By Amber Murikami-Fester
Saving up for the future can be daunting.
Whether you have your eye on a tropical vacation or you're stockpiling for your emergency fund, meeting your savings goals can seem out of reach unless you use a system that lets you save as painlessly as possible.
One good option is to turn to the new breed of mobile savings apps that helps you build up your savings. Plenty of personal finance apps include some savings functions, but these three apps are specifically focused on helping you fill your piggy bank little by little, in ways you'll barely notice.
Best for the tech-savvy
Qapital lets you set up various "rules" to automate savings. For example, you can set up the app so that every time you use your debit or credit card, Qapital rounds the spare change up to the nearest dollar and moves the amount into a Qapital account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Qapital also lets you automