Like a Squirrel With a Nut – Financial Apps to Help the Non-Financially Inclined

Like a Squirrel With a Nut – Financial Apps to Help the Non-Financially Inclined

I’ve talked about budgeting and money on this blog on several occasions, mostly exclaiming how I’m bad at it. While I’m good at saying, “Hey Lauren… maybe you don’t need three bridles…” I lack the overall budgeting discipline that many of my friends seem to be born with.

Before 2014, I’m pretty sure my checking account only existed so I could check out how much shit I could afford to buy. My credit cards existed in a constant state of a significant but not exactly alarming balance, and let’s not even talk about my 401k. In case you’re doing the math – no, I was not fresh out of college. Yes, I was too old to be treating my money like this.

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Towards the middle of last year, I decided it was time to get my shit together. I buckled down and paid off my credit card, and started doing this crazy phenomenon called “saving.” This paid off in a great way, because I faced my life crisis over the summer with my baseline in the green instead of the struggle bus I had been driving for years.

However, recently I realized that for the first time in my life I’m facing a financial future by myself. Despite my attempts to convince the dogs they need to get a part-time job, efforts remain futile at this time. I went straight from a privileged college student getting help from her parents to a person co-habituating and sharing expenses with their life partner. By the time we were married, my husband made a decent salary and my financial responsibilities lifted even more.

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Though I am anxious a lot, not much scares me about my new life… with this one exception. I know I have my parents as a safety net, but looking out to an unknown horizon with my financial landscape moving and shaking on a daily basis is a daunting task.

So naturally I start scurrying around pulling change out of the couch and thinking to myself, How will I do this? Since selling my #1 financial drain (looking at you nerd horse) isn’t an option, I did the next best logical thing – turn to the internet.

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I’ve turned to two financial apps that I really like. While I’m not a financial guru and this isn’t a financial blog, I know I’m not the only one out there struggling with trying to adult properly. I consider these tools to keep in my back pocket to help me out in the background while I pick up another Venti Black Iced Tea at Starbucks or a Likit for Simon.

Digit

Digit gets a five star review from me… and then some. This is actually a a web service versus an app, but it’s smartly integrated with your phone. To use Digit, you connect your checking account (I did the research and they are safe/legit/blah blah) to the online service. This takes a minute, and works with most biggish banks. Then Digit will basically data mine your spending habits through your checking account. It will try to determine your spending habits, and squirrel away small amounts of money into a savings account.

The amounts range, but my personal average deposit is $15. Digit takes a deposit every 3-5 days (my average is 2.25 days), and they promise a “No Overdraft Guarantee.” If Digit causes you to overdraft your checking account, they will pay your overdraft fee. The service updates you via text message. Every day I get a text from Digit saying how much is in my checking account, and it also alerts me when large payments or transfers have cleared. You can text it simple commands like “Savings” to get an exact number on what it has saved for you. There’s no app to install, so it doesn’t hog space on your device.

There’s no fee to use Digit, but the “catch” is that they keep the interest on your savings account in order to pay for the service. Since my bank’s savings account interest is .01%, I definitely don’t mind “paying” the few cents to Digit for this service. You can move the money back to your checking anytime you need it. If you’re interested, sign-up for Digit here! Yes, that’s a referral link but I also genuinely find this super helpful for a rainy day fund.

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Acorns

Unlike Digit, Acorns is an actual app to install on your device or you can choose to just use the web platform. While Digit is for saving, Acorns is for investing. Their gimic is that the app, once connected to your checking account, automatically rounds up on all of your debit expenses. The $2.49 I spend at Starbucks turns into $3.00, and Acorns sets aside the excess for investing. I did a lot of research before signing up for this, and suggest you do the same on a real financial site. Here are my takeaways in plain English:

  • Acorns is a great “intro to investing” or starter 401k
  • Unlike a 401k you may use through work, Acorns is not pre-tax… you will pay taxes on what you earn through this
  • Acorns charges $1 per month to manage your investments
  • This is probably not going to make you rich or settle your retirement, but it’s better than doing no investing

