We Tried These Money Apps & Saved Hundred of Dollars

Illustration by Abbie Winters.
For some people, managing money comes down to grabbing a piece of computer paper, jotting down their outgoing expenses, their incoming funds, and mentally deducting a certain portion for fun. For others, an assist is needed, especially if it can be automated.
The number of financial apps and the people who use them has skyrocketed in recent years, ranging from banking apps that consumers can use to check their balances (and double-check how much they spent on drinks the night before…), or review their portfolios. With so much noise, it can be difficult to tell what is truly useful, can give the clearest pictures of one’s finances, and possibly lead to constructive changes.
To see which savings apps really works and why, Refinery29 will be testing out various savings apps and giving reviews on which you might want to download, and which you can definitely skip.
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Courtesy of Digit

Bourree's Review

User Experience: I’ve never signed up for a savings app before, and the experience was pretty stressful because of my security concerns. Digit was easy to sign up for, and the first 100 days are free. Digit holds onto your money once it’s deducted from your checking account, but you can get it back anytime.

What I Used It For: After I signed up, the app asked whether I’d like to save for something on top of my rainy day fund. The options included: a vacation, concert tickets, birthday gifts, etc. I had just found out about a friend’s wedding coming up on President’s Day 2018, so I started a deduction for the travel cost. The app is extremely usable: You send a text in the app, and Digit can give you immediate updates, set up savings, or transfer your savings back to your main bank account.

I set Digit to text me daily with how much was in my bank account and how much it deducted, because I wanted to keep track. Digit will also send you funny gifs to lightened the “confronting you with your your finances daily via text” mood.

How Much I Saved: At the end of 20 days, I had saved $454.64 for my rainy day fund and $197.18 for my friend’s wedding (towards a $400 goal I set for Jan 1). The app essentially tricks you into saving (the behavioral economist in me loves it), and it works. Digit deducted amounts between $1.42 to $95.20 (the average was around $30) for my rainy day fund between Monday and Friday, and between $15-$20 for my travel fund.

Final Verdict: Overall, I enjoyed using Digit much more than I expected! Digit's random deductions helped me save and brought me to reality: I had been so worried about the $400 air ticket for my friend’s wedding in February, but Digit showed me that I had the money. I could see the money deducted over a couple weeks right there, and buy that big purchase once I reached the goal.

I’ve never lacked self control in the past, but I did feel pain while saving. The main calculus with Digit is whether its services are worth $2.99 a month after the trial, plus whatever negligible interest you’d be making and the opportunity cost of the amount you’d be saving.

Honestly, by the end of the month I stopped keeping track. And that’s exactly the point: saving without thinking. If that’s something you want, Digit does a great job. But if you’re someone who’s never had any trouble or feel any pain saving money, it’s probably better to put your money to work in an investment account. Digit is not so easy to cancel (takes 90 days to fully remove your account), but it is super easy to get your money back. And for me, that amount was a lot more than I expected.
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Clarity Money

Lindsey's Review:

User Experience: The app reminded me a bit of Mint (a program I’ve used before, and really don’t like) in that it aggregates data from your various financial institutions (bank, credit card, mortgage, etc.) into one place so you can get a big picture of your overall spending without logging into several different apps.

I loved the way the app looks and for the most part it’s pretty easy to navigate. Right away, I was impressed (and slightly horrified) when Clarity told me just how much I’ve spent on Seamless this year. Let’s just say I could have used that money for a plane ticket for a far away destination. I also liked how the app shared a list of all my recurring payments and asked me if I wanted to cancel any of them.

What I Used It For: Ever since I had a baby last year, I’ve become addicted to managing my money from my phone. I have apps for all the financial institutions I use — banks and credit cards — and I check them fairly regularly, so I can keep on top of what’s going in and out. But, my expenses have changed a lot in the last year (hello monthly daycare bills and that pesky college fund!), and I haven’t felt like I've had a clear picture of my spending. I was less interested in seeing if it would help me save (I’m already a pretty aggressive saver), and more interested in getting a better handle on how much I was actually spending.

How Much I Saved: $0. While Clarity does offer a savings plan, I decided against setting up a separate account, as I already have two savings accounts, an investment account, and my 401(k). I was annoyed Clarity didn’t share up front whether its savings account had an interest rate.

Final Verdict: There were quite a few features I didn’t really like: Clarity asks you to put in your monthly income, instead of looking at your bank account to provide the total for you. I also didn’t love the random push notifications Clarity sent me. From time to time, I got an update on how much I had spent recently. I assume this info is aggregated based on how much I might be charging to credit cards, etc, but the numbers felt totally random. As I was writing this review, it sent me a push notification that I had spent over $3,000 recently, “more than usual,” it noted. Well, duh. It’s the beginning of the month, and I just paid a ton of bills. On the other hand, getting a random, “you’ve spent $400” mid-month with no context also feels weird. I found myself trying to wrack my brain to remember what I’ve been spending on.

These days, I don’t really have trouble saving money — even on a spending-heavy month, my husband and I are still left with a nice cushion — but with my busy schedule, I’m really struggling to keep track of everything. Ultimately, I’m not sure that Clarity helps solve that problem. It might have helped me curtail my Seamless spending, but in the long run, I don’t think it’s an app I’ll return to.
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Judith's Review:

User Experience: I've tried several savings apps over the years. I'm pretty familiar with the process, and blasé when it comes to surrendering my information to them. The Albert app, which is similar to Clarity and Mint, seems to be on the more secure end of the spectrum. I chose to log in with TouchID on my iPhone, and any time my phone went to sleep, or I switched to a different screen, I was asked to log in again with my thumbprint.

What I Used It For: My main goals were to save more aggressively in an everyday way — not for investing purposes, but to tighten up my budget and put money away for a few events in the coming year (a family vacation and trip for a friend's birthday in the coming year). After setup is complete, Albert will also give you suggestions for goals, in addition to ones you can set yourself. The order you put those goals in (by dragging them up or down on the home slide of the app), will dictate how aggressively Albert saves toward each.

How Much I Saved: By the end of my trial, I had saved $146, including non-automated deposits I made myself now and then. That number isn't huge, but it is something — and I preferred Albert's more conscientious goal withdrawals to Digit's much more aggressive ones. I want have a little more control over the amounts of money leaving my bank account, and the amounts deducted ranged from $1 to $9.

Final Verdict: Albert has a much better level of accuracy guessing than other apps do. In the past, I've had to categorize every single expense, which sucked. Albert may not get every single expense right (about three were miscategorized over the month and a half I used it); but when it doesn't, it usually leave the category blank for you to fill in. Expenses like bills are not factored in the same way as drinks, which I liked, and those expenses could be marked as recurring and viewed in a separate screen. As those recurring payments — subscriptions, loan payments, rent — are processed throughout the month, Albert marks them as "Paid," so you can see which have gone through yet.

One issue with Albert is that you may not be able (or may not choose) to synch all of your financial apps and services — such as investment and retirement accounts — with theirs. As a result, though, Albert's assessment of my savings situation and the financial health score they gave me (users are rated on a scale of 0 to 100) is off.

Based on Albert's assessment of your score and your needs, you are sent on "missions" that give you information. (For example, one recent mission was about the Equifax data breach.) I haven't tried out this function yet, as I already crunched the numbers of how much I'd need to save toward my friend's birthday trip, but it does seem like a useful, targeted option that I'd like to try out in the future.

Overall, if I wanted to save more aggressively, I might go with another app, or use Albert in conjunction with that app. But for a clear picture of where my spending is going, access to advice and suggestions for where to improve, I'll definitely stick with Albert.