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Spare change apps might be the savings hack you’ve been looking for

franckreporter/iStock
franckreporter/iStock

(NEW YORK) — Investing can certainly be a daunting experience. Whether you are saving for a home, for your retirement, or just want to grow your hard-earned money, it’s tough to know where to start.

Well, there’s something fairly new that investors are calling “spare change” or “fractional” investments, where you can contribute just a few dollars a month (or more if you like) and get an introductory experience to the world of stocks, bonds and more.

“We live in an environment, where a lot of people struggle to save or they don’t think that saving is possible because they don’t have large incomes,” Clever Girl Finance founder Bola Sokunbi tells ABC News’ Good Morning America. “So, those spare change apps and platforms help them create fractional savings, cents on the dollar.”

Some of the popular apps offering this service include Acorns and Stash.

Sokunbi founded Clever Girl Finance as a blog full of tips, courses and more empowering women to achieve financial success. She documented her own journey coming out of college and having no idea or background in finances and her story has earned the blog north of 160,000 followers on Instagram.

She believes spare change investments can be used to open doors and get young people interested in investing.

In time, these cents can also add up to a nice chunk of money.

Set it and forget it

The reason these investments can be great for someone fresh out of college is once they are set up, there’s really nothing you need to do but monitor your money.

Acorns, for example, asks you to deposit a small sum each month ($10, $20, $50, etc.) and then has you link your credit or debit cards so that for each transaction, it will round up to the next dollar and deposit that extra change into your account.

The app will also have you choose what type of investments you want, including conservative, moderate, or aggressive. So, if you’re not sold on the stock market, you can put your money more into government bonds and less volatile options, though the gains may also be smaller.

“The penny is actually valuable, especially when you give it time to accumulate,” Sokunbi said. “It also helps establish consistency with saving. Especially for a young person, early 20’s, or even a teenager, who just entered the workforce, this is a great way to save.”

Knowledge is power

Another nice side affect of using Acorns or Stash is you learn the basics of investing.

Acorns does a great job of defining what a stock portfolio, exchange traded funds and asset classes are. You also get to see the breakdown of where your money is going and how it is either rising or in some cases falling if the market is down and you chose aggressive investments.

Sokunbi believes that once you see the impact of saving and investing, you may become interested in larger investments through companies like Vanguard, Chase or other brokerage houses, whether you do the investing yourself or you hire someone else to do it for you.

In some cases, once you’re hooked on the impact of investing, you might designate a chunk of your income to saving in this way.

Both Acorns and Stash also have “learn” and “grow” sections within their apps and websites. In those sections, you’ll see stories like, “How Much Can I Expect to Pay in Taxes on My Investments?” and “Avoid the Biggest Mistakes Investors Make When the Market Drops” written by media partners collaborating with the apps.

Pricing pitfalls

One of the downsides to these investments is the pricing, if you don’t save enough.

For Acorns, they charge $1 a month for the core investment, $2 a month for the core and later tier, and $3 for the top tier. For this article, let’s just say you choose the basic, core, tier.

Stash charges $1 a month and .25 percent on balances over $5,000.

If you only deposit and invest say $10 a month from your roundups and your monthly deposit, that’s a 10 percent charge, which is pretty hefty.

But in the end, we are talking about saving and investing for someone who otherwise wouldn’t do so and it’s still just a dollar.

Don’t start picking out your own private island just yet

While you may end up with a nice chunk of change at the end of six months, two years or more, Sokunbi says people need to look at these investing products as entry tools mostly.

So, if you plan to deposit $20 a month and link one credit card to Acorns, that’s not gonna cut it for retirement. Acorns does have a “later” section, which includes financial vehicles like a Roth IRA, but for this discussion, we’re just including the core portion of the app. Plus, that still will require investing more funds each month.

“If you can see your money build fractionally with just pennies on the dollar, imagine what you could do if you put intention towards it,” Sokunbi said. “If you plan around that.”

As a gateway into bigger investments, she asks instead of saving a few cents every time, what if you instead invested $5 at a time.

The Clever Girl Finance Instagram page is filled with helpful tips to get more out of your money through simple actions like bringing your lunch to work or brewing your own coffee. These transactions add up and if invested, they could mean big money in 10, 20 or 30 years.

Time — the only resource you can’t get back

The biggest takeaway from using and trying out small-scale investing is do it now, when you’re young.

The market will go up and down, but over time, if you continue to contribute and save, your money should accumulate and compound.

“Time is your greatest asset, but health is your second greatest asset, you need to be able to go out and work and earn that income so you can invest it and give it that time to grow,” Sokunbi added.

All-in-all, “spare change” investments are a really easy way to dip your toe into and learn about investing. This doesn’t mean you should ditch your 401(k) or cancel your retirement plans just yet, as a small contribution each month won’t set you up for life.

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