Apps for saving easily

The New York Times headline said, “Apps That Make Saving as Effortless as Spending.”

So, of course, even though I don’t consider myself a very big spender, I couldn’t resist clicking. 

What’s not to like about effortless saving? 

On my journey of chasing the click bait, I learned a few things about both saving and spending.  

Upon closer inspection

First: Wow, spending really is easy. 

It’s something most of us know on some level, even if knowing it doesn’t actually change the way we spend.

A click here, a swipe there, and money just disappears in a magical, electronic poof. 

I wasn’t joking when I said I’m not a huge spender. 

I don’t like shopping, and my idea of a great evening is sitting around a fire pit with friends instead of dining at the latest, greatest restaurant.

Even my kids don’t have expensive tastes.

Still, when the article talked about people’s spending habits — especially using debit cards for amounts you barely notice in your account balances — it cast a colder light on the easy purchases I make and rarely even think about. 

For me, those small (very thrifty, in my humble opinion) expenses include things like monthly music subscriptions, a beer with friends here and there and casual dinners out with my family.

Frankly, I think those spending examples are reasonable and within my budget, and this isn’t a column about how those little expenses can add up to big savings over the year. (Any of us could do the math and figure out if our daily coffee habit is worth the expense over time.) 

Mimicking spending 

What’s interesting, though, is how several apps and programs described in the article take the idea of easy, relatively pain-free spending and turn it into a model for easy, relatively pain-free saving.

For instance, a mobile app called Qapital lets you set up rules for when you want to transfer money into savings — and it lets you link those rules to your casual spending.

For instance, you can set it up so that each time you buy a coffee, you automatically put the same amount (or $5, or $10, or whatever you want) into savings.

Basically, apps like Qapital — and the article mentions several others, including Digit, Dyme and Acorns — make it easy for people to follow the most basic savings advice: Start small, be regular and watch your savings grow. 

Mobile ease

And they use smartphones to do it all. 

Maybe you’ve gotten used to using your phone to make spending money easy: Think Uber, ApplePay and others. 

These apps let us use our phones to make saving easier.

For instance, Acorns will round up every purchase you make to the next dollar, and then invest the “spare change” in low-cost index stocks.

Your savings get bulked up, however slightly, in that same magical poof.

You can read the article for yourself — tinyurl.com/savings-apps — to figure out if one of the apps is right for you.

The author does note that they’re not ideal for super-security-conscious folks: Since most of them will transfer money directly from your checking account, they ask you to share your bank account number and password similar to money-tracking services such as Mint.  

A new way of thinking

I haven’t downloaded any of these savings apps yet, and I’m not sure I will. 

Most appealing to me is this new way of thinking about how easy it can be to save. We tend to think of Saving as a big task or chore with a capital S, but we can all build little triggers or transactions into our lives. 

For instance, I can already quickly move money from my checking account into savings using my credit union’s app.

Maybe I set up my own rule that every time I go out to dinner, I make a savings deposit also. Or every time we rent a movie. Or every time I buy a record. 

The apps are apparently meant to make saving more appealing to young people who might think of the S-word as stodgy or something they can put off. 

But who among us couldn’t use a little nudge in this area?


Eric Braun is a Minneapolis dad of two boys and the co-author of the forthcoming book for young readers, The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give (Free Spirit Publishing, September 2016). Send comments or questions to ebraun@mnparent.com.