If you are looking to improve your personal financial outlook, it’s important to develop a strategy that works for you, and to stick to it with everything you have. Some people are traditionalists: keeping cash in categorized envelopes, for instance, is a great way to regulate and analyze how you spend. Others have embraced the ever-present, smartphone-driven tech ecosystem to help them manage their money.
While an app won’t necessarily do the work for you, finding one that clicks with your workflow, habits and needs can be a huge motivator for your financial health. Fortunately, there are many to choose from: in this blog, we take a look at some of the digital tools that you can use to save smarter, budget better, make changes today and plan for tomorrow.
Mint, owned and operated by tax planning software company Intuit, is one of the most popular finance tracking apps. It’s an excellent spending tracker, as it connects to all your credit card and bank card accounts to report transactions in real time. Mint is great for the category-oriented: it automatically (with some user assistance) sorts your spending into categories like food, gas, rent, clothing and so forth. The app will learn your spending patterns over time and tell you when you have exceeded the budget for a certain category. It also works the opposite way, and can tell you how close you are getting to any savings goals you want to set.
You Need a Budget, or YNAB, is lesser known, but has a devoted following online. It’s a very different style of app compared to Mint. First and foremost, YNAB doesn’t let you play with hypotheticals: you have to budget using your actual available income. YNAB eschews the “sorting money into buckets” style of Mint and other apps. Every dollar gets a “job” – it’s assigned to a future bill or expense as soon as it comes in to your account. The app encourages users to pre-plan their spending, so that they avoid guilt or apprehension when it comes time to spend some of their budget. By reinforcing the real value of each dollar earned, YNAB offers an intuitive and outside-the-box solution to financial management.
Automation can be a wonderful personal finance tool. By automatically transferring a particular amount of money from each paycheck to a savings account, for example, you will save money without ever “missing it” from your budget. Acorns applies this principle to an app that helps newcomers invest and grow their wealth.
As with many of the best finance apps, the concept is simple: spare change from purchases you make is rounded up to the nearest dollar into highly diversified, low risk exchange traded funds, or ETFs, of your choice. Over time, your money will grow as the performance of these ETFs accumulates value. This “microinvesting” strategy is supplemented with some newer tools including automatic cash-back programs in partnership with a wide range of retailers (most of which trend toward a brand-savvy millennial audience.) The app has also recently launched Later, a personalized tool specific to retirement savings planning.
Not to be confused with the adorable Pixar robot, Wally concerns itself with just one aspect of the personal financial playbook: expenses. Many would argue that before you can budget, you need to know your expenses inside and out. Wally is built to make expenses clearly understandable. It’s much simpler than some of the other apps we’ve mentioned, but it will help you get a clear picture of your spending so that you can move forward to other steps in the financial planning process.
We’ve blogged about the importance of keeping an eye on your credit score: many Americans would be hard pressed to come up with their score if asked. Credit Karma provides a window into your credit information, including your score from each of the major reporting agencies. The downside is that this app is one of the most demanding in terms of the requirements for filling in personal information: users will have to decide their comfort level with providing this information, and doing a review of the site and app privacy policies is recommended.