Modern technology has a way of making things easier. Once upon a time, if you wanted to open a savings account or get money-saving advice, it meant a trip into your local bank branch or a phone call with a financial advisor. 

Today, thanks to the latest apps, you don’t even need to turn on your computer. Instead, you can save money and budget simply using your smartphone or tablet. Technology has put savings at your fingertips. You can even download apps that save money for you by automatically putting amounts to one side.

Money-saving apps are big business in the UK. But with so many to choose from and so many different features, where is the best place to start?

What are money-saving apps? 

Money-saving apps are one of the latest tools for helping users grow their savings. App means application. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you will likely have dozens of these helpful tools on your device already. While some apps come built-in, others need to be downloaded either for free or for a charge. You can do this through the App Store or Google Play, which are also apps, and often come as standard depending on your device. 

Savings apps have been designed by third parties to help people save and budget. They have a range of features, and like any savings product, you’ll need to shop around and compare to find the right app for you.

How do money-saving apps work?

One of the most important things to be aware of when considering a money-saving app is that they require access to your bank account. This is known as open banking and was introduced in January 2018 to allow third parties to securely access data. 

Once you give the app permission to access your bank account, it’ll track your spending and assess your financial behaviour. Apps do this by using an algorithm to offer tailored advice based on your own data to help you save. This can include automatically moving into money savings.

While different money-saving apps have various tools, you can usually expect some of the following features:

  • Automatic saving – lets an app save your money automatically

  • Manual saving – enables you to save money whenever you want

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI), or an algorithm to work out how much you can save

  • A dashboard to display all your finances in one place; often a feature of budgeting apps rather than money-saving apps specifically, although some offer both

  • The ability to set savings targets and goals

  • The option to create savings pockets for specific purposes or invest your savings for the chance to make more money

  • Tailored money-saving and budgeting advice based on your financial situation and spending history

Naturally, this is just a selection of the features available across different money-saving and budgeting apps. 

Money-saving apps vs app-only banks

If you’re new to the world of money-saving apps, the sheer number and variety available might seem overwhelming. You might also get confused between money-saving apps and app-only banks. What’s the difference?

Money-saving apps

A money-saving app is a digital tool that uses an algorithm to work out how much you can afford to save and then put it aside. It also rounds up transactions to create a savings pot on your behalf, offers financial advice, and more.

App-only banking

App-only banks are a new wave of banks challenging more traditional high street alternatives and building societies. As you might expect from the name, app-only banks do not have a physical branch and exist entirely online.

App-only banks offer more than just money-saving tools, including a range of banking services. These include most things you could get from a high street bank, including current accounts, credit cards, and complete customer service. 

An example of an app-only bank is London based Starling Bank, which has now opened 1.7 million accounts and more than 256,000 small business accounts. Starling also launched the UK’s first app-only current account in 2017.

On the other hand, money-saving apps are not banks but rather digitals tools for saving money and budgeting. While big-name banks and building societies have launched their own apps to catch up, most money-saving apps are currently provided by third-party companies.

Best savings app

Do you want to track your spending or set savings targets? Are you looking for tailored budgeting advice or want to create savings pots for specific purposes? How about an income and expenditure dashboard with all your finances in one place? 

While many money-saving apps offer broadly similar services, several have unique features, so the best savings app for you depends on your particular needs. This means shopping around and comparing the apps that are competing for your savings. 

To help you make an informed decision, we’ve put together a profile of various leading money-saving apps from the UK. Since you can broadly divide the two types of apps into savings apps and budgeting apps, we’ve grouped apps into these categories below.

Money-saving apps

The name says it all. Money-saving apps are there to help you save. Let’s take a look at some of the leading apps on the market:

Plum saving app

Plum is an AI (Artificial Intelligence) based assistant to help you grow your savings. You’ll join more than 1 million customers when you download and start using this app. 

Plum links to your bank and uses its algorithm to work out how much you can afford to save based on your finances. Then it automatically puts that money aside. You can choose to put this money into a pocket that pays 0.25% interest. There’s also an option to invest your savings, although there are fees for this.    

Saga savings app

While Saga has been providing financial, medical, and care services to over 50s since 1951, their savings products are open to everyone. Saga savings accounts are also backed by their financial partner Goldman Sachs International Bank. This means any savings with Saga are protected by the Financial Services Conduct Scheme, which guarantees to refund savings up to £85,000 per person, per institution, if a bank closes. 

