By: Ben Lovell
If you’re as old as I am, you’ll remember a time (not so long ago) when new tech required you to breach a certain threshold of either financial well-being or flagrant over-indulgence. New software was a significant investment, Bluetooth headphones were a status sigil, and Flat Screen TVs were the centerpiece for upper-middle-class entertaining.
Now, a lot of technology is, well, cheap. Or at least the initial exposure is. Video games, subscription services, apps and even hardware like phones and tablets come at a strikingly low preliminary investment. Then, later, when your guard is down, the tech companies get you with expensive accessories, automatic renewals and appealing upgrades to the ‘PRO’ level of… whatever it is. (But that’s another article.)
If you are a disciplined consumer, you can take advantage of a lot of free or extremely cheap app-based services that easily pay for themselves and the time you take to learn about them. Let’s spend a 3-minute read to find frugality at the tips of our fingers with these money-saving and money-earning apps.
Apps That Help You Invest
When it comes to being frugal, there are several avenues of attack. You can invest your current savings, focus on your credit, or search for other sources of income. Let’s start with apps that help you invest. In the case of these apps, we aren’t just talking about squirreling money away in a digital piggy bank. Modern investing apps get you into the spirit of buying into the market with small deposits and even smaller risk.
Available for Android and iPhone, the Stash app is about a five-minute download and set-up. From there, you can link your checking account and start building your portfolio. Two of the major advantages of this app are its $5.00 buy-in and its relatively flexible investing options. You can select stocks based on your interests and personal values, not just the type of risk you want to take.
The Smart-Save feature of the Stash app can analyze your checking account and automatically transfer money that you can afford to invest. The Stash app has fees ($1/month for <$5,000 balance and 0.25% >$5,000 balance), so it isn’t the cheapest way to invest. It’s low opening threshold and fun, friendly interface make it a good choice for novices who want to explore investing.
Acorns is a very similar investing app to Stash. It also encourages novice investors with an accessible platform and low entry threshold. While there are not trading fees or minimums, Acorns shares Stash’s flat fee structure of $1/month moving to 0.25% annually on accounts over $5,000. Once you link your bank accounts and credit cards, a major draw of the Acorns app is it’s Auto-Invest feature. Acorns will monitor your transactions and round up to the nearest dollar, dropping the difference into your investment portfolio. If you make a lot of small purchases, this can add up to substantial savings without having an adverse effect on your spending.
Rob from the rich! Give to… yourself? Or something like that. With Robinhood, investors of modest means can learn about the stock market and make small contributions toward their financial future. The major advantage of Robinhood is that the basic plan is literally free (no fees for account set-up, maintenance or trading). However, with limited research/comparison resources, no mutual funds or bonds and almost no online support (email only), Robinhood is not a very robust investment platform.
Apps That Help You Calculate & Build Credit
In an era when most people pay for large (and sometimes not-so-large) purchases with credit, monitoring and maximizing your credit score can be as financially prudent as saving cash. Better credit monitoring helps you secure lower interest rates, avoid identity theft/fraud and have a generally more vibrant financial health.
A few years ago, Credit Karma came on the scene as an alternative to ‘not really free’ credit monitoring sites like freecreditreport.com. And yes, it really is free. Credit Karma monitors your TransUnion and Experian scores and gives you updates every week (or whenever something significant happens to your credit). It’s important to note that Experian and TransUnion (along with Equifax) monitor your ‘VantageScore’, which is NOT your FICO score. Your FICO score (based on the algorithm by the Fair Isaac Corporation) is considered the most accurate gauge of your credit and is used by the majority of lenders.
Besides reporting your credit score, Credit Karma offers an array of tools from a score analyzer to recommendations of lenders and credit cards with rewards to match your credit. Keep in mind that these lenders are Credit Karma’s sponsors, so take the advice with a grain of salt. It’s always good to do your own due diligence when it comes to opening up new lines of credit.
