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Smartphone apps that can help you save money

Whether it's setting budgets, monitoring your spending, or saving money, these apps can help you keep track of your finances and help you reach your financial goals.

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When it comes to getting on top of your finances or saving money, budgeting is the name of the game. 

A budget creates a spending plan for your money so that you always have the cash for your financial commitments, plus whatever else is important to you. It also means you can put away some savings for the future.

What are the different methods of budgeting?

There are several budgeting philosophies to choose from. All of them have their pros and cons. Pick the one that suits you, and most importantly, the one you can stick to. 

The 50-20-30 method

This is a method of budgeting where you divide your spending into three simple categories.

  • 50% on needs: This consists of your fixed expenses that you couldn’t live without. This includes your mortgage, rent, utilities, food, transportation, etc.

  • 20% on saving: This is made up of whatever money you want to save whether it’s for retirement or an emergency fund. You can also use this money for paying off debt.

  • 30% on wants: This is for anything else that you plan to spend money on. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, dining out or a holiday abroad. 

The zero-based budget

This is a budgeting method where you have a plan for every pound that you spend so that, theoretically, the amount of money you have left over equals to zero. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you’re spending all of your money because the plan includes any savings you intend to put away or any money you use to pay off debt.

The envelope budget

This is a popular method of budgeting where you allocate certain amounts of money for different kinds of expenses every month.

Historically, people have used actual envelopes of cash labelled with their intended purpose. For example, you might have one envelope for food, one for your rent or mortgage, another for bills and another for shopping or dining out.

So when you run out of cash in your food envelope, you can’t spend anymore on food. This is why it’s important to allocate your money realistically so that you don’t run out of money for essentials before the end of the month. 

The idea is to allocate money such that it covers all your necessary bills and discretionary spending, with any remaining money going towards your savings.

Of course a lot has changed in recent years, and envelopes are now being replaced by a number of smartphone apps. These can help you manage your money through creating budgets for you and tracking your spending to make sure you stick to your plan.

What are the best budgeting apps or money-saving apps available?

There are a number of money management apps that you can choose from. Some of them cater to budgeting while others focus on helping you save money by connecting with your bank accounts through Open Banking.

What is Open Banking?

Open banking is financial technology that enables you to share information about your banking transactions with a third party. In order to share information, you have to give the third party your permission to receive your transaction data.

Here are some budgeting and savings apps that can help you save money:

Moneybox

Moneybox is the app on a mission to help everyone save and invest for their future by making it easy for people to get started, and providing the tools and information they need to confidently work towards their financial goals. Made famous by its trademark round ups feature which let you invest your spare change into a Stocks & Shares ISA, Moneybox today offers a broad suite of financial products to suit every need including savings accounts, Lifetime ISAs and pensions. 

Moneybox hopes to encourage people to make the right saving and investing decisions throughout their lives. So whether you’re saving for your first home, a rainy day, or even planning for retirement, it enables customers to set money aside in the way that suits them best using round ups, regular deposits or one-off payments. 

Using helpful features such as the Time Machine tool, you can visualise what your savings can amount to in the future.

Plum

This is a smartphone app that’s geared towards helping you save or invest your money to make it work for you. 

The Plum app connects with your current account through Open Banking and uses an algorithm to automatically calculate and transfer the amount of money it thinks that it can put away into a type of savings account which it calls an ‘interest pocket’.

While you can use Plum for free, you also have a choice of two tiers of paid accounts - Plum Plus (£1 p/m) and Plum Pro (£2.99 p/m) -  which offer premium features. Some of the features available to all users include:

  • See all your transactions in your home screen

  • Personalised amounts are stashed automatically into an instant access Plum Account every few days from your primary bank account

  • Round up your purchases to your Plum Account

  • See your regular upcoming payments 

  • Find better deals on your bills and switch in seconds (e.g. utilities, broadband)

  • Set aside extra automatically on payday

Some of the premium features include: 

  • Open an ISA or General Investment Account with handpicked funds so you can invest your money

  • Open an FSCS-protected Easy Access Interest Pocket and earn 0.4% on your savings

  • Earn up to 11% Cashback on your purchases through Plum

  • Create multiple Pockets (for either your Instant Access Plum Account or multiple Easy Access Interest Pockets)

Revolut

Although Revolut started out as an app for money transfers and exchanges, it has built itself into a a one-stop-app for all your personal finance needs. Revolut offers everyday current accounts with debit cards, budgeting, instant spending notifications, and weekly insights to keep your spending on track.

Recently, it has also started offering its users to trade stocks, commodities and cryptocurrency as well a slew of rewards opportunities and premium features such as travel and device insurance for customers who sign up for paid accounts.

Are budgeting or money management apps safe?

For the most part, yes. But it's reasonable to ask yourself the question. After all, you’re sharing details of your bank accounts and credit cards.

Some apps also work with other sources of income, such as savings and investment accounts. These apps sync with your online banking and other accounts periodically, to keep your budget up-to-date in the app.

However, the apps just have “read-only” access, meaning they can see your financial activity - but can’t make any changes (like transferring money without your consent). Once they have your information, budgeting apps typically store that data on their own company servers.

This is a security measure, for if someone were to steal your phone and open the budgeting app, they would not have access to your full information. The app will show your budget (things like purchases, bills, etc.) but not any of your bank login data. So if someone were to hack into your app, they still wouldn’t be able to hack into your actual bank account.

Still, you want to be smart when dealing with any money matters, so here are some tips for for using these handy apps:

  1. Check the privacy statement. These can sometimes be long and full of legal jargon, so it’s a good idea to search the word “sell” or “share” in the privacy statement. Then you can easily check to make sure the app won’t sell your personal data to third-parties for targeted ads.

  2. Check the app’s security level. Look for the app’s encryption standards for user data (128-bit is good; 256-bit is better) and see if it has two-factor authentication as a login option for you.

  3. Find out who owns the app. Many budgeting apps are owned by larger financial institutions, which should have experience handling user data in a safe and secure manner.

  4. Password protect your device. Set up a password or PIN or fingerprint to unlock the home screen of the device you’re using. This is also important for protecting your actual bank account.

  5. Avoid using public Wi-Fi. Never check your bank account or use a budgeting app over unsecured public WiFi - public hotspots are known to be crawling with hackers looking to steal your information. If you need to use the app, use your mobile data connection, or consider using a VPN to encrypt your connection.

New bank accounts are offered all the time, so compare all of the best options to make sure you get the right one for you.