When I set Acorns up, I decided to throw $20 a month at it plus all the round ups from my debit card purchases. I use my debit card a lot, so that added up to about an additional ~$40 invested. Acorns will ask you some questions to determine how you’d like to use the funds, and they’ll suggest a portfolio for you. Acorns wanted me to be “Moderate” but I was all, “Hell no my husband died and I need to not be poor!” I upped it to “Moderate Aggressive” and now obsessively watch the line chart on a daily basis. To be honest, the interface is a little confusing to me and I’m in the hole $2 right now with the ups and downs. My favorite part is a predictive chart that shows you how much your account may earn in 10-20 years. Sure, no investing platform will ever be able to predict huge market recessions… but in reality I’m investing such small amounts of money that I don’t miss it. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll blow up and I’ll get to buy a pony? 😉 If you want to sign-up for Acorns, you can do so here (and yes, that’s a referral link too).

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So that’s where I’m at now. Moderately crazy with my money, but trying to be proactive. Have you tried either of these apps or have a financial trick that you really enjoy?

13 thoughts on “Like a Squirrel With a Nut – Financial Apps to Help the Non-Financially Inclined

  1. I am borderline obsessive about finances, mostly because money causes me a lot of anxiety. I use Mint.com to help me keep track of spending on a daily/weekly basis, and then have a massive spreadsheet I use to calculate budgets and such.

    One of the best things I’ve ever done is automatic deductions. You don’t miss what you’ve never had! I do that for retirement and health care, and you can do it through your company or through your bank.

    1. Another vote for Mint, although it was a huge pain in the ass to re-categorize expenses at first. (e.g., It always classified QuikTrip as a ‘coffee shop’ even though it’s a gas station.) I get super anxious about money, so being able to see my spending habits really helped.

  2. Don’t use either app, I use something like mint but built by my bank so I feel super confident about it. I’ve always been a really good budget and saver. I thank my mom for instilling that in me. Best advice I have is taking advantage of Company 401k matching. Save earlier, save often. Don’t watch your stocks everyday, market is too volatile for that and it’s a long term investment anyways. That and get your finances squared up in your 20s.

  3. Really, REALLY recommend taking Financial Peace University (http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu), it will change your life in the best way. It makes personal finance clear and not quite so overwhelming…its a plan thats easy to get started on and continue to follow. Seriously changed mine & my husbands financial future!

    1. I’ll second the vote for FPU! Although I haven’t actually signed up for the program, the baby steps are listed on Dave’s website and are easy to follow on your own if you are motivated. A few more tips- pay for everything with paper. Use dollars, pocket the change. At the end of the day put the change in a jar or container and you would be surprised how fast it adds up.

      Another tip for savings- Whatever your hourly pay is? Pay yourself (savings) for one hour each day. Put that aside at the end of the week. You are so WORTH IT!

  4. I’ve actually been a devout Quicken user for nearly 20 years, and I started investing a good chunk of my salary right out of college. My mom was horrible with her finances (and still is), but she insisted that I start investing money as soon as I received my first check. I adhere to my budget religiously and don’t carry a credit card balance. The only debts I owe are on my house – a mortgage and a home improvement loan that will be payed off in May.

    My point is that you have to start somewhere, which you have done! Start where you are and then build on it every six months. It is true when they say you don’t miss money you don’t see. We visit our financial planner every year – you should get one since they’re “free.” He projects our earnings and lets us know if we’re on target for our planned retirement dates – so far, so good.

    Even with a single income, you can save and invest in your future. The younger you start, the bigger it builds, so keep on saving. :0)

  5. ugh finances stress me out too – so i honestly mostly ignore them and hope my accounts are taking care of themselves. this is, erm, NOT the best strategy! good luck w the apps!

  6. I use mint also and like it a lot, but it does have its limitations, so I use good old excel to supplement it! I’m borderline obsessive about finances also :/

    I had never heard of either of these apps though and I will definitely check them out to see if they’re a good fit for me, so thanks for the tip!

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