The numbers on who is saving money in America — or more commonly, who isn’t — may shock you.
According to a survey by Bankrate, 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. The survey unfortunately reports that 50% of Americans have less than a 3-month cushion in their savings account and 27% have no savings account whatsoever.
But it doesn’t end there.
One in five people near retirement age has absolutely nothing saved for retirement, according to the Washington Post.
A helpful infographic by Money Under 30 reveals that a whopping 60% of 20-somethings save 5% or less of their monthly income, with a portion saving nothing at all.
It’s not easy to save. You’re dealing with student loan debt, not making enough money, trying to pay down other debts, paying other expenses and bills… the reasons people don’t save money — some good, some bad — can go on forever.
But if you’ve tried beefing up your savings account by finding ways to save money or earning extra money to stash away, and still haven’t been able to meet your goal, try turning to technology.
And while 76% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, 71% use Facebook, according to Pew Research. And research also shows that 61% of adults have a smartphone.
So why not put that technology to good use and start using it to grow your savings account?
Here are some ways technology can help you save money:
Bank of America’s ‘Keep the Change’ Savings Program
If you’re one of Bank of America’s 48 million customers — not bad odds — you can sign up for this automatic savings program. Here’s how it works: When you make a purchase with your debit card, it will automatically round up the purchase up to the nearest dollar and add the the difference to savings account. So, for example, if you purchase a coffee for $2.50, your card will get charged $3.00 — $2.50 will go to the coffee shop, and the extra 50 cents will be deposited into your savings account. You need to have a checking account, debit card, and savings account with Bank of America.
This is a quick and relatively painless way to start saving extra money. Just be careful not to get carried away “saving” by spending more than you ordinarily would.
To learn more about the program or to sign up, visit Bank of America’s website.
If you’re saving for a longer-term goal — like for college, or retirement — you might want to take that loose change and invest it instead.
The new Acorns app operates on the same principle as Bank of America’s Keep the Change program, but instead it rounds up your transactions and invests the difference in a mix of low-cost, exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
There are no commissions or minimum balances, and the fees are fairly low: $1/month, with an expense ratio of 0.25%-0.5%, or $2.50-$5.00 for every $1,000 invested. (By comparison, most online brokers charge $7-$10 per transaction, and the expense ratios of managed mutual funds are typically around or above 1%.)
Just by making everyday purchases, you can start to take advantage of compounding growth to add to your retirement savings. And the small but steady contributions are similar to a dollar-cost averaging approach: Without having to think about it, you’ll naturally buy fewer shares when the market is expensive, and buy more when stocks are cheap.
Use a Budgeting App
There are many useful apps for your smartphone or tablet that can help you start saving more money. Create a budget that includes savings each month, track your spending to see what you can cut to put towards savings, and track your progress. New budgeting and savings apps are constantly being introduced and changing, but here are some good ones to get you started:
Level Money: Enter your income, set your expenses, and how much you want to save every month, and the app will tell you how much you can spend each day. If you end up under budget that month, your savings can get an added boost.
Savings Goals: Set goals for whatever you’d like to save for. Enter a target date and the amount of money you want to save. You can then calculate how much you need to save per week or month to reach your goal, create a “savings schedule,” and keep track of your progress. If you don’t have an exact date, you can calculate when you’ll reach your goal with the amount of money you’re saving.
Pocket Expense Personal Finance: Enter your financial accounts to track your spending. You can then set up budgets and set a specific savings amount you want to save each month.
LearnVest: Track your savings and spending, create a budget, and set the savings goals you want to work towards.
iSpending Expense Tracker: This app allows you to input your income and track your spending in specific categories such as food or entertainment. You can check out your summary for the day, week, month, or year.
Apps that track your spending, such as iSpending, can provided a much-needed “wake-up call.” If you realize you’re spending way too much money on clothes, or much more than you thought at restaurants, it can spark you to change those specific habits and start putting more toward savings.
Goodbudget: Have you heard of the envelope budgeting system? It’s where you create an itemized budget, put the allotted amount for each category into envelopes marked “groceries,” “gas,” “entertainment,” and so on, and spend only what’s in the envelopes. Goodbudget is the technologically advanced version of the same system: You can create “envelopes” and check the balance of each one. Besides creating your budget, you can also share it with your partner so you can start saving together.
Download Your Bank’s Mobile App
Most banks have an app that is a great tool for keeping track of your accounts and increasing your savings.
