The 16 Best Apps for Saving Money in College
- Saving money in college allows you to pay for big expenses and minimize debt.
- Money management apps teach you how to create and stick to a budget.
- With money-saving apps, you'll find the best prices on groceries, gas, and airfare.
- You'll also develop healthy financial habits, like setting goals and investing money.
To effectively handle the mounting costs of higher education, all students should develop a high level of financial literacy. Smart money management lets you minimize post-graduation debt, while simultaneously saving funds for outings with friends and that study abroad trip.
This guide provides a list of 16 mobile applications to help you create a budget and save money in college. We also give you personal finance tips and useful money management resources.
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Top Money Management and Budget Apps
Budgeting can prove challenging for college students. Many young adults have never needed to analyze and set limits on their spending before. Fortunately, many free and low-cost apps let users track their expenditures across multiple credit cards, bank accounts, and investments.
This section introduces nine of the best money management apps, providing details on function and interface to help you pick the tool that best suits your needs and habits.
Created by Intuit, Mint offers tools and advice to help you make smart, data-supported financial decisions. This app aggregates your credit card, checking, savings, and investment accounts, presenting all of this information on one page so you can get the full picture of your financial life.
Mint also provides free credit reports and tips on how to build a good score or recover from a bad one. Additionally, the app lets you compare credit cards, investment portfolios, and bank loans.
The Personal Capital app enables you to monitor your banking accounts, credit card transactions, and investment returns in real time. You can also set reminders for upcoming bills and request reports of spending habits on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.
One of Personal Capital's unique features is its retirement planner. This comprehensive calculator lets you run different life scenarios so you can create a personalized spending plan showing how much you can afford each month.
Similar to the two apps above, PocketGuard allows you to connect your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. The more accounts you link, the more effective the app's tools are. With this app, you can analyze your spending habits, identify areas where you can save money, and set reminders for upcoming bills.
The "In My Pocket" feature is what sets PocketGuard apart from its competitors. By using an innovative algorithm that considers factors like annual income, ongoing expenses, and savings contributions, the app can accurately calculate how much money you've got left for daily spending.
A premier money budget app, Acorns makes the investing process so intuitive and convenient that it now boasts more than 7 million users. This app works by automatically rounding up the purchases you make through linked accounts; it then uses this spare change to grow optimized portfolios, which it monitors using modern investment theory.
Additional features include recurring deposits, special savings accounts, and a variety of articles on topics like high-demand jobs and the current state of mortgage rates. To use Acorns, you must sign up for a $1, $3, or $5 monthly product bundle.
You Need a Budget (YNAB) uses a proactive system that focuses on changing future spending through planning and prioritization. You'll assign every dollar a job and identify all of your expenses so you can figure out where you need to spend less, where to spend more, and how to accrue savings.
After trying YNAB for free for 34 days, you can sign up for either a $12/month or $84/year subscription.
Spendee possesses all of the conventional features of a money management app, letting you sync accounts to track your spending and set up bill reminders. The app also boasts some unique tools, including a real-time currency converter and an e-wallet that allows you to link digital payment methods and cryptocurrency investments.
You can stick with the free version or pay for either the Spendee Plus ($15/year) or Spendee Premium ($23/year) upgrades.
Dollarbird eschews the automatic tracking feature of other money budget apps and instead requires you to manually add your transactions to a calendar so you can evaluate your spending on a daily, monthly, and even yearly basis. As a cloud-based software, Dollarbird lets you share your financial calendar with colleagues and loved ones; however, the sharing feature is only available if you pay for a pro ($40/year) or business subscription.
Created by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey, EveryDollar takes a baby-steps approach to tracking and saving money. Users assign each dollar to one of eight categories or a savings account to analyze their spending over time, and can make adjustments to keep themselves on track toward achieving their goals.
If you want EveryDollar to automatically input transactions or connect to your credit card and/or bank accounts, you'll have to pay a $99 annual fee.
In addition to helping you create a budget and track your spending habits, Qapital rounds up every transaction you make to the nearest $2 and funnels those funds into an FDIC-insured account. Alternatively, you can use that money to grow a goal-based ETF investment portfolio, allowing you to save money for a big purchase or expense.
You can pay $3/month for the basic version of the app or opt for a premium subscription at $6/month or $12/month.
Best Money-Saving Apps
Below, we explore seven of the best money-saving apps for college students with regard to functionality and popularity. Each app serves a different purpose, such as helping you find the lowest prices on goods and services, earn cash back for buying essentials, or safely sell and trade with people in your community.
Honey is a free browser extension that automatically searches for the best prices of goods and services on more than 300,000 websites, including Sephora, J.Crew, and Amazon. By clicking on the Honey button at the top right corner of the browser, you can take advantage of available coupons and promo codes.
The extension can monitor price reductions on various items through its droplist function. If you frequently shop on Amazon, you can also use Honey to compare prices from different merchants.
Launched as a website in 2008, Groupon also operates as a money-saving app that helps you pay up to 70% less on goods and services. With this app, you can search for coupons and promo codes by keyword and/or category.
Groupon also maintains a deal-of-the-day section, where you can find exceptional deals on electronics, airfare, and vacation packages. By being strategic with your purchases, you can earn cash back or Groupon Bucks — a points-based reward system — by spending money at specific retailers and local restaurants.
The OfferUp app enables you to buy from and sell to people in your community. You can browse by category or search for specific items using keywords before messaging the seller with an offer or any questions you may have.
OfferUp prioritzes trust and safety, requiring users to confirm their identity with an email, phone number, or Facebook account, as well as displaying transaction history, ratings, and reward badges on all users' profiles. Designated meet-up spots allow you to meet other users in well-lit and surveilled locations.
With this money-saving app, you can search for the best gas prices by location and by using additional criteria like fuel type, payment method, and station brand. GasBuddy also helps you plan road trips by calculating the total cost of fuel for your journey and tracking nearby stations for outages.
You can save even more money — up to 25 cents per gallon on gas — by signing up for the free debit-style card. The app also offers a GasBack rewards program that lets you earn points toward your next fill-up for everyday purchases.
Ibotta is a digital alternative to the paper coupon that lets you earn cash back and other rewards for purchases you make in stores and online at over 300 retailers, including Costco, Family Dollar, Amazon, Whole Foods, Gelson's, and Walmart. After saving the offers to your phone and making the purchases, all you need to do is scan the receipt to earn your cash.
You can also link royalty programs from partnering retailers to the Ibotta app to automatically earn rewards without having to manually upload receipts.
Created by Capital One, Paribus is a money-saving app that monitors the prices of merchandise from over 25 retailers, including Amazon, Best Buy, and Home Depot. All you need to do is shop online as usual, and Paribus will notify you when the price of an item you bought drops. The app will then get a refund of the difference.
In addition to prices, Paribus tracks your shipments to help you get compensation for late deliveries. You can also use the app to learn about a retailer's specific return policy.
Initially launched as a website in 1998, Coupons.com is now a popular money-saving app that's compatible with both Android and Apple devices. Staying true to its roots, Coupons.com offers printable discounts, which are searchable by item type (like pet care, household, and office and electronics) and brand. You can also access digital coupons for specific stores and cashback rewards.
Finally, this handy app lets you save money with coupon codes categorized by seasonal events that include Halloween, Black Friday, and winter holidays.
Top 10 Personal Finance Tips for College Students
Many college students find establishing a personal financial plan daunting because they must contend with multiple moving parts. Here, we make the process easier by offering practical tips you can apply immediately. You'll learn how to develop healthy spending habits so you can achieve long-term goals, build credit, and set aside funds for a rainy day.
Create a Budget
Creating a budget is a crucial life skill you should start developing now when your financial responsibilities are relatively straightforward. A budget lets you see where all your money goes, allowing you to locate areas of spending that could be reduced. Those worried about security issues related to money management apps can instead personalize a spreadsheet from readily available templates.
Develop Healthy Financial Habits
To create the life you want without the burden of exponentially growing debt, you'll need to learn healthy financial habits, such as how to invest properly or create an emergency fund.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), strengthening any good habit requires making a plan with incremental steps that lead toward achieving reasonable goals. NIH also recommends closely monitoring your progress so you can stay on track and reward yourself for small victories.
Setting attainable goals can motivate you to pursue actionable behaviors that create the future you want. You'll build momentum by reaching these checkpoints because your brain will start releasing dopamine as a reward for success. A goal can also be a focusing tool that allows you to gain insight into your beliefs, values, strengths, and weaknesses based on what actions you take and avoid.
Make a Savings Account
With a savings account, you can put money away for any reason, whether it's for a rainy day, a new laptop, or a down payment on the house of your dreams. Though the annual percentage yield is small — usually less than 2% — savings accounts do grow your funds over time, all while keeping your money safe.
Money management apps like Acorns and EveryDollar contain functions that will automatically allocate a designated amount of money from your checking account and/or paychecks to be put toward your savings.
You build credit by wisely using your own credit card or a credit card authorized by your parent(s). These good decisions amount to a three-digit score that institutions like banks use to gauge your financial dependability. A credit score not only affects whether you qualify for a loan and at what rate, but also comes into play when you want to rent an apartment or get a job.
Apply for Scholarships
According to the College Board, the average undergraduate borrowed $29,000 in loans in 2017-18 to pay for their bachelor's degree. To avoid burdening yourself with interest-accruing debt, you should apply for as much financial aid as you can, focusing specifically on grants and scholarships.
Because programs that offer large rewards tend to attract a huge number of applicants, you should also seek out smaller scholarships other students might overlook.
Explore Living Situations
After your first year, when you'll probably be required to live with other freshmen, you will have several options for accommodations, including fraternity/sorority housing and nearby apartments. While living off campus often sounds more appealing to students, university dorms and suites might actually cost less after factoring in your location and the typical costs of things like utilities and transportation.
Minimize Food Costs
A recent article published in The Hechinger Report found that the average college student pays $4,500 for three campus meals over an academic year, or about $19 a day. You can greatly reduce the cost of food by buying your own groceries. Sites like Budget Bytes provide guides on how to prepare cost-effective meals and cater to a wide array of food preferences and restrictions.
Don't Make Impulsive or Unnecessary Purchases
Heightened emotional states — usually attributed to stress — and the lure of a good deal are the main reasons people impulse buy. The key to unlearning this behavior is to stick to a reasonable budget and keep your long-term goals clearly in mind.
Additional tips include restricting social media engagement, waiting at least a day before making a purchase, and asking friends to hold you accountable for unhealthy spending habits.
Invest Extra Money
Besides growing a savings account, you should carefully invest extra money after learning the basics about market conditions and how fees can affect your returns. The tax-free nature of Roth IRAs make them a popular option for college students with incomes. Money management apps like Acorns and Qapital make investing easy with their robo-advisor features.
Additional Resources to Help You Save Money in College
Your financial plan is only useful if the knowledge and methods you wield evolve alongside your changing mindset, habits, and goals. The resources below will help you understand the complex processes involved in taking out loans, using credit cards, and making investments. They'll also provide guides on topics like finding cheap flights and accommodations and how to prepare tasty, budget-friendly meals.
Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.
Feature Image: Moyo Studio / E+ / Getty Images