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5 Apps That Make Saving Money a Breeze

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Whether you’re an impulsive spender or you just need help budgeting for goals, it can be difficult to manage your savings. But with the advent of FinTech, there have come digital solutions that make saving money easier than ever.  If you want to get your finances in order, these apps will help whip your savings into shape. And dare we suggest, they’re even kind of fun.

1. DIGIT

WHAT IT DOES: Finds extra cash in your budget and saves it automatically 

HOW IT WORKS: Digit is a smart savings app, meaning it analyzes your account balances, spending history, and upcoming bills to calculate how much you can afford to save every few days. If it thinks you can afford to sock away some extra cash, it’ll automatically transfer it into your Digit account, where you can withdraw the funds at any time. 

It’s available as a web and iPhone app, but you don’t need to download the app to your phone in order to use it. You sign up for an account online, link it to your checking account, and Digit will start looking for ways to save. From there, it works with your phone’s SMS. You simply text commands to Digit’s phone number, like "withdraw," "save more," or "save less." You can do this from the web app, too. You don’t have to worry about overdrafting your account, either: Digit’s algorithms are designed to keep that from happening, and if somehow it does, they’ll reimburse your fee. 

WHO IT'S FOR: If you’re the type of person who spends money when you know it’s there, Digit will keep you from doing this. You can’t use your Digit account to make purchases, and while it’s easy enough to move the cash back into your bank account, that extra step is a great buffer to prevent impulsive spending. 

SECURITY: Digit uses bank-level security that encrypts and protects your information. According to its founder, Ethan Bloch, they don't store your bank login and password. While they do store your account number, they use asymmetric cryptography to keep that information safe. 

2. QAPITAL

WHAT IT DOES: Uses actions to trigger automatic savings into a goal account 

HOW IT WORKS: Qapital is sort of like the banking version of the web tool IFTTT: You set up certain rules for actions. When those actions are completed, that triggers Qapital to add cash to your savings. For example, you can make a rule rounding up all of your change. Or you can set a rule to save money any time you spend on a guilty pleasure. You could also just set a rule to save a fixed amount daily, weekly, or monthly.

The app is available via iOS and Android. Once you download it and register, you set a goal, then you set rules for saving for those goals. You can invite friends to share your goal, too. The app comes with some other rule suggestions for funding your goals, such as:

Freelancer Rule: Set aside 30 percent for Tax Day every time you get paid.

52 Week Rule: Save $1 during Week 1, $2 for Week 2, and so on for every week of the year.

Apple Health Rule: Connect the app to your phone’s fitness data, and save every time you hit a fitness target.

Even better, you can connect the app to IFTTT, and make your rule possibilities practically endless.

WHO IT'S FOR: If you’re a fan of automation, you’ll love Qapital. It allows you to reach multiple savings goals or set money aside for taxes and other expenses automatically, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time managing your day-to-day budgeting.

SECURITY: They use the strongest 128-bit encryption possible, which meets bank standards. They are also FDIC-insured for up to $250,000.

3. TIP YOURSELF

WHAT IT DOES: Helps you save extra cash and make progress on other goals

HOW IT WORKS: Like Digit, Tip Yourself is an online savings account that saves money directly from your checking account. However, Tip Yourself allows you to save your own specific dollar amounts and it’s designed to help you reach your goals using a financial incentive. For example, every time you work out, you can “tip yourself” five bucks. Before you know it, you’ve saved up enough for a fun weekend getaway—and you’ve reached your goal to get in shape! Essentially, it’s a goal-tracking and savings app in one. 

You have to download the app to use it (it’s currently only available on iOS), and from there, you keep track of your goal progress and your balance. When you’re ready to withdraw, you can do it straight from the app. 

WHO IT'S FOR: According to co-founder Mike Lenz, “Tip Yourself is perfect for anyone looking for a fun way to motivate themselves while saving money in the process.” They also have an engaging, fun online community to offer encouragement and support. If you’re not into that, though, you can opt out.

SECURITY: According to their privacy policy, they “use industry standard physical, technical and administrative security measures and safeguards to protect the confidentiality and security of your personal information.” Specifically, they use 256-bit SSL encryption, and they don’t store your info on your phone. 

4. ACORNS

WHAT IT DOES:  Automatically invests your spare change

HOW IT WORKS: Acorns is available as a web app, iPhone app, or Android app, and it’s designed to make investing less intimidating. After connecting to your bank account, Acorns rounds up the cost of your purchases and saves the difference in a separate Acorns account, where it eventually invests your money into low-cost exchange traded funds (ETFs). You can also deposit and withdraw your money at any time. The app helps you set up an investment portfolio, too, based on your goals. For most users, it does cost money to invest with the app: $1 per month for accounts under $5000 and 0.25 percent a year for accounts over $5000. (But it’s free if you’re a student or under 24.)

Your Acorns account is like any other taxable investment account, meaning you’ll get a statement at the end of the year. If you had any gains, you’ll pay taxes on that amount.

WHO IT'S FOR: If you’re scared of investing and don’t know where to start—or just don’t think you have enough money to start—Acorns is a great way to get your feet wet. ETFs are generally considered steady, diversified investments.

SECURITY: Acorns uses 256-bit SSL encryption, multi-factor authentication, and other security measures to protect your data. Every account is also insured for up to $500,000 for fraud. 

5. ROBINHOOD

Robinhood from Robinhood on Vimeo.

WHAT IT DOES: Lets you trade stocks and exchange-traded funds for free

HOW IT WORKS: Unlike traditional brokerage firms that charge a fee every time you trade a stock, Robinhood lets you trade for free. You can invest in individual stocks or exchange-traded funds. The app is available online, as well as on iPhone and Android.

Like Acorns, Robinhood is a digital brokerage firm, so you’ll have to sign up for an account and, of course, you’re on the hook for taxes on any investment gains. You don’t need to maintain an account or investment minimum—you pay whatever the stock costs, and you buy it directly from the app.

WHO IT'S FOR: If you’re a seasoned investor and you know what you’re doing, Robinhood is a great option for bypassing hefty commission fees other firms charge. The app also gives you performance details on stocks and ETFs.

SECURITY: Robinhood uses bank-level security and all data is encrypted. Your securities are protected up to $500,000. You can read more about their security measures here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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