When it comes to making significant positive changes in your life, there’s only one thing that can make any effort a success: willpower. The simple fact is that nothing important will ever be easy so if you want to make major life improvements, you need to have the drive to initiate change and the determination to stick with it. Trust me, I know — I recently lost 50 lbs in three months, and I’ve shed even more weight since then. It took a huge amount of hard work and focus, and it paid off in the end.
But I had help. While there are never any shortcuts that will allow you to entirely avoid putting forth effort, there are definitely tools that will help you excel and work smarter instead of just harder. In this article, we’ll focus on two major things that people strive for — losing weight and saving money — and we’ll show you five free apps for the iPhone and Android devices that have the potential to help you quite literally change your life.
Whether you make $25,000 a year or $250,000 a year, saving money is never easy. We all have bills to pay, we all have unexpected expenses that pop up, and we all want to relax and have a little fun every now and then. Some of us also have gadget addictions we have to wrestle with, but addiction is another beast entirely.
All those things cost money (especially the gadgets) and managing your money is no easy task.
Mint is a free application for iOS, Android and the web that links to all of your accounts to first and foremost paint a clear picture of your finances. It connects to checking accounts, savings accounts, investment accounts, credit cards, IRAs, mortgage accounts, auto loan accounts, students loan accounts, and so on.
As an aside, that sounds scary but Mint uses strong encryption and it’s worth noting that the app is owned by Intuit.
Once you have a clear picture, Mint provides you with a wide range of tools that help you create budgets and analyze your spending so you can actually stick to those budgets. It also shows you ways you might be able to save money. For example, opening a credit card account with a lower interest rate might save you hundreds if you carry balances, or opening an IRA account might let you write off a big chunk of money when you file your taxes.
Of course, Mint can’t force you to manage your finances better and that’s where willpower comes in. The app can give you tools that will help you succeed though, and it’s definitely worth looking into if you’re trying to save money. As an aside, check out this great life hack if you want a quick and easy way (as long as you have the willpower) to potentially save some serious cash.
While Mint is a fantastic app that can help you manage your finances and make better decisions, there are also more focused apps that can help. One example is Acorns. The concept behind the app is simple enough, but it can ultimately have a big impact.
Whenever you make a payment using a credit card or a debit card that’s linked to your Acorns account, the service rounds your purchase up to the next even dollar and deposits the change into an investment account. So for example, if you buy a cup of coffee for $4.15, the app takes $0.85 and moves it over to an investment account.
Think of it as the ultimate digital piggy bank.
All of that change adds up over time, and Acorns invests it according to a plan that you help determine. You don’t need to know anything about investing to use the app, though. A setup process helps you determine how aggressive or conservative your portfolio should be and the rest happens behind the scenes.
Acorns provides a smart and simple way to save money. And if you decide you like the service and you want to move a bit more over to your Acorns account, you can also make one-time deposits or even configure a recurring monthly transfer.
Shifting gears from saving money to saving your life, there are so many fitness apps out there that it’s almost impossible to know where to start without a little help. Lucky for you, I’ve tried dozens upon dozens of them so I can help you narrow down your options.
I spent a long time using Jawbone’s UP bands and the accompanying app. That combination worked very well for me, in fact. The band tracks your activity while the app records the data and lets you input workouts as well as each meal you eat, so you can track your calories.
UA Record is Under Armour’s fitness hub. It pulls data in from UA’s own wearable devices or from popular third-party fitness devices you might already own from companies like Fitbit, Withings and Jawbone. This way, all of your activity, workout, nutrition and sleep data is compiled in one place.
As a cherry on top, UA Record uses IBM’s cloud-based Watson supercomputer to offer insights as it analyzes your data.
While UA Record serves as your hub, you’ll need a separate app to keep track of everything you eat. After all, weight loss is a numbers game as much as it is anything else — you need to burn more calories than you consume if you want to lose weight. MyFitnessPal is far and away the best food tracker I’ve come across. It has a massive database and it couldn’t be easier to use.
Last but certainly not least, losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle means eating smarter, not just eating less.
There are plenty of apps out there that provide users help with eating and cooking healthier, but the one I’ve landed on recently is a relatively new app called Mealime.
When it comes to cooking, I am and likely always will be very lazy. Sure it’s fun to put together an elaborate meal every once in a while, but more often than not I’ve had a long day and I don’t want to be bothered with a recipe that takes an hour to prepare. If you’re like me, you’ll choose to order in or go out to a restaurant long before you’ll choose to spend 90 minutes cooking a meal.
In most cases, eating food from restaurants is far less healthy than cooking your own meal. It’s also far less expensive to cook for yourself and you’re trying to save money, remember?
Mealime is a free specialty app full of recipes and it focuses recipes that meet three key criteria: Food that tastes good, food that’s healthy, and food that’s relatively easy to prepare.
You start by telling the app if you have any allergies or special dietary needs like the ever-so-trendy gluten-free diet, and you can also specify foods that you don’t like. For example, I hate salmon so I directed Mealime never to give me any recipes that include salmon.
Once you’re set up, Mealime gives you a handful of recipes at a time to choose from. Pick ones you like and the app puts together a waste-free shopping list for you. It really couldn’t be easier, and I guarantee you’ll find a bunch of delicious meals that aren’t difficult at all to prepare.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that Mealime is only available for iOS right now.