Spotify, Snapchat, Seamless ... with so many apps on your phone, how, exactly, do you keep up with them all? Maybe the same could be said of your finances. Bills, loans, rent or mortgage payments ... not to mention savings and retirement. Is there a better way to keep track? Among the genius ideas Silicon Valley has come up with to distract us with our phones (looking at you, Candy Crush Jelly), there are a few developers who've found new ways to keep our funds in check — and growing — instead.
From gamified saving and investing features to tools that forecast how much money you'll have in your checking account next week, here are five apps that could help make making sense of your finances just a little bit easier and maybe a little bit more fun.
1. LONG GAME MAKES SAVING FEEL LIKE A GOOD DISTRACTION
What’s the one thing everyone always says to do with your money? Save it. Yet, according to a 2017 bankrate.com survey, nearly one quarter of Americans don’t have emergency savings. Long Game is an app that opens a savings account when you sign up, presenting you with a series of games like “Spin to Win” along with it. The more money you put in your savings account, the more coins you have to play games (a.k.a. prize-linked savings). You can never lose money, but you can win both more coins to play and actual cash prizes (up to $1,000,000). The app is free, and its goal to change the very psychology of saving from something we do begrudgingly to something we actually look forward to.
Pro tip: Save and invest more. More than you feel is comfortable.
2. DAVE WANTS TO BE YOUR FINANCIAL CRYSTAL BALL
According to a report published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in 2017 overdraft and non sufficient funds fees (also known as insufficient funds) “constitute the biggest single cost for consumers of owning a checking account.” The CFPB estimates the two rake in as much as $17 billion a year for the banks. That’s a lot of money we’re unwittingly giving away.
Enter Dave, an app designed to forecast the next seven days of your checking account balance, with an emphasis on the lowest amount your balance could hit. Dave highlights that first and foremost, then shows your pending transactions, predicted transactions and projected next paycheck. If it looks like you might overdraft, Dave gives you the option to borrow $25, $50 or $75 at no interest (if it sees a continual income of $500 or more). Dave is free for the first 30 days and $1 a month after that.
3. MINT HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND THE BIG MONEY PICTURE
Speaking of budgeting, one of the most important things you can do with your hard-earned dollars is have a detailed account of what’s happening to them. For this, one company has been the notable frontrunner: Mint. The company has been giving people a comprehensive look at their finances since 2006, originally as a website and now as an app, too. It features clear, colorful charts and graphs to break down the ins and outs of your cash flow and savings, so you can see exactly how much that frapp habit is cutting into your income. It also lets you create your own monthly budgets, set reminders to pay bills and actually pay those bills through the app. Mint is free but will advertise partners, showcasing whatever companies it believes could be useful for you (think: low-interest credit card offers).
4. ACORNS EASES YOU INTO INVESTING WITH JUST PENNIES
OK, OK, yes, the world of investing is daunting. It’s jargony and murky and who even has time to learn? The thing is, investing is actually a crucial part of a healthy financial future.
“The bigger risk is not investing,” says Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com, Greg McBride. “Inflation is going to cut your buying power in half every 25 years or so. Your long-term savings has to be invested in a way that’s going to grow your buying power over time.” Meaning, however much everything costs now, it’s going to cost considerably more when we retire. So it won’t be enough just to put money in savings. When you invest, you’re putting your money somewhere where it has a chance to grow.
Acorns is an app that helps with exactly that. Built for the first time, timid investor, it’s a seamless transition into the world of investing that lets you use very small amounts of money at a time and learn as you go. The app looks at your lifestyle and picks a portfolio (or set of investments) with a level of risk it deems appropriate for you, and gives you a number of options for how to invest. Its flagship feature — and maybe most popular one — is what they call "round-ups." Throughout the month, Acorns takes account of your purchases, rounding up ones like a $7.84 sandwich to the nearest dollar. When all these round-ups equal at least $5, it invests that money in your portfolio.
Acorns lets you see how much your portfolio stands to make over time and includes a robust education section. The app costs $1 per month for accounts worth less than $5,000 and a percentage of your account value per year for those worth $5,000 or more.
5. YOUR VERY OWN BANKING APP'S PERKS MAY SURPRISE YOU
This may seem like an obvious one, but your bank app is likely packed with tools that will make your financial life easier and they're usually free. Other than showing your monthly statement and account balance, your bank app may let you deposit checks, transfer money to people, pay bills, find nearby ATMs, set up push notifications for any activity and maybe even show rewards for credit card or cash back deals.
The Bank of America (BoA) app, for instance, features cash back deals with companies like Starbucks, Blue Apron and Hulu. BoA also offers budgeting tools to help you survey your finances and see exactly how you’re spending and will even tell you how much you're overspending each month.
There are few certainties in life, but it's almost guaranteed that something unexpected will happen so take financial advisor Jonathan K. DeYoe’s, advice: “Save and invest more. More than you feel is comfortable.” These apps may just make it a little bit easier.
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter.