Jennifer Jolly tries out three investing apps: Acorns, Robinhood and Stash, and asks how they fair in a down market.
Jennifer Jolly, Special for USA TODAY
Download these to start saving money with just a tap on your cell phone.
Saving money is essential to accomplish big and small financial goals, from saving for retirement, to affording your next family vacation, to building your emergency fund.
Unfortunately, most of us are saving far too little. With a quarter of Americans lacking savings for an emergency and almost 4 in 10 of us having nothing saved for retirement, obviously, Americans need to do a lot better at putting money aside.
While there are big lifestyle changes you can make, like adjusting your budget or earning extra income, there are also some really simple ways to save without overhauling your entire financial life. In fact, by just downloading a few new apps onto your phone, you could make savings automatic.
There are apps that help you to cut your spending on everyday purchases, as well as special apps that transfer cash to savings accounts — and you can take advantage of all of them to make saving effortless.
Let’s take a look at a few of the options to see which ones could work for your situation.
Qapital is an app that takes care of transferring cash to savings for you by turning your every day activities into an opportunity to invest in your goals.
The process starts by linking your checking account to Qapital as a funding account. Then, you set up goals and Qapital opens an FDIC-insured savings account at a partner bank.
Next, you set up a “rule” that applies to automate your savings. This rule can be anything you want it to be: you could tell Qapital to transfer money every Sunday; to round up to the nearest dollar on each purchase and transfer the difference to savings; to move money into savings whenever you order takeout; or to transfer cash to savings when you spend less than expected on a purchase.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to the rules you set for transferring money to accomplish your goal. The app is 100% free, with no minimum balance or monthly fees. When you’re ready to withdraw funds, you can transfer your savings to the checking account you funded Qapital with or can spend it using a Qapital Visa® Debit Card.
ClarityMoney keeps you from wasting cash by optimizing your current spending and cancelling subscriptions that you don’t use any more.
When you link your accounts to the free app, Clarity uses artificial intelligence to comb through your spending and discover unwanted subscriptions you’re still paying for. Clarity also suggests credit cards that are an ideal fit for your particular spending patterns and helps you to stay on budget by tracking your spending and alerting you if you’re exceeding your limits.
You even have the option to open a ClarityMoney Savings account, which allows you to automate transfers of money to an FDIC-insured savings account held at a partner bank. You can pause, increase, or decrease your savings right from the app and can withdraw the money at any time.
Wallaby helps you to master your credit cards and track your spending. When you link your credit cards with this free app, Wallaby will tell you the best card to use for any purchase so you can maximize your rewards.
Wallaby also monitors for suspicious spending, makes it easy to track rewards and bonuses all in one place, and allows you to see the details of each of the credit cards you have open.
Since Americans with credit cards have an average of 3.7 cards, figuring out which one gives you the most points for travel, gas, or groceries can be a hassle. With Wallaby, it only takes a few clicks to see which card you should use for everything you buy.
And, since you can easily keep track of your rewards, you’ll know exactly when you should claim all those points you’ve earned for cash back, miles, or other perks.
Did you know you could actually earn money in stores instead of just spending it? You can if you use Shopkick.
When you install this free app, there are a huge list of ways to get some extra cash just by tweaking your buying behavior a little bit.
With Shopkick, you earn points by visiting partner stores such as Home Depot or Best Buy; by scanning product barcodes; by purchasing eligible products with linked credit cards; or by submitting receipts for qualifying products you buy. You can also earn points for visiting online stores, viewing products, watching videos, or buying from participating online retailers.
To earn points, just open the app and select the tab to “Find Kicks Waiting Nearby.” You’ll see what stores you can visit and get rewarded for, and can also take advantage of special offers that show up periodically.
Points that you earn are called Kicks and you can redeem them for gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks, and a huge selection of other stores. You’ll see your earned Kicks in your account summary and can redeem as soon as you’ve earned enough to buy a gift card.
Is there a cheaper place you could buy that item? Figuring out which store offers the lowest price can seem like a major hassle, but not with ShopSavvy.
After downloading this free app, you can scan the barcode of a product you’re considering and will get a list of prices from both online and local retailers. You can also search and compare prices by typing in the product name in the search tool.
ShopSavvy also alerts you to deals, provides reviews and product recommendations across 400 different categories — and provides cash back if you shop through ShopSavvy at a partner retailer.
By taking a few seconds to use ShopSavvy to compare prices, you won’t ever have to wonder if some other retailer could have saved you a few bucks by offering a better bargain.
6. Coupon Sherpa
Want help finding coupons for online and in-store purchases? CouponSherpa is the app for you. Coupon Sherpa gives you access to more than 48,000 coupons that have been tested by app users.
With Coupon Sherpa, you can search by store or category and access both printable coupons and coupon codes for online buys. There is also a location-based search feature that allows you to use your GPS location to find coupons available in stores near you.
Coupon Sherpa is free and no membership is required, so if you’re ready for your everyday purchases to cost you less, downloading this app is a great choice.
Once you’ve made a purchase, your opportunity to save on it goes away, right?
Maybe not if you’ve downloaded the Earny app. Earny monitors items you’ve purchased to watch for price drops and then contacts the company to ask for a price match. If Earny finds a price has dropped, it will access your email and send a message on your behalf to ask for a refund.
While you do have to give Earny access to your email so it can send your refund requests, it may be worth it to end up with surprise refund notifications in your inbox.
Paying to park your car can be a real bummer, but often it’s a necessary evil. If you’re going to have to shell out cash just for the privilege of leaving your car in a spot or lot, you can download the BestParking app to pay as little as possible.
BestParking will help you find the lowest priced parking in 105 different U.S. cities. It can also help you find the cheapest parking near 115 airports in North America. Parking before your next trip can cost you much less, leaving you with some extra cash to spend on vacation.
BestParking promises you’ll get the most up-to-date and accurate information through their app. If any users report that BestParking was displaying incorrect info, BestParking will reward them with a $5 Starbucks e-gift card.
SwagBucks is an app that allows you to earn extra cash in your spare time by completing simple tasks. You can score gift cards for watching videos, completing surveys, and shopping locally or online for special deals.
You don’t need to spend money to earn through SwagBucks, and most of the surveys and videos are brief and simple so you can do them while waiting in line or sitting through commercials. Essentially, you can turn your phone into a money-making machine by opening up the app when you have a few minutes to spare.
Each activity you do earns you a set amount of SwagBucks that can be redeemed via PayPal or turned into gift cards at top stores including Amazon and Target. You can redeem for gift cards as low as $5 so you don’t need to earn tons of SwagBucks just to cash out your points.
PocketFlip works similarly to SwagBucks in that you can earn extra cash in your spare time by simply completing basic tasks in the app.
Tasks you can do using PocketFlip include taking pictures for partners, filling out surveys, downloading apps, and inviting friends to team up with you. Each task you do will give you a designated number of free coins that you can redeem for rewards.
When you’ve earned enough coins through task completion, you can redeem them for gift cards to a wide variety of stores, including Amazon.
Take advantage of the apps that are right for you
Each of these different apps will work in its own way to help you save your cash, manage money more efficiently, reduce your spending, or even bring in a little extra income.
While most make the process of saving effortless, you’ll need to decide which apps you’ll actually use. Pick a few to try today and watch the savings stack up — you may just be inspired to try them all once you get started.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Christy Bieber has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, PayPal Holdings, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has the following options: short May 2018 $175 calls on Home Depot and long January 2020 $110 calls on Home Depot. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
The Motley Fool is a USA TODAY content partner offering personal finance news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.
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