No Cash, No Cards, No Problem: The essential apps for managing your finances digitally

In the digital age, there’s virtually no limit to the ways in which you can use technology to better your life and make simple tasks more convenient to accomplish. I recently decided to overhaul the way I look at, manage and protect my finances, quickly realizing that my mobile device was the perfect assistant in doing so thanks to help from a few features and apps found on most modern smartphones.

In my case, I objectively sought out ways to do a few things: reduce my use of physical cash and paper transactions to minimize my carbon footprint; create a budget for my bills, savings and other allowances; and create more convenient ways to track my spending and seamlessly transfer my funds via peer sharing, account transfers, deposits and withdrawals. I had hoped to move all my financial activity online, while maintaining the security of traditional money handling. Not only did I accomplish these goals, but I also discovered quite a few apps that fit into my daily life, unknowingly working with me to accomplish more of my financial goals, both short term and long term.

For this list, I’m breaking down the apps that I’ve found essential for achieving my objectives. I use these apps daily, and they might be beneficial to someone with similar goals as me, as well as those that don’t even realize what they’re missing out on. In my personal life, I am reluctant to carry hard cash on me, so I see this as an evolution to a fully digital financial lifestyle.

Mobile Banking

Your bank or credit union has probably made steps toward making their member experience more convenient thanks to a designated mobile app. Most banks provide apps exclusive to their brand, and most include features such as mobile check deposits, account fund transfers between your checking and savings, and some apps even let you send funds to other members in the same network.

In addition to helping you instantly review your transactions, these apps also make obtaining cash simpler, thanks to location based services such as ATM finders. The ability to pull up a map or list of ATM locations is particularly helpful for members of credit unions, as most branches are part of a co-op network that make withdrawals free at designated machines. Stop spending your hard-earned cash on out of network fees; those $3 fees add up, and it’s nice to have options when you’re not in a crunch for physical cash.

These features, when coupled with direct deposits via your workplace, make driving to your bank a thing of the past. So long are the days of driving across town to deposit a physical check only to waste time standing in a physical line.

Money Sharing

Over the past few years, apps such as Venmo and Cash by Square Cash have made paying back your friends easier than ever. In my personal experience, these apps have significantly altered my social life, whether weekend trips with friends or nights on the town. These apps attach to your checking account, debit card or credit card and allow you to make fee-less transactions to others with the same app.

When your friend offers to grab you a drink at the bar next time as a favor, don’t sweat paying them back in hard cash — instead, keep a tab running in your head and send the money you owe the next morning, it really doesn’t get much simpler. They can even send you a request for payment if you happen to forget as we. Alternatively, while in college, this was a great tool for my roommates and I to use to pay each other our portions of rent or utilities.

 

Budgeting and Planning

My go to app for tracking my finances currently is, Mint by intuit. This app does a gorgeous job at not only displaying your bank account’s activity, but using algorithms to help determine if your spending each month is practical based on your income and savings plans. To help you get your finances on track, the app also analyzes categories based on the purchases that you’ve made to target areas of excess spending. These categories are divided into everything from entertainment to groceries, and they are identified by the point of sale. From here you can set up budgets for categories to ensure you’re not eating out too much or spending too much on clothing items. Being more actively aware of your spending is often the first step towards creating a budget and getting your finances on track — this app aims to make this often excruciating and eye-opening process simpler.

In addition to helping you track your spending, Mint also has a few unique features that set it apart from other apps with a similar purchase and make it the ultimate companion app to your mobile banking app. The app has a feature that allows you to round your last purchase to the nearest dollar; this added amount on your transaction goes directly into either your linked savings account or a rainy-day fund that’s accessible in a day’s notice. The app takes things one step further by acting as a hub for all your bills; for example, I’ve linked my student loan bills to the app so that it can remind me when a payment is due, which also allows me to submit my payment without ever having to log on my provider’s website. This same method can be applied to your mortgage, credit card, subscription or rent —  you name it. Mint makes juggling your bills a breeze.

Investing

I personally had little experience with investment banking and developing a portfolio. The STASH app takes the unknowing out of the equation and acts as a personalized broker. This app helps you to identify trending stocks and even allows you to focus your investments on areas of interest, such as tech, healthcare or automotive. In addition, they give you a $5 welcome fee to begin investing with as you start to build your portfolio. While the app doesn’t take out the gamble and no investments are surefire profits, STASH is a fantastic way for new investors to enter the game. If you’ve ever wondered what investing is all about, questioned if the NASDAQ is a space shuttle or simply want to manage your portfolio without the hassle of paying a percentage to your broker, this app might be worth considering.

Savings

It’s one thing to move money from your checking to your savings knowingly, but what if you could save even more money without having to actively think about it? That’s where Digit comes in, which links to your checking account and analyzes your spending habits to best determine a plan for discreetly saving. Without you knowing, Digit will pull a few bucks, or even cents, from your checking account and place it into an in-app savings account. The transactions will show up on your bank account, and when you want to access the funds, you simply ask it to withdrawal with no strings attached. I love using this app to help me save for something I want but don’t necessarily need — because a personal gift here and there is necessary — or to have some extra spending cash for a day trip. In about a month’s time, I typically have $30-$50 to grab that doesn’t impact my overall budget significantly.

The best part is that Digit is customizable. For example, let’s say you like to have at least $200 in your checking account always. Digit allows you to set restrictions that ensure you will never remove money from your account that would place your balance under $200. It’s looking out for you when you’re not even considering saving, which makes saving money for the joys in life a bit easier.

Pay with Your Phone

Thanks to advancements in chip technology and many brands altering their point of sales systems to be compatible, paying for things using only your cellphone is easier than ever. Features inherent to your smartphone allow you to turn your device into a virtual wallet. Apple Pay and Android Pay are amongst the most popular right now, enabling you to link your debit card to your phone and turn your device into a digital copy. Access to the card’s information and usage is then locked behind a selected code, or your fingerprint, via built-in scanners. These mobile transactions are often more secure than sliding your card into a foreign machine and are a more convenient option in common scenarios, such as leaving your wallet in your car while running inside to pay for gas — as I often find myself doing. Instead, I just swipe my card across the credit card reader and off I go. No need for cash or a card.

Going digital is a lot easier than you think, but it’s most important that you’re cautious about the applications you interact with and the security measures involved to protect your money and identity. Never download a foreign financial application without doing some research to determine if it’s reputable, and make sure you’re comfortable with the tech you’re embracing before entirely converting to it. There’s a learning curve to these apps, but when paired and tuned to your objectives, they can be an invaluable tool — pun intended. Get your finances on track and even take things a step further by allowing your phone to make money for you. The world is your oyster thanks to mobile finance apps.

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Adam Lansdell

Adam Lansdell

Adam Lansdell is a Grand Valley State University alumnus, and currently a Communications Specialist with M3 Group of Lansing. With a passion for all things creative it comes as no surprise that he’s also a musician, movie buff and graphic designer. Adam spends his down time biking, and spending too much of his personal income on concert tickets or vinyl records.

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