With living costs going up and up, every penny counts. The good news is that it’s now much easier to hunt down the best deals on everything from home energy to savings accounts, and it’s all thanks to the power of technology.
With the number of mobile apps designed to save you money ballooning in recent years, it’s also easier to access advice and tools to help you keep your finances in check.
From apps that aim to improve your budgeting skills to apps that monitor your bills or automatically shift extra cash into a savings account, whatever your financial goals, there’s an app for that.
But do they work and are they safe? Here’s what you need to know.
The introduction of Open Banking, under which customers can order their banks to share their data with third parties, opened up a world of opportunity for fintech app developers. This is because it gives them potential access to data on everything from our spending habits to our household bill payments.
The result has been a big increase in the number of apps that help you save money by using cutting-edge technology to work out when and where you can cut costs and put money aside for a rainy day.
All third-party companies wishing to gain access to your financial data must be authorised by the FCA (or an equivalent authority in another country) to offer services through Open Banking.
They also have to agree to encrypt your data and track its usage, while complying with all the rules set out in the Data Protection Act.
That said, the more widely your data is spread, the greater the chances of a security breach that allows it to fall into the wrong hands.
So, it’s always sensible to be wary of potential scams, such as calls or emails purporting to be from an app provider.
Check too whether money invested via an app benefits from Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protection, as this isn’t always the case.
“We can't protect the money you have with e-money institutions and payment providers,” the FSCS website says. “This doesn't necessarily mean that your money isn't safe, as these firms are still regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), but it does mean you won't benefit from our quick and easy compensation service.”
You might also find that money you hold in different apps is in accounts with the same bank, which could push your total savings over the £85,000-per-institution FSCS limit.
When it comes to using apps to save money, downloading your current account provider’s app is a good first step.
Most modern banking apps allow you to do a variety of things, such as arranging transfers, opening new accounts, and blocking lost or stolen cards, in just a few touches of your smartphone screen.
Thanks to Open Banking, you can also generally use your bank’s app to view details of your accounts with other providers, helping you to get a better idea of your overall financial situation.
Other apps worth considering include:
Automatic saver app Chip claims that it can help an average user boost their savings account balance by around £3,000 a year.
You can use it to save money in FSCS-covered accounts paying competitive interest rates – at the time of writing, the easy-access account pays 0.9%. There’s also the option to invest with fund managers such as BlackRock.
But the clever part is how the app uses artificial intelligence to analyse your spending and work out what you can afford to save before switching that amount over to your linked savings account for you (as long as that feature is activated).
Chip can also be used to automatically transfer a fixed amount to your savings account every payday.
Standard membership, including auto-saving and basic investment accounts, is free. But to access a broader range of investments, you’ll need to upgrade to ChipX at £3 a month.
Plum is another app that uses Open Banking to automatically calculate and transfer the amount of money it thinks you can spare into a linked savings account. It also rounds up your purchases to the nearest pound to help you put more money aside and finds better deals on utilities and other household necessities.
The standard version of the app is free, but there are two premium versions that offer you access to investments and higher interest rates on your savings – 0.40% at the time of writing – for between £1 and £2.99 a month.
If it’s a stocks and shares app you’re after, Moneybox is also worth a look. It rounds up your purchases and invests the change into one of several tax-efficient ISAs; the Starting Options are Cautious, Balanced, and Adventurous – so you can pick one depending on the level of risk you want to take.
This service is free for three months, then £1 a month after that.
If you have several workplace pensions still running, you can also use the app to combine them into one personal pension account. There’s no monthly subscription to pay, but you will be charged platform and provider fees starting at 0.15%.
Billed as your Best Financial Friend, the free Emma budgeting app aims to help you keep control of your spending and help you avoid going into debt.
Features include alerts when you dip into your overdraft, plus a categorising tool to show you where your money goes and where there is room to cut back.
Like many of the other apps out there, Snoop uses Open Banking to allow you to see all your bank account and credit cards in one place.
But this free app also suggests when you should look into switching to a better deal on your household utilities and insurance contracts and lets you know about any useful deals that can save you money when you’re out shopping too.