Most mobile banking apps allow you to easily transfer money from your checking account to your savings account. Whenever you have extra money in your checking account, with a few simple clicks you can stash it into your savings account. This technology is especially ideal for those of us who don’t always have a big chunk to deposit to savings. You probably wouldn’t get in the car and drive to your bank to transfer $10 into your savings account. But with a banking app, it’s easy to move the money — even late at night or on a Sunday morning — and it adds up.
It’s also a great tool to help you start saving with the “Snowflake” strategy. In How to Use the Snowflake Strategy for Debt Repayment, the author explains how you can start chipping away at debt with “snowflakes.” For example, if you usually spend $5 on lunch, but one day you eat leftovers instead, you should then take that $5 and immediately apply it to debt.
In this case, if you’re trying to increase your savings account, use the snowflake method to immediately deposit it into your savings account.
Some banks, such as Chase, Bank of America, and U.S. Bank, have a convenient app feature that allows you to take a photo of a check to deposit it directly into your account. As long as you have a savings account, you can deposit a check directly into your savings account from your smartphone. So anytime you get a small, unexpected check — say as a gift, rebate, or credit — consider just instantly depositing it straight into your savings.
Create an Account With Mint.com
Mint pulls all of your financial accounts into one place – checking, savings, credit cards, auto loans, mortgage, student loans, investments, and other accounts. It then automatically categorizes your spending and purchases.
So how does this help grow your savings account? Well, a few ways actually.
First, the program allows you to create a goal with a specific amount of money you want to save in a certain amount of time. You then can keep track of your success and receive emails tracking your progress.
Second, the program analyzes your spending and your accounts to try to save you money. Based on your spending behavior, Mint can tell you if a better bank account or credit card would save you money.
There are plenty of other features that will help your finances and increase your savings. You can receive bill reminders via text message to avoid late fees, create and monitor your budget, and keep better track of all your financial accounts in one place.
Learn more at Mint.com.
Set Up a Recurring Transfer
If you’ve got your checking account and savings account at the same bank, you’re most likely able to create a recurring transfer every month. Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) is just one great example of a banking service that allows you to automatically “make payments” to your savings account.
Chase offers a similar automatic savings program. Simply click “Start Saving Now,” select your accounts and the amount you want to save, choose “Repeating” and how often you want to save, and let the savings add up.
Citibank offers the same program as Chase, and allows you to change your frequency and amount anytime.
Consider picking a day every month to automatically deposit money into your savings account from your checking. If you receive direct deposit from your employer, consider choosing that day to transfer some of your check into savings. You’ll want to be certain you have enough funds in your checking account, though — especially if you have auto-debit set up to pay other bills from your checking account.
Ask Payroll to Transfer to Your Savings
Chances are, your company doesn’t just hand you a paycheck, but automatically deposits your pay into your bank account. Use their technological advances to add to your savings account.
If you receive direct deposit, talk to your HR department about splitting a portion of the deposit into a savings account instead of dumping all of it directly into your checking account. Calculate how much you’re able to save from each check — either a fixed amount or percentage of your pay — and have payroll deposit that portion directly into your savings account. An added benefit to this is that you never see the money in your checking account, which can make it easier not to spend it.
Deposit Credit Card Rewards Into Savings
Generally speaking, using credit cards and increasing your savings account don’t go hand in hand. However, if you don’t have credit card debt and can be strict with your usage, you may actually be able to use a credit card to save.
Step 1: Eliminate any credit card debt. If you’re carrying a balance and paying interest on it, using a credit card to increase your savings account really doesn’t work. If you don’t have any credit card debt, proceed to Step 2.
Step 2: If you don’t have credit card debt or issues with credit cards, consider opting for a card that offers cash back rewards.
Step 3: Use the cash back rewards card to pay for everyday purchases that you’re already paying for anyways, such as your cable bill, cell phone bill, and groceries. Resist the urge to make extra purchases just because you’re now using a rewards credit card, as this will only drain your savings, not add to it.
Step 4: Monitor your credit account through their app or website. Use their app to track your spending so you’re keeping your budget on track. Checking the app often is also a great way to avoid late fees and to spot any fraudulent charges. Pay off the balance in full each month to avoid any added interest and accruing debt from the card.
Step 5: You’ll then receive a check for your rewards bonus once you cash out. Once you receive the check, deposit it directly into your savings account using your mobile banking app.