Put down the latte and listen up: If you’re like the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, saving money needs to be on the top of your to-do list. Like, stat.
Understanding personal finance can be intimidating. You know how much money you make and you’re trying to save a little bit here and there, but the reality of mounting student loan bills and other living expenses can weigh heavily on millennials — which is why it’s difficult to think of the bigger picture.
Listen: a personal finance app (or two or three) can be your best friend in terms of getting smarter about how you save — and spend — your money. (We recommending starting with YNAB, but more on that later.)
Believe it or not, about 66% of people between the ages of 21 and 32 have nothing saved for retirement, according to a survey by the National Institute on Retirement Security. It’s no wonder that millennials are finding it difficult to buy a house.
Although retirement is still a very long way off for this generation, it’s important to be mindful of the future so you can find a clear path towards financial freedom for the end of your career, a vacation, or even an unexpected expense or accident.
The basics of personal finance and savings might be lost on some people who feel that it’s near-impossible to save when most of their money is gone within days of getting a paycheck. The cycle begins again and you just feel stuck trying to keep your head above water. However, financial freedom is very reachable through careful money management, budgeting, expense tracking, and getting smart about saving, investing, and building credit.
The good news is that it’s never too late — or too early — to get smarter about your finances. After all, the tools you need to help you along your financial journey just might be in your pocket.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to saving money by using smartphone finance apps and other clever hacks:
1. Create a budget
Knowing how much money you make is not the same as spending it wisely.
Staying organized is key to your financial freedom and budgeting apps like Mint and YNAB can help you create a budget and stay within your means every month. Mint is a free app (that’s a very important word) that you can customize and tweak to fit your income and help you set your financial goals down to the penny.
If you’re still unclear on how much you should save every month, Mint can also set your budget based on your income. It can create limits and categories on your spending habits, which you can override at anytime, while the app can connect you to your bank accounts, credit cards, and lenders to give you a full picture of your finances.
Meanwhile, YNAB, which stands for You Need a Budget, takes your monthly spending and expenses to the next level with an in-depth look at every dollar in your bank account. In fact, one of the rules for YNAB is every dollar needs a purpose, so you know it’s serious about budgets and making sure you stay on track instead of “winging it” from month-to-month.
With YNAB, you define what’s important to you and how to achieve your goals with good financial spending and saving. The app keeps you on track to use your money on the important things in life like rent, food, medical expenses, and more. It can even account for any unexpected expenses and emergencies without putting a strain on the other things going on in your life.
YNAB has a 34-day free trial available, but afterwards it’s $6.99/a month.
2. Track your spending and expenses
Now that you have a realistic and workable budget, you have to stick to it. Smartphone apps like Quicken can take your path to financial freedom to the next level. Quicken can track all of your spending habits by just taking a photo of your receipts, which automatically puts your spending into categories, dates everything, and tracks the amounts deducted from your balance with your approval.
In fact, Quicken is probably the most in-depth of all the financial apps on this list because it’s so feature rich. The app can track and record your expenses and investments, create easy-to-read spending reports, and can pay your bills online. Once you sync the app to your bank account, you can even transfer funds from one account to another with the desktop version of the app. It can even predict and forecast your cashflow for the upcoming month, so you can get a better idea of all of your finances.
One of the best things about the app is that it’s completely searchable. You can search through all of your spending habits, expenses, and reports to get easy access of your personal finances. The Quicken app is also easy to understand and use with a very intuitive interface that even works offline when you don’t have a data connection.
In addition, the app sends you notifications and alerts when your bank balance is getting low and if you’re over-budget for the month, so you don’t over spend. Think of the Quicken app as your personal accountant inside of your pocket that you don’t have to feed or clothe.
The Quicken app works with Android and iOS mobile devices and it’s free with the purchase of any Quicken product.
3. Manage your debt
According to , over 44 million millennials are in crippling debt upwards of $33,000 — mostly from student loans from financial institutions. In fact, most millennials are putting off “life milestones” like starting a family and homeownership because their massive debt is in the way, while some are forced to move back home with their parents just to stay above water. Getting out of debt is not an easy feat, but if you have the right tools and a little bit of optimism, you could be debt-free sooner than you think.
