This story is part of “,” a look at how digital cash is changing the way we save, shop and work.
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know much about managing money. I’m 24 and fairly new to the world of health insurance, loan payments and 401(k) savings accounts. I’ve yet to come to terms with how much taxes eat away at each paycheck. And despite my personal pep talks, I’m prone to splurge on fancy drinks and overpriced shoes.
I’m not the only millennial who’s financially clueless. A mere 24 percent of people in my generation have a basic understanding of how to manage their money, according to a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education and George Washington University. Most millennials also have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts and spend more than other generations on things like coffee, eating out and taxis.
These impulse splurges ultimately mean you’ll have less money saved up for more important things down the road, such as retirement or health emergencies.
“It’s really what you do in your 20s and 30s with saving your money that has the biggest impact,” says Jonathan Clarke, associate professor of finance at Georgia Tech.
That’s why consistently putting money into a savings account, whether that’s $10 or $1,000 a month, will pay off in the long run, says Ryan Dennehy, financial planning executive at California Financial Advisors. That’s something people of all generations, not just millennials, need to do more, he adds.
Thankfully, there are plenty of apps and digital platforms that can help you get in better financial shape — no matter what your age. Here are just a few services for things like budgeting, savings and investments.
This is one of the most commonly known (and top ranked) financial apps out there. Mint lets you set up budgets for just about anything and offers personalized tips for reducing fees. It lets you see your bills and money in one place, so you know what’s due, and when, and how much you can afford to pay.
It does a good job of pulling expenses from your bank account and categorizing them into individual budgets, so you can see where specifically you may need to cut back. I found it super helpful and rather eye-opening to see just how much damage I was causing by occasionally eating out — that stuff really adds up.
In addition to receiving alerts and scheduling payments, you can also see your credit score and get tips on how to improve it.
Tessa Torrente, a 29-year-old freelance travel writer from New York, started using Mint eight years ago after deciding she wanted to travel more — but first, she needed to get better control of her budget.
Given the ups and downs of her income, she likes that Mint also factors in her husband’s earnings.
“I never know if my income will be $1,000 this month or $10,000,” she says. “Having something that tracks my budget so easily but also has his income coming in helps manage a complicated situation.”
Toshl Finance links up with your financial accounts and lets you track all your cards and cash in one place.
With Toshl, you start by making an emergency fund, then create a budget to make sure you’ll have extra cash at the end of the month. It’ll tell you how much money you have left for spending after adhering to your budget and following through on your saving goals.
You can track things like food and bills either automatically (by linking your bank account, credit card, PayPal and other services) or manually. You can then see where you’re spending too much, get warnings when you’re approaching your budget limits and receive reminders about upcoming bills.
What I found to be convenient is that, like Mint, you can set up budgets for specific categories you might want to cut back on, like food or clothing (areas I could use a little more control). If you don’t stick to the budget, Toshl will ping you about going overboard.
This app emphasizes simplicity. As its name suggests, Daily Budget helps you calculate how much you can spend each day based on your income and recurring expenses such as rent, insurance and internet service. You enter the amount you’ve just spent in the app and it’ll tell you how much more you have left to spend that day.
This platform’s clean design makes budgeting less intimidating, and it’s pretty helpful to see things broken down into daily increments, rather than a lump monthly sum. It would be nice if you didn’t have to enter expenses manually, though.
Daily Budget is available for free on the App Store.
Digit calculates how much money you should be setting aside each day based on your income and expenses, so that you’re staying within your financial means. It then automatically moves that money from your checking account to your Digit savings account. You’ll get texts telling you how much money has been saved.
If you need to tap into your savings, send Digit a text and it’ll transfer money from your Digit savings to your checking account the next business day. (That’s a convenient feature, but don’t be tempted to keep shifting funds unless absolutely necessary. Keep in mind that you should be saving for bigger things down the road.)
It’s handy that you don’t have to do much in the way of savings on this platform — the process is totally automated.
This app helps you invest your extra money. After connecting your accounts and cards, Acorns rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, then automatically invests that spare change.
It asks you about your financial situation and goals to help you create an investment portfolio.
Designed for freelancers and independent contractors, Intuit’s QuickBooks Self-Employed helps people prepare for tax time throughout the year. In addition to calculating quarterly estimated taxes, you can track expenses, record mileage with your phone’s GPS and create and send invoices. The platform also lets you separate personal and business expenses.
These tools can make tax time — and tracking finances throughout the year — more manageable.
“I don’t think the average small business owner realizes how much of a tax break and how much of a deductible you can get from mileage,” says Elisabeth Young, 24, a calligrapher and wedding invitation designer from Marietta, Georgia. “That’s a huge asset, as opposed to me tracking it in a different app or tracking it with a notebook and an odometer.”
Using a more traditional tool like Excel to manage finances isn’t as comprehensive or as simple as QuickBooks Self-Employed, Young says. If she could change something about the platform, though, she says she’d like to have a more thorough breakdown of categories on the finance report, so she can know exactly where her money is going.
Jon Fasoli, director of product at QuickBooks, says QuickBooks Self-Employed is by far Intuit’s fastest-growing product, thanks to the rapid expansion of the gig economy.
“We kind of hit that sweet spot right as the space started to see some explosive growth,” he says.
You Need a Budget
You Need a Budget (YNAB) tracks your spending and also helps you adjust it. Start by connecting your bank accounts, then set up spending categories for things like rent, groceries and transportation. YNAB encourages you to “give every dollar a job” by putting it into a category.
It also asks you to plan for larger and less frequent expenses, such as insurance or Christmas presents, and then set a goal for how much you’ll need to save for those future expenses. YNAB helps you figure out how much you need to save each month to meet that goal.
If you overspend in one category, like dining out, YNAB will ask you to look through your budget and find another category with extra funds that you can use to cover it.
With apps like these, I just might get a handle on my finances. Hopefully, they’ll help you get on the right track, too.
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