Savings may be essential for financial health, but building a savings account is easier said than done. Between regular expenses and well…life in general, it’s often hard to figure out what you can actually afford to save, let alone prioritize planning for the future.
Fortunately, the best money-saving apps on the market today promote saving techniques that work around your regular spending habits – sometimes so smoothly you save money without even noticing.
Overview of the best money-saving apps
Best for first time investing – Acorns
- Cost – $3 or $5/month.
- Options – Saving, investing, and checking accounts, retirement accounts, children’s UTMA/UGMA accounts, cash back extension.
- Savings techniques – Round-ups, automatic paycheck deposits, cash back shopping extension.
Acorns gets its name from the idea that small “acorns” of spare change can grow into big savings if you give them a little time. As a combo savings/investing app, Acorns makes things simple for the brand new investor and doesn’t require much money to get started.
The $3/month “Personal” plan gets you an Independent Retirement Account (IRA) and an “Acorns Spend” checking account. For $5/month, you can tack on investment accounts for children as well.
If savings are your main goal, the basic account will probably be enough to get you rolling. When you link a credit or debit card to your investment account, Acorns “rounds up” your purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the difference for you once it hits $5 or higher – a popular auto-savings technique. You can add a “multiplier” feature if you want Acorns to double or triple the amount of investment with every transaction.
Learn more about Acorns or read our full review.
Best for flexible savings – Digit
- Cost – $5/month (first 30 days are free).
- Options – Savings, investment, and retirement accounts.
- Savings techniques – Automatic fund transfers, credit card debt reduction.
For $5/month, Digit’s algorithms analyze your spending patterns and cash flow, then make a savings plan tailored to you. When you can spare a little extra, Digit transfers some cash to a linked savings account. When you have just enough to pay the bills, Digit skips the transfer.
This method can work well for people with fluctuating incomes or anyone who has trouble deciding in advance how much to save. If Digit does overdraft your account (which they promise not to), they’ll reimburse fees for up to two overdrafts.
Like most money apps, Digit lets you pick your own savings goals, and if you’re paying down credit card debt, Digit can automatically send the amount you’ve saved to the credit card company on your behalf.
Learn more about Digit or read our full review.
Best for lots of investment options – Stash
- Cost – $1, $3, or $9/month.
- Options – Savings, investment, and retirement accounts, checking accounts, individual stocks and fractional shares, life insurance.
- Savings techniques – Round-ups, stock-back, automatic saving.
For people who want to watch their savings grow, Stash offers over 150 ETFs, stocks, and other micro-investment vehicles. You have more control over your portfolio picks with Stash than you do with Acorns – you can design your own portfolio or pick a pre-selected one from Stash. You can even pick ETFs that align with your values.
Savings options are flexible, too: you can choose an amount to put in savings each month, invest your spare change with the “round-up” method, or let Stash’s “Smart Stash” feature figure out what you can afford to save based on your cash flow.
Stash comes with a debit card, something a lot of savings apps offer, and its own unique “stock-back” incentive. Whenever you use the Stash bank card to buy something at a publicly-traded company, Stash gives you a small fractional share of company stock to add to your portfolio.
The app’s cost depends on how many extra features you want. Most everyday savers will be fine with the $1/month Beginner plan, which includes a debit card, an investment account, and stock-back perks. For $3/month you can add a tax-advantaged retirement plan (a good idea if you haven’t opened a retirement account yet). Serious investors can upgrade to the $9/month “Stash+” for 2x stock-back returns and extra market info.
Learn more about Stash or read our full review.
Best for low fees -Chime
- Cost – No monthly fees.
- Options – Savings and checking accounts.
- Savings techniques – Round-ups, automatic transfers to savings, paycheck transfers.
Chime is a mobile app that takes advantage of the lower-cost online-only financial app model to pass savings on to customers. They don’t charge a monthly fee, so you keep any money you save.
Chime’s free checking and savings accounts offer plenty of the features you’ll find at a bank, like:
- A Visa debit card.
- Check deposit options.
- Bill-paying functions.
- Two-day advance on directly deposited paychecks.
Checking and savings are linked; whenever you make a purchase with your checking account, Chime rounds up to the nearest dollar and adds the difference to savings. Or you can have Chime auto-deposit 10% of every paycheck into savings before the rest hits checking. Either way, the app does all the work.
Learn more about Chime or read our full review.
Best for joint savings – Twine
- Cost – No fees for saving, 0.6% of invested assets/month for investing.
- Options – Interest-bearing savings account, investment accounts, joint accounts.
- Savings techniques – Automatic fund transfers.
Twine is ideal for people who are saving for a goal together (though you can use it on your own, too!). It combines savings-app automation with robo-advisor guidance, which can be helpful if you have more than one savings goal.
The basic free Twine savings account earns you a little interest – there’s a 1.05% variable Annual Percentage Yield (APY). They encourage you to earmark accounts for certain financial goals, either “general savings” or specific goals like a vacation or a down payment on a house, and pick a monthly goal deposit amount so you can track your progress. If you’re saving with someone else, you’ll pick a joint goal but open individual accounts.
Investment portfolios are optional if you want to take your savings to the next level. Twine pre-selects diverse portfolios for you, and they only require $5 to get started.
Learn more about Twine or read our full review.
Best for creative saving techniques – Qapital
- Cost – $3, $6, or $12/month.
- Options – Interest-bearing spending account, “goals” savings account, investment accounts.
- Savings techniques – Round-ups, automatic fund transfers, “triggering activities” savings, “guilty pleasure” savings, 52-week savings, “spend less” savings, payday savings.
Qapital runs on behavioral economics – their multiple savings strategies use your routines, habits, and everyday purchases to help bulk up your savings.
Here’s how it works: you get a spending account that earns you 0.1% in compounded monthly interest, and a “goals” account to grow your savings. To fund your goals, you can transfer regular, set amounts from a linked bank account to your goals account, or pick one of Qapital’s “rules” or savings tricks.
There’s the “round-up” rule, which lots of apps use. There’s the “trigger” rule which saves a specific amount every time you engage in a certain activity (something simple you do regularly, whether it involves spending money or not).
The “guilty pleasure” rule moves a little cash into savings whenever you indulge in your favorite pricey latte, takeout, etc. The “52-week” rule lets you gradually increase the amount you stash in savings over a year. Qapital has other rules, too, and you’ll probably find one that works for you.
Their pricing is higher than most money-saving apps – a $3/month basic plan has all the savings tools, while the $6/month plan unlocks pre-selected investment portfolios and gives you a Qapital debit card. The $12/month master plan lets you open joint savings with a partner, similar to Twine.
Learn more about Qapital or read our full review.
Why should you use money-saving apps?
You’re just starting to build savings
The idea of building a savings account might be intimidating, but it’s much simpler to stash away 50 cents whenever you buy a cup of coffee or a dollar whenever you refill your gas tank. That’s mostly what these apps do – take the work out of savings one small amount at a time, so your regular budget isn’t disrupted.
You struggle to make savings a habit
If your money management style is on the “spend now, save later” side, it may be unrealistic to overhaul your habits right away and heap everything into savings. That’s not how habits work; they take time to develop.
A free 30-day trial of Digit or Qapital, for instance, could be enough to show you how much the app can grow your savings in a typical month; and after 30 days, you’ll be more used to putting a little cash aside.
You’re curious about small-scale investing
Investing can be a great way to save, but it’s inherently risky, and you don’t want to launch yourself right into an investment account without knowing what you’re doing.
These apps make micro-investing as easy as sticking to an automated savings plan and assessing your risk comfort level. And they let you start with small balances, so you don’t have much to lose.
Why shouldn’t you use money-saving apps?
You have a savings pattern that works for you
If you’re already saving money on a timeline that fits with your goals and income, a savings app could help you skim a little more off the top of everyday purchases, but it might not be worth the fees.
You already have substantial savings
The savings accounts built into money-saving apps are great tools to get started, but they’re not the highest-yield accounts out there. You’ll earn more money keeping your savings in a bank or investment account that offers a higher APY (Annual Percentage Yield), especially if you have decent credit.
Most important features of money-saving apps
Money-saving apps take the “how much can I afford” guesswork out of savings by putting them on autopilot. You won’t see a huge interruption to your regular cash flow, which is nice – saving money doesn’t have to feel like a penalty or a punishment.
And most apps make the automation flexible; if you’re having a lean month or two, you can temporarily stop withdrawals (or, as with Digit, the app stops them for you).
Most importantly, you’ll get into the savings habit after a while.
Saving for short- and long-term goals
Sometimes it’s easier to save if you have something to look forward to. Money-saving apps keep you motivated by letting you choose your goals and showing you how much your savings have progressed.
“Rounding up” purchases
This auto-savings technique is available on almost every app now. By rounding up your purchases to the nearest dollar (or two dollars, or three – some apps let you multiply) you’re saving small, manageable, regular amounts while you spend.
Several apps set you up with a checking account and debit card, though you can usually link an existing checking account as well.
Everyday money management
For elaborate budgeting templates, look for a budgeting app specifically (you can find our recommendations here). But savings apps have plenty of tools to keep your finances in line, especially if you tend to be disorganized and overdraft your accounts by accident. You can observe your spending patterns, set up payment reminders for bills, and get regular balance alerts all through the app.
While investment accounts aren’t available with every savings app, they seem to be becoming more of a standard offering. “Micro-investing” lets you start out with spare change. Once you really get the hang of it, you may choose to switch to a higher-yield investment account elsewhere.
Money-saving apps are a great starting point, but they’re only one aspect of a solid financial management plan.
Think of them as a helpful tool to analyze your spending behavior and nudge you into the next steps, whether that means breaking down a monthly budget or working towards financial freedom.
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