From Intuit, provider of QuickBooks and TurboTax, Mint is an extremely robust financial health app. In addition to credit monitoring, Mint has an arsenal of savings and credit tools. You can link all your accounts and the vendors you pay (e.g. bills, insurance) so that Mint can help you establish and monitor a monthly budget.
Mint’s only limitation is that it doesn’t actually interact with the accounts you link to it. You can’t move money around or use Mint to pay your bills. It only alerts you. However, if you’re someone skeptical of electronic security and privacy, this may be an advantage.
Self Lender is an innovative financial investment company that simultaneously helps you save your earnings while building your credit score. It can be a little odd to wrap your head around, so I’ll break it down for you step-by-step.
- Apply for a Self Lender account.
- Self Lender will extend you a loan but then keep the loan as a certificate of deposit in a FDIC insured bank. (You don’t get the money…yet).
- You make monthly payments toward the loan, which are reported to the credit bureaus (showing responsible payment history and slowly increasing your credit score).
- Once you have paid off the balance of the loan, the CD unlocks and you get the money you have ‘invested’ plus interest earned by the CD.
In other words, once you have completed this process, you will have practiced disciplined savings, earned some interest, and increased your credit score. I know that this suggestion does not fall inside the bounds of typical financial advice. As always, I suggest you continue to read reviews and do your homework before you execute any strategy for investment.
Apps That Help You Earn Money
Now that we’ve investigated how to squirrel money away and strengthen our credit, let’s check out a couple apps that actually help us generate revenue. Most commonly, this sort of earning comes in the form of passive income – earnings not directly tied to how you spend your time. All of these apps help you earn a little extra while doing what you’re already doing.
Unlike traditional ride-sharing services like Lyft or Uber, GetaRound allows you to loan your car without serving as the chauffeur. With this app, customers unlock and borrow your car using an app on their phone. The app also tracks and insures your vehicle.
In exchange for boosting your wheels, clients pay you hourly, starting at $5/hour and increasing depending on the rate you set. Generally, newer and more expensive cars (especially ones that are fun to show off) allow you to attract clients who will pay a higher rate. Getaround takes 40% of your fee, which may seem like a lot. However, if you compare your net earnings to what your parked car was pulling in before, it’s easy to see Getaround as a fun, innovative source of passive income.
Ebates is an app that generates cash back for shopping at certain retail partners online. Ebates earns a commission for driving traffic to these businesses. If you are signed into Ebates when you make the purchase, they pass a portion of that commission on to you. You can collect this commission every quarter in either a paper check or via PayPal.
Considering that this method of ‘earning’ encourages you to spend more money, it’s not exactly a foolproof tactic for working on your budget. However, if you exercise some discipline and only use Ebates to earn on items you would have purchased anyway, it can be a great little passive income stream. If you have to purchase items for your business and then file the expenses for reimbursement, it can be even better.
With the tagline, ‘We Like the Way You Think’, innovative rewards app iPoll pays you for… well, your opinion. First iPoll gives you a survey to determine your characteristics and interests. Then it assigns you different missions. These missions can come in the form of in-store shopping experiences, brand awareness, ad testing, product reviews or surveys. Once you complete missions, you receive credits which you can exchange for gift cards or cash. Considering the time it takes to complete the required tasks, this may not be the most profitable income-generating app. On the other hand, there are worse ways to pass the time.
The Bottom Line
Yes, refinancing to secure a lower rate on a mortgage or getting a pay raise at work is a big deal. But, financial health is often about small choices. Consider this example:
– Each day, you deny yourself one $5 indulgence and also find a way to earn an additional $5.
– You invest this $10/day swing and earn 2.12% interest, compounding annually.
– After ten years, you will have saved/earned $40,000.
Insuring fiscal success and security doesn’t have to hinge on back-breaking labor, spartan savings plans or white-knuckle risk-taking. Making frugality a part of your everyday choices can elevate your personal economic standards, lower your stress and free up your finances. Stay frugal, my friends. A firm believer that freedom of information improves business, travel and life, freelance writer Ben Lovell is committed to sharing best practices. Read more of his articles at the Gothic Optimist.