Saving money can be difficult at the best of times, but it’s an excellent habit to adopt if you want the proverbial ‘something for a rainy day’.
While willpower alone isn’t often enough, there are now apps that can not only encourage you to put a little away when you can, but in some cases automatically do it for you. We take a look at the growing area of smart financial assistants that can help you save money.
What is a smart financial assistant?
When it comes to financial matters, it’s always been wealthier people who have had accountants and financial advisors that look at how their clients’ money is working and then make suggestions to help it grow.
Well, now these services are available to anyone with a phone, as the likes of Plum, Cleo, Trim and others can help you manage your finances, create some savings and even start investing in the stock market, all for free or close to it.
How does a savings bot work?
These apps analyse your spending, be it on purchases or monthly bills, then give you guidance on how to save money through cancelling subscriptions, changing service providers or any other metrics they find. Some can even round-up the purchases you make in shops and deposit the change in a savings account.
For example, if you pop to the local supermarket to buy a few essentials, with the total coming to £15.25, then £0.75 will be allocated to your savings. It doesn’t sound like much but think about how many times you pay for items throughout the month and you’ll see that it can soon add up.
The normal method is that the apps will look at your finances, estimate what you can afford to save without it hampering your lifestyle, then move that money at regular intervals to your savings account.
You can set the levels of savings, so you always retain control, and the money remains constantly available to you so there’s no need to wait days or longer to access your savings.
Of course, in order to have these capabilities, the apps need to be linked to your bank account. While this sounds scary it’s all done with high-grade encryption, with the apps usually accessing bank servers to access your details rather than storing them on their own servers.
All of the most popular savings bots are regulated by prominent financial bodies, but of course, you may want to research further before signing up. Any service that can access your bank account needs to be 100% trustworthy.
Which are the most popular savings apps?
There are a number of ‘AIs’ now available, including
Chip. These do most of what we’ve outlined above, with some fine tuning to give each one its own personality.
Plum, for example, offers a clean interface which shows your linked accounts, upcoming bills, suggestions of how to save money by cancelling direct debits or switching providers, alongside easy-to-understand controls for managing your account.
If you move up to one of the paid tiers, which currently cost £1p/m for Plus and £2.99p/m for Pro (Plum isn’t available in the US yet), then you can also make us of the Pockets feature. This allows you to separate your savings into different pots, say Holiday and New Car, plus there is also a section for investments, if you choose to make use of the facility, which you can split between various portfolios.
These include Clean & Green (for ethical investments), Rising Stars (up and coming companies) or a range of others. The idea is that you set the levels of risk and reward for each pot of money you want to invest and then move the finances around depending on your circumstances.
Plum also offers the ability to ‘Gamify your savings’ via a variety of challenges designed to make saving more fun.
By contrast, Trim is a great financial assistant app focused on the US market, which uses Facebook Messenger or SMS texts to communicate with you. Once set up, its looks at your account, identifies potential areas where you can make savings, then can even negotiate with the likes of Comcast, Time Warner and others to lower your monthly bills. There are no charges for using Trim, but it does take a third of all savings it makes you, which sounds pretty fair to us.
Martyn has been involved with tech ever since the arrival of his ZX Spectrum back in the early 80s. He covers iOS, Android, Windows and macOS, writing tutorials, buying guides and reviews for Macworld and its sister site Tech Advisor.