Saving money is difficult. There's no other way to put it. Even people who live well within their means can never seem to save as much money as they'd like, and that's before unplanned expenses enter the picture and throw us for a loop. For all the things we're taught beginning at a young age in school, there's never enough emphasis put on managing one's finances, and what seem like small mistakes made at a young age and impact people's lives years or even decades down the road.
Whether you're young or old and whether you make $10,000 a year or $1,000,000 a year, there are always things you can do to save more money.
Welcome to Hack Your Finances, a new series on ways to improve your financial situation that are as painless as possible. In this new series of articles, we'll discuss various tools that are available online and offline to help you save money. We'll also discuss some simple life hacks that don't involve any apps or websites at all — like this simple hack that forces you to save money — as well as ways to help ensure that you're making the best possible decisions with your hard-earned cash.
To start things off, we're going to take a quick look at five different free apps that will help you manage your money, save your money, and put your money to work for you. There are hundreds upon hundreds of tools out there, but we'll start with five that span a wide range of functionality, from monitoring your money and investing, to saving money on regular purchases you make every day.
We'll mention some of these apps again in future articles and dive a bit deeper into how to make them work for you. In the meantime, all five of these apps are free and should be installed on your iPhone or Android smartphone as soon as possible.
We can't stress enough how important it is to use an app like Mint.
Owned by Intuit, Mint is a fantastic free app that helps you manage your finances. After linking all of your checking, savings, investment, loan and credit card accounts, it offers an online and app-based dashboard that gives you a snapshot of your finances.
Mint also serves as a portal into all of your accounts. So for example, you can see all of your credit card and debit card purchases in one stream, and you can categorize them as you see fit. Categorizing them is key because Mint also includes fantastic budgeting tools and alerts as you approach your predetermined budgets each month.
If you download only one app mentioned in this article, it should be Mint. The first step to improving your finances is getting a firm grip on your situation.
If you invest money yourself in addition to using a financial advisor or an automated service like Wealthfront and Acorns, you should be using Robinhood to invest.
Low-fee investing tools are a dime a dozen these days, but Robinhood is different. It doesn't offer low-fee investing, it offers no-fee investing. That's right, you don't pay a penny to buy or sell stocks.
Robinhood definitely has some limitations that we'll dive into a bit deeper when we cover the app in a separate article. For one, the service doesn't currently support short selling and that will be a deal breaker for more experienced investors. But people with basic needs looking for a simple and inexpensive way to invest should look no further.
Robinhood is a great app for people who want to take an active role in investing their money, but passive long-term investing is also important. Rather than paying excessive fees, a new generation of automated investing tools gets the job done at a fraction of the cost.
Wealthfront is one of several similar options but it offers a few advantages over rivals. Chief among them is the fact that investments carry no fees whatsoever for the first $10,000. What's more, you'll get an additional $5,000 managed for free for every person you invite to Wealthfront who opens an account and funds it.
There are no minimums with Wealthfront and when you first sign up you'll answer a series of questions that help determine how conservative your portfolio should be. The app then invests your money in a series of ETFs.
Wealthfront lets you configure an automatic monthly deposit, and that might be the best way to use it — especially for beginners. Use Mint to determine how much of your monthly income you can afford to invest and then set up an automatic transfer from your checking account.
Paribus sees your purchases on Amazon and other popular retailers, and each time you buy something it monitors the price of that item for however long the retailer's price guarantee runs. If the price drops in that timeframe, Paribus automatically submits a claim on your behalf. When you get your refund, Paribus takes a cut — which is fine since we're talking about found money anyway.
Shopping smarter is key to saving money and it doesn't get much smarter than this.
Speaking of shopping smarter, a free app called Ebates makes it insanely easy to save money as you shop.
Ebates takes advantage of the affiliate programs nearly all big online retailers offer. Instead of keeping the entire referral fee for itself, Ebates gives you a cut. As a result, you earn cash back on anything you buy through the app, and all shopping is done on the retailer's site. So, in addition to any sale discounts and to any rewards you earn with your credit card, you get even more cash back through Ebates.
Long story short, you should never, ever purchase anything online without first checking to see if the store you're shopping in is an Ebates partner. Whether you're making a large purchase or a small one, using Ebates can save you 2%, 5%, 10% or even more.