A Savings for Every Style
How’s your bank balance? Could be better? You’re not alone. Only one in four Americans surveyed by Bankrate.com in June 2014 said they had an adequate emergency fund (that’s at least enough savings to cover six months of expenses in a crisis such as job loss or a medical issue). And more than a quarter had no “rainy day” savings at all. Ouch.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The most direct way to sock away more money each month is to spend less. And cutting down on expenses starts with a prescription that allows you to get a clear picture of exactly how you’re doling out those dollars and cents.
Nowadays, this doesn’t mean carrying around a hefty old ledger, of course. When you go digital with the right app or website that fits your spending style, you’ll find saving easier than ever. Leave analog budgeting strategies behind once and for all with one of these six great techy tools — suited to your own style of spending.
If You’re a Cash-Only Spender
Your budgeting strategy is about as low-tech as it gets: you only spend the dollars in your pocket and steer clear of plastic so you don’t get out of hand. There’s no compulsion to splurge on new boots when you only have $7 in your pocket. And you like it that way because it keeps you within your budget.
Without the automated records that debit or credit card expenditures provide, you might think there isn’t a digital app out there for you. But the app You Need a Budget (YNAB), is made for you. This program (for iPhone and Android) relies on you to enter every single dollar spent manually in real time, and not by merely linking to activity on your online accounts like most other apps do. This hands-on approach to your finances should appeal to the cash-only lover in you.
It requires your same dedication to handling your money in real time, but there’s more: the YNAB software also interprets your spending patterns visually in ways that you’re likely to miss when you live in a cash-only world.
Our Pick: You Need a Budget (YNAB)
Cost: A free initial period of 34 days. If you continue, the program costs $60
If You’re an Envelope Spender
If you’re this kind of budgeter, you set up envelopes for the various categories of spending you do each month and physically put cash in each envelope to keep you within your means. Now you can do the same thing -- digitally.
With MVelopes, it’s like Nonna up and designed an app for Android and iPhone. First, sign up and link your existing bank accounts to Mvelopes. Then set up your various digital “envelopes” and Mvelopes will do the rest. The platform keeps track of your spending by categories just like the old paper version — plus, by analyzing your activity, it offers the added bonus of helping you identify the “hidden spending” areas that have been eating away at your savings plan.
Our Pick: MVelopes
Cost: Free, unless you need to set up more than 25 envelopes and 4 online accounts. Then it’s about $9.95 a month.
If You’re an E-Spender
You do nearly all of your spending and banking online. With all the free shipping and weekly discounts, you find e-spending infinitely more appealing than stepping foot into a crowded, noisy storefront. Plus, since the doors to online shopping are open 24/7, it’s also super convenient.
Now, there’s a financial planning app just for you, called SavedPlus, which helps you stash money while you surf the web. First, you link all of your credit card and debit accounts to SavedPlus via the web, your iPhone or Android. Then, you determine how much you want to save with every purchase you make.
After you set up these preferences, every time you click on “Checkout,” you’ll automatically move $5, $10, $15 from your checking account into a savings or retirement account without you ever having to think about the transaction again. The company claims their users save on average $350 a month with SavedPlus. Now you have another reason to check out those cybersales.
Our Pick: SavedPlus
If You’re Rewards Happy
You’re the kind of shopper who automatically whips out your credit card when the clerk asks, “Paper or plastic?” That’s because, for you, choosing cards over cash is savvy since you only use cards that offer reward programs and cash-back promos for every dollar you spend. And now, you have an app to help you work the system even more efficiently.
Wallaby (available online, for Android and iPhone) can maximize your rewards potential. Here’s how: Sign up and input all your preferred credit cards into their virtual “wallet.” Then, the next time you’re about to spend, punch in where you’re shopping and Wallaby will tell you which card to use by analyzing the nuts-and-bolts of all of your plastics’ reward programs — and even temporary promos that come and go. Wallaby’s added features are also cool: you can get notifications for when you’re near your credit limit or it’s time to pay your bill.
Our Pick: Wallaby
Cost: Free, but they are in beta-testing for a Wallaby card. Swipe it at a store, instead of carrying around all your plastic, and it will decide which of your cards is best to pay for the item based on the rewards offered. While this card will be free at first, expect a future charge for this added service.
If You’re a Needs-Only Spender
You’re in full-on budget mode. This means there’s no room for spendy dinners with friends or sprees on expensive shampoos and hand creams. Sure, this new attitude may only be temporary, but you have your eye on the prize, from getting yourself out of debt to jumpstarting that rainy day fund.
While you’re on your strict financial diet, look no further than the stark Left To Spend iPhone app to help you along. You can’t get more no-frills than this: All it tells you, in bold over-sized font, is how much money you have left to spend in any given month based on one simple budget calculation. (Subtract your monthly bills from your income then divide that number by 31 or the number days of the month). Then, as you spend money, you enter that amount in the app to subtract it from your total allowance to tally up visually how much you have left at your disposal.
By skipping all the bells-and-whistles of other budget management apps that allow for things like categorizing your spending or visual breakdowns of your habits, Left To Spend gives you the bare-boned facts to your bare-boned lifestyle.
Our Pick: Left To Spend
If You’re a No-Sweat Spender
Thanks to your supreme financial know-how, you confidently spend with your cards. You’re the type who never makes a big purchase without a responsible look at your savings first. You automatically pay off your bill and contribute to your flex spending and retirement accounts each month — so even your splurges don’t hurt your bottom line. So, what kind of app could possibly make your financial life better?
BillGuard, a simple money app for iPhone and Android, allows you to quickly see your balances and recurring charges for all your debit and credit cards. Plus, its spending analytics are eye candy to no-sweat spenders like yourself who want to check out your spending habits. Best of all, BillGuard takes pride in its capability to protect you from deceptive “grey charges” that you may not even know could be ripping you off, from sneaky free-to-paid apps or hidden charges to billing mistakes. While you can’t move money from your various accounts with this app, it’s a great addition for those who have their finances already under control.
Our Pick: BillGuard
Cost: Free to track two cards