Technology has reached a tipping point in being able to generate wealth for you, while saving you time.  There are a variety of free or low-cost apps that can generate wealth for you, by analyzing data, finding opportunities to save and invest, and doing all the grunt work that comes with that.  

More importantly, they can do things we do not have the time or energy to do, which can accelerate our wealth-building, while giving us more time to do the things we love.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in.

1.  Robots can take on the burden of investing (and give you days of your life back).

There are several apps and products that are known as Robo-Advisors that will auto-invest in the market (mainly stocks and bonds) based on your preferences, and do so at a discount of up to 80% of traditional investment fees.

For example, two popular Robo-Advisors – Wealthfront and Betterment – only charge 0.25% of your investment, compared to the traditional 1-2% charged by traditional banks.

So, is this a good option for you?  And what are the advantages and disadvantages?  Let’s answer those questions by taking a deeper look at the 2 most popular services.

Both Wealthfront and Betterment charge 0.25% of your invested amount, so if you are setting aside a couple hundred bucks a month your annual cost amounts to one Starbucks drink a year ($200 * 0.25% * 12 months = $6 a year).

But what about the returns on this investment?  As the InvestorJunkie points out, both of these services have a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, with Wealthfront offering a bit more diversification with investments in 2 additional sectors – real estate and natural resources.

The other factor to consider is whether you want access to human advisors, which is especially helpful for older clients who need more hands on retirement planning or have a broader, more complex portfolio.

If this human advice is important, then Betterment is a good fit, as they provide this access for an incremental fee, while Wealthfront does not have this option.

The final factor to consider is the minimum investment required.  Wealthfront requires a $500 deposit while Betterment does not have a minimum, though for most investors this is not a differentiator in the long term.

So, aside from the differences in minimum deposit and optional access to human advisors, both Betterment and Wealthfront are good options to test out.  Since they only charge a percentage based on your investment, you could split your investment into both (remember Betterment does not have a minimum), and see which one you prefer without incurring extra costs.

2.  Robots can help you build good habits

I have always been fascinated by how habits are formed and broken, and the Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg does a great job breaking down the science of building habits.

One way to jump-start building good financial habits is to reduce the difficulty involved, by taking some of the work out of the equation. Here are two tools that help you do just that, and in turn help you build good financial habits.

The first tool is Digit, and as their website says it “analyzes your spending and automatically saves the perfect amount every day, so you don’t have to think about it.”

So how does it do this?

Digit identifies your purchase patterns by analyzing your checking account and uses its insights from having done a similar analysis on millions of transactions and customers to identify how much you can safely save each month and then puts that amount away for you.

Importantly, the value compounds as they give you a 1% bonus every 3 months on your average savings, which can be 10 times the amount of interest you would get from a traditional bank.

This bonus is critical to building good habits, as the book “The Power Of Habit” notes that every habit consists of a cue, an action, and a reward. And the reward is essential to sustaining a habit.

3. You can have best of both worlds — auto-saving and auto-investing

I remember being a kid and fishing for loose change in the sofa. Funny enough, even in the digital economy, loose change is still a problem as Americans lose $62 million of loose change each year.

That said, most of us use credit cards, debit cards, and checking accounts to pay for the majority of our purchases.

And this is where Acorns comes in. It scrounges for digital change, saves it for you, and then invests it on your behalf.

Here’s how it works.

For every digital transaction (e.g., credit card purchase), it rounds up the change to the nearest dollar and uses this round-up to invest on your behalf. So, when you pay $5.41 for a latte, it takes $0.59 (rounding up your transaction to $6) and puts it in your Acorns account to invest.

This is compounding building good habits as it builds a habit of both saving and investing simultaneously. On top of that, it is saving you the time required to monitor the market on a daily basis and continually allocate funds to your investments.

However, one important distinction of Acorns, compared to robo-investing apps like Betterment, is that it has a flat cost of $1/month (for balances under $5000). Given this fixed monthly cost, you want to make sure your savings that is going to Acorns is at least $100/month so that your fee is less than 1% ($1 monthly cost / $100 = 1%).

One important note is that if you are a student (.edu email address required), the fees are waived, and then this becomes a no-brainer, as the app becomes 100% free.

For everyone else, let’s see if this is a fit for you based on some rough math:

In my case, I have about 80 digital transactions a month, and with an average round-up of $0.50 that means $40 is deposited into my Acorns account each month. So I would have to deposit an additional $60/month in my Acorns account to ensure I hit the $100 monthly savings mark, and thus am only paying 1% of my investments as a fee.

The beauty of this model is that about half of my goal is achieved simply by round-ups when I do everyday things like going to Starbucks and auto-paying my Netflix bill. And this solves one of the biggest hurdles of investing — the cognitive overhead and mental energy to dedicate time to allocate funds to your investments.

The other element that makes this a significant boon is you do not have to actively manage your investments.

Instead, Acorns, similar to other Robo-Advisers mentioned above, will invest on your behalf based on your personal preferences and goals.

4. Robots can fight (For You!)

Cable, TV, and Internet bills pile up in a significant way, with many Americans paying over $3,000/year for these services.

Here is where Trim comes in. First you connect to it via SMS/Text or Facebook Messenger and authorize it to look at your banking transactions. Then it goes and fights to lower your bills by directly negotiating with Comcast, AT&T, and other providers.

The app is free, and they make their money by taking 25% of the first-year savings they generate from re-negotiating lower fees on your bills.

They also help in two other ways, for free – in helping you cancel subscriptions and finding you cheaper car insurance.

When it comes to subscriptions, it is astounding to know that the average American household spends over $800/month on subscriptions and over $1000/year is wasted on subscriptions that are not utilized enough to justify the cost.

Subscription companies make it difficult to cancel, and Trim makes this easy. Trim will show you all your subscriptions and you can simply to tell the app to cancel the ones you don’t need and it will do all the work for you – including emailing, calling, or sending certified mail to ensure you put more money in your pocket.

Finally, Trim can also look at your car insurance bill, and after asking you a couple questions, check for cheaper options and share them with you.

5. Robots can find a needle in a haystack

If you are more interested in data and analytics on how you spend, save, and invest, but do not want to automate any of those activities, then Empower is a good fit, as it describes itself as a “Finance app that watches over your money 24/7. That helps you make smart financial decisions, save, build credit, and get ahead.”

Empower is the digital equivalent of having your own financial assistant to help you understand your financial habits and status over time, without having to spend hours looking over financial statements and spreadsheets.