartphone era, where there really is an app for just about everything. Let’s take a look at three smartphone apps that will help you spend less, save money, and start investing… all without requiring much (if any) effort on your part.
If you shop online, you should consider joining Paribus. It’s an app that logs your online purchases and keeps track of their price drops (and increases). Many merchants, and even some credit cards, will give you a refund when something you’ve bought goes down in price after the fact. The problem is that you need to request the refund -- something that most people won’t do. Paribus keeps track of the items you purchase, as well as their prices, and when there’s a price drop it will file the refund request automatically. The service currently works with quite a few major online merchants (like Amazon, Target, and Staples).
Another neat thing about Paribus is that it maximizes the built-in protection that many credit cards offer, which typically go about 3 months (as opposed to the usual 7 to 14-day price protection most sellers offer). If you use a qualifying card, you can link it up with Paribus and they’ll automatically apply for your refunds. But even if your card doesn’t qualify, you can still use Paribus to keep track of your price drops and then request the refunds yourself. Paribus does the hard part -- tracking your item prices; it’s often worth the 30-second phone call to get the refund back in your wallet.
What you do with your refunded money is up to you! We recommend funneling it into one of the two services below...
Digit makes saving money completely easy. It takes five minutes to set up, and then you’ve got a custom savings plan on autopilot. What the app does is connect to your bank account and then move bits of money into your Digit savings account. It analyzes your spending to figure out what small amounts of money you won’t really miss, and then it does the transfer. When you log into your account, you can see straight away how much money you’ve saved, and the best part is, you never even had to think about it. Plus, they now offer “cash bonuses” (kind of like interest) so your Digit savings will grow even faster.
One of the great things about Digit is that it’s designed to work pretty much all by texting. You can text to transfer money out of your savings, pause Digit’s activity in your account, set a minimum threshold so that if your account dips below a certain amount, Digit won’t remove anything, and more. It’s easy to use, it’s effortless to maintain, and you can check your balance any time you want to pat yourself on the back for all the savings you’re building.
Also: Digit is FREE for you to use.
The premise of the Acorns app is to take any transaction in an account you’ve linked, round it up to the nearest $1.00, and invest that change. Once you sign up (through the app or the website) and link your account(s), you can sit back and watch your investments grow. There’s also a questionnaire that helps you choose the right portfolio, and most of their portfolios are based on Vanguard index funds -- generally speaking, a solid investment portfolio.
Some extra features can make Acorns really work for you. You can set it to round up to more than a dollar, so you can do some serious investing automatically. You can dump in larger amounts of money in one-time transactions whenever you’d like. And a bonus! You can also get rebates that go into your Acorns account when you shop at select online retailers (like Dollar Shave Club, Jet, and Blue Apron) using their Found Money feature.
The main drawbacks to Acorns have more to do with the nature of investing itself than with the app -- things like small monthly maintenance fees and tax liability if you make a withdrawal. There’s also the risk of losing money, which comes with any investment you make. But if you’re generally on board with the idea of investing in index funds, Acorns is a great app that makes it incredibly easy to get started.
When it comes to things like saving and investing, the most important part is just getting started. The younger you are when you start saving, the better off you’ll be in the long run -- thanks to something called compound interest, which makes your savings grow exponentially a few decades down the road. The more time you’re able to give to your savings and investments to grow, the better off you’ll be when you need them.
But the problem with saving and investing is that getting started is also the hardest part. That’s why apps like these are so great -- they get you in motion, so you can start building a solid financial future without getting overwhelmed. It’s better to take one small step (or three!) today than to wait until “later” when you can figure out the “perfect” savings plan or investment strategy. Something is definitely better than nothing, and each of these apps gives you a little something you can hold onto without taking any major risks with your money.