Smartphone apps like can help ease your burden with a bird’s eye view of how much money you owe, along with reasonable step-by-step methods and techniques to get out of debt faster. The app can track your debt payments and give you a time frame to financial freedom. This means you can track your progress and feel better about your money situation with a real game plan. The best part about this app is that it’s completely free.
Another good idea? Transfer your debt to a credit card with a 0% APR introductory period and get aggressive with those payments. That way, you won’t be paying any interest and you can pay down the debt faster than if you were just making the minimum payment every month.
The BankAmericard® credit card by Bank of America offers a 0% introductory APR period on both balance transfers and purchases for 18 billing cycles, after which a variable 15.24% to 25.24% APR will apply based on your creditworthiness. The BankAmericard® credit card has a $10 or 3% (whichever is greater) transfer fee and no annual fee.
4. Get smart about saving money
“A penny saved is a penny earned.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who is believe to have *coined* it during the 18th century. If Mr. Franklin were around today, he’d probably enjoy using a smartphone app like Qapital (pronounced Capital), a fun way to save money by turning it into a game.
Once you download the app, start an account with Qapital and link a bank card with a checking account and begin to set your financial goals. Why are you saving money? Maybe you’re planning a trip to Paris, or want concert tickets for the summer, or are looking to buy a car. After you set your goals, add the amount you want to save.
Say you want to save $1,200 for a new laptop. Now that you’re all set, you can set up the “rule” for saving. Qapital sets “round to the nearest dollar” as the default, but you can pick and choose how you want to save. If you picked the default, every time you use your bank card, the app rounds the amount to the nearest dollar and adds it to your account automatically. So if you buy something for $5.62, Qapital will take .38 cents from your bank card and add it to your account. You can then transfer your savings into a bank account to start all over again. So you’re saving money without even realizing it.
The app has other “rules” like the “Spend Less Rule,” where you can save the difference if you spend less on one of your favorite expenses and activities, or the “Guilty Pleasure Rule,” where you save money when you do one of your guilty pleasures. You set the goals and the rules, and Qapital helps you save.
Qapital is available for iOS and Android.
5. Start investing — like right now
Now that you’ve managed to save some money, maybe it’s time to invest it and gain some personal capital. If you know next to nothing about investing, Robinhood is a good place to start. This smartphone app gives anyone free access to the stock market.
For years, buying and trading stocks were only for the wealthy and people in the know. You had to hire a stockbroker who would have to facilitate any purchases and trades on your behalf, while also taking a slice of the pie as commission.
However, Robinhood is a completely free way to enter and get 24/7 access to the stock market game with zero fees and commissions. In addition, Robinhood supports cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, Etherium, Dogecoin, and more. Crypto is supported in 30 states for now, while the app plans to gain support in more locations across the nation. This finance app is a great way to build a solid stock portfolio and net worth, while gaining confidence in investing and using cryptocurrency.
Robinhood is available for iOS and Android.
6. Build your credit
Did you know only 33% of adults ages 18 and 29 have at least one credit card? About two-thirds of millennials don’t have a credit card, according to this survey, and are shy about the proposition of adding more debt on top of their student loan debt.
If you’re afraid of getting deeper into the weeds but you want to build credit, you have to get a credit card to make your credit score soar. (We recommend Credit Cards Explained for more info on this topic.) Once you sign up and are approved, download the Credit Karma app to help you manage your credit. It’s a free app that gives you access to your credit score and credit report, while it can also offer credit monitoring.
Credit Karma can also give you information on how to improve your score, including what factors are contributing to good and bad scores, and what kind of products and services can help you achieve exceptional credit.
Credit Karma is available for iOS and Android.
7. Find a financial coach
Everyone needs some coaching to get them through hard times. Breaking through to financial freedom and happiness could be just an app download away with Joy, a financial coaching and savings app for iPhone.
Once you create an account, you’re asked to sync your checking account so you can rate your purchases and transactions. If spending money on an item makes you happy, it’s a high value purchase. If it makes you sad, it’s a low value transaction. (It’s basically like the KonMari method of finance.) Joy then tries to make connections between your mood and outlook and how that relates to your spending, which should prompt you to save more money. In fact, Joy is also a bank of sorts because you can open a Joy savings account that’s FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) insured.
In addition, Joy offers savings strategies by tracking your spending, as well as money coaching to help you reach your financial goals — along with a steady stream of articles about finance, happiness, and self care.
Sorry Android users, Joy is only available for iPhone.