A lot of personal finance advice gets caught up in the little things—the cup of coffee you buy in the morning for $3. The streaming music subscription for $9.99 per month. Cut out these small expenses and clutch those dollar bills and you’ll save thousands of dollars each year. But of course it’s not that easy.
Even if you cut back on your expenses, it still takes a lot of mental fortitude to put that saved money in a safe place where it won’t get used on … other expenses. Sometimes, you need help to make strides managing your money. Savings apps can help you automate your savings and make small transfers out of your checking account so you don’t have to think about (and sometimes resist) the actions it takes to save.
These apps aren’t always free. But before you tsk-tsk at the ones that charge a fee, hear me out on why paying to save can be worth the cost.
This past December, I signed up for a free trial of Digit. The app evaluates your income, bills and spending to calculate how much cash you can save each day. It makes a withdrawal from your checking account holds it, letting your daily savings accrue until you want to move it back to one of your accounts.
Halfway through 2019, I can’t imagine my life without it—$2.99 per month be damned.
Why it’s worth paying for a savings app (sometimes)
Isn’t it counterintuitive to pay money to save money? Some of you are probably asking. You’re not alone: That’s why Digit’s shift from a free money-saving app to a paid one in 2017 sent a lot of users looking for other options.
But the thing that matters is that you value what you’re paying for. You Need a Budget costs $6.99 per month. Why do people pay for it when they could make their own spreadsheet or sign up for a free budget app like Mint? Because the cost is worth it to help achieve your goal.
If you have limited cash flow and are trying to make ends meet each month with little to spare, paying for a savings app probably doesn’t make sense for you. You’re better off grabbing the extra $3 or $5 left in your pocket and saving it yourself until you’re on better financial footing. But if you’re feeling comfortable with the budget you’ve already established and want to accelerate your savings—even beyond the “pay yourself first” mentality many of us use when we automate savings transfers—paying for an app to help you do that is likely to have benefits that outshine the monthly fee.
In my case, the goal is to save more of what’s in my checking account and stash away as much as possible. I have that problem where after I pay my bills and my automated savings transfers are tucked away, my checking balance looks like a playground. Digit doesn’t send me alerts to tell me what it’s saving each day, which usually leaves me pleasantly surprised when I check the app. It adds another layer of saving that is out of sight and out of mind but doesn’t make me feel like I need to eat cereal every day in order to save money.
I had no idea I saved this much
Part of Digit’s allure is that I have no idea how it really works. All I know is that since December, I’ve withdrawn $3,524. That’s $3,524 of my own money on top of my monthly auto-transfers to savings that I’ve been able to take from this dedicated, algorithmic place and put it toward whatever I choose.
If I saw an extra $500 per month floating around in my checking account, do you think I would get excited about putting it into savings? Probably not. I’d probably want to book a hotel room for a long weekend at the beach. All I have to do with Digit is set a low-balance protection level to tell Digit not to save if my connected checking account hits a particular amount. Beyond that, it makes better decisions about my money than I do.
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