Saga is a safer option than many standalone app companies, which are not connected to central banks. While Saga offers an app, their service is more like app-based banking than a money-saving app. 

Chip savings app

This app calculates how much you can afford to save and sets that amount aside regularly. Saving can also be done manually. Chip customers save an average of £221 a month. You can get a 1.25% bonus on manual savings up to £2,000. 

Chip is free to download, but its auto-save feature costs £1.50 every 28 days. The Chip app can be linked to the budgeting app, Emma, allowing you to increase your savings and track your spending with these integrated apps. 

Moneybox

Whenever you use a debit card or credit card connected to Moneybox, the app rounds up your spending to the nearest pound. It sets the difference aside as savings or to use as an investment. This happens automatically and can steadily build a healthy amount of protection without you realising it. As well as this feature, you can also make manual savings deposits.

It’s important to note that money-saving apps work with the majority of bank accounts. Still, this can vary between app providers, so make sure you check before signing up. 

Budgeting apps

While money-saving apps are about growing savings, budgeting apps track your spending habits and identify where savings can be made. Here is a selection of popular budgeting apps currently available in the UK: 

Emma budgeting app

This app lets you track your spending across several accounts, analysing patterns and behaviours to work out where you could be saving. This can include identifying and cancelling costly subscriptions you no longer use. Emma monitors all your spending, but the emphasis is definitely on saving money. 

The app can also track cryptocurrency (virtual or digital money) investments. Emma is free but offers a paid subscription, Emma Pro, with extra features and cashback offers.

Cleo budgeting app

You can think of Cleo as a personal assistant for budgeting. As opposed to some other apps, which are more like easy-to-use financial tools, Cleo is a chatbot designed to answer questions and offer advice. 

Cleo uses Facebook Messenger. Questions about your spending could even be answered with a gif, catering for a younger, smartphone savvy audience. It’s not all fun and games, though, as Cleo’s advice is based on your actual transactions and spending. Cleo is free, but you’ll need to have Facebook Messenger to use the app. There’s also Cleo Plus, a paid-for version with additional tools and rewards.

Yolt budgeting app

A handy app for viewing all your bank accounts and credit cards in one place, Yolt lets you view all your transactions in a single, easy-to-understand dashboard. The big advantage of this is not having to log into multiple online accounts. Instead, you can see everything in one place, on one screen, at the touch of a button. 

You can also set budgets for specific purposes like travel or eating out and get data on your average spend on particular types of transactions. Buy too many shoes? Yolt will let you know. 

Are money-saving apps safe?

The answer to this depends on the provider of the particular app. Suppose the app is through a high street bank or building society in the UK. In that case, your savings are protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). This scheme guarantees to refund your money, up to £85,000 per person, per institution, if a regulated bank or building society goes bust. 

However, many money-saving apps are offered by third parties. Are they safe? While some are protected by the FSCS, some are not. Instead, the provider may have an electronic money licence, which instructs them to keep money in a separate protected account. If they go bust, your money will be safe. Whether third-party apps adhere to this is another matter, so you may want to check if they’re covered by the FSCS at the outset. 

Is a money-saving app right for me?

Choosing a savings account is about finding the product that best fits your particular needs and circumstances. Money-saving apps have become increasingly popular in recent years for several reasons. There are options to suit everyone, from those who struggle to put money aside to organised savers looking for convenience. A money-saving app could be ideal if you:

  • Find it difficult to save and would benefit from money being set aside automatically

  • Want a better idea of what you’re spending money on

  • Need tailored help and advice on growing your savings and budgeting 

If you have more questions about traditional savings accounts, read our savings FAQs for more advice. 

Top tips for using money-saving apps

  • Move autosaved cash into more lucrative savings accounts to increase your returns

  • Money-saving apps are ideal for growing your savings, but you may want to consider an app-only bank if you’re looking to do more than just save and want full digital banking access

  • Remember, money-saving apps are often less protected than traditional banks; some have FSCS protection, but several don’t

A final note on money-saving apps for the UK

Putting money to one side can be tricky, but it’s always worthwhile. Whether you’re saving up for something special or creating a fund for emergencies, every penny counts. 

Money-saving apps can take some of the work out of saving, making it easier with special tools at your fingertips. They even make it possible to save money automatically as you spend. There are many money-saving apps in the UK competing for your business. Look out for what matters most to you and choose the one that best fits your needs.


4 June 2021