We test every app, tool and strategy we write about.
We mostly keep this information behind the scenes — pages and pages of chicken-scratch notes — and deliver you the polished version.
But we’re going to switch things up. We recruited four staff members at The Penny Hoarder to test out four savings apps. Each one will ideally help them put money away.
For one month, these staffers used the tools and checked in with weekly updates — and they didn’t hold back. Could these apps actually help them stash away money?
Let’s find out.
He Managed to Save $73 While Preparing for a Big Move
Matt Reinstetle is at a stage in his life where he’s broken the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. Now, he’s ready to seriously stash money away. The only catch? At the start of this test, he was planning a big move, a notoriously expensive process no matter which way you cut it.
An app called Digit made it possible for him to save by determining small and safe amounts to set aside.
Digit automates saving for you. But it offers more than the standard auto-save feature. It actually uses algorithms to determine how much you can afford to save. The money is pulled into its hands-off FDIC-insured savings account, where you’ll earn a 1% bonus every three months.
The app’s free for the first 30 days, then $2.99 per month after. You’ll get a $5 Penny Hoarder bonus when you sign up.
Review: “For anyone who is interested in starting a rainy day fund.”
Reinstetle was ready to rebuild his savings, but he was moving in with his girlfriend soon, so Reinstetle needed a plan that offered some give and take.
Within the first week of signing up for Digit, he noted five checking account withdrawals that went into his Digit account, ranging between $6.50 and $8.45.
“I’m alerted every afternoon when they do take out the money, and they text me periodically during the week with the overall balance in my checking account,” he says.
With his move coming up during the second week of using the app, Reinstetle set up a safeguard; if his checking account were to dip below $200, Digit wouldn’t pull money out.
“Well, I’m glad to see some of the safeguards work with the app,” he reported back during the third week’s check-in.
He was hit with his deposit and first month’s rent, a U-Haul rental, random Target runs — all the fun associated with moving. Even so, after 30 days, Reinstetle had saved $72.62. He plans to continue to use the app.
For him, it’s worth that $2.99 monthly fee.
This Timid New Investor Tested the Waters With $5 in Free Stocks
Farrah Daniel knows the importance of saving and investing, especially after starting her job with The Penny Hoarder in June. She’s just super new to it — and admittedly super intimidated.
After setting up and exploring her 401(k), she felt ready to explore other investing options. No, she wasn’t ready to invest in a full share of Amazon stock. She just wanted a low-commitment introduction.
Stash, an automated micro-investing app, gave her that.
Stash lets you invest with small amounts of money — as little as $5. You choose where you want to put your money, and Stash manages it for you for a $1 monthly fee.
Bonus: Pocket an extra $5 when you sign up and enter the code PENNYH.
Review: “Its fun approach makes me want to understand more.”
In the spirit of taking baby steps, Daniel had been eyeing micro-investing apps. She could start with just $5 instead of investing in whole stocks, and she’d be able to automate the process.
She started by setting up an automatic deposit of $30 a month, invested across four funds. As she poked around the app, she started feeling less intimidated about investing.
“[The app’s] fun approach to investing makes me want to understand more about the process,” she says. “I also love that it has little info boxes next to commonly misunderstood terms; those are my besties.”
After a month, Daniel still felt like she had a lot to learn, but she began to feel more comfortable. Stash sent her regular account balance updates, so nothing was a surprise.
She plans to continue to experiment within Stash and learn more about investing, but she doesn’t think she’ll keep it on auto-pilot; she’d rather focus on the health of her 401(k).
Eventually, she says, she’ll dive deeper.
She Saved $94 in Spare Change With This Hands-off Saving Strategy
Kaitlyn Blount admits she’s a bad saver. She has a small savings stash — in case of an emergency — but she says it could be better. She’s interested in investing, too, but she doesn’t want a ton of risk behind it. Not yet, at least. She’s still flanked with student loans.
Acorns, a tool that invests your digital spare change, let her get started without risking a ton of money.
Acorns is a micro-investing app. It rounds up your credit and debit card purchases, and once it totals $5, it invests the digital spare change for you. It’s basically a super-powered piggy bank.
It costs $1 a month, but you’ll essentially get the first five months free with our exclusive $5 sign-up bonus.
Review: “I love checking in on the app and seeing the number grow.”
Blount faced some uncommon technical difficulties when signing up, so she ran a little behind the rest of the testing pack. But once she got in, her investments immediately started stacking up.
Blount set her account to auto-save $5 a week and turned on the round-up feature, which she was most excited to use.
“I haven’t really noticed it being taken from my bank account, so that’s cool,” she says. “It’s mostly hands-off. I feel like I glance at it every couple of days just to see the balance, but that’s it.”
She likes using the micro-investing app as a savings tool. Because she’s investing such small amounts, the risk tends to run low. Plus, if the market is strong, Blount has the potential to actually earn some returns.
When I checked in the third week, she responded, “Honestly, loving it.”
At the end of the experiment, Blount had accumulated $94. She says she’ll continue to use the app. For her, the $1 monthly fee is well worth the digital change the app automatically puts away for her.
Plus it’s totally hands off. What could be better?
This Gamer Saved $55 Playing Games on His Phone
Khiem Nguyen is a self-proclaimed “huge gamer” who wants to save money now that he’s paid off his student loans. He already uses other auto-savings apps, but he’s open to more options — perhaps something a little more fun than auto-save.
So he tried Long Game Savings, a free savings app disguised as a game.
The more money you stash into Long Game’s FDIC-insured savings account, the more coins you’ll earn. Use the coins to play games — lucky slots, spin-to-win wheels, scratch-off cards — and win more coins or, better yet, cash.
Review: “If you’re looking for more motivation, this might do the trick.”
When Nguyen signed up, he immediately had 300 bonus coins in his account (a perk for Penny Hoarder readers who sign up), and his initial strategy was to auto-save $5 a week. That’d give him a decent stash of coins to play games with — to hopefully win some cash.
Within a day of downloading the app, Nguyen won 25 cents with a flip game. No, it wasn’t the $1 million jackpot, but the app let him know that the 25 cents earned on his account balance was equivalent to a 5% gain, way higher than even most high-yield savings accounts.
As he continued to use the app, though, he found himself upping his savings amount. That’s because he wanted to keep playing games. The app was proving to be an effortless and fun way to trick himself into saving money.
In all, he put away $55.25 in four weeks.
That initial 25 cents was all the cash he won in his month-long test, though he did win extra coins to keep playing games.
That was his biggest complaint: There’s no guaranteed winnings, so it might be better keeping your money in a high-yield savings account. He’s not sure whether he’ll continue to use it. However, the account does reap a steady 0.1% APY, which you’ll get even if you don’t win any games.
That’s more than you’ll earn playing “Red Dead Redemption 2.”
Have a Favorite Savings App?
If you have a go-to savings and investing app you already use, reach out to the email below. You could be featured on The Penny Hoarder!
Carson Kohler ([email protected]) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She has a “Penny Hoarding” folder on her phone, which is full of nearly every app she’s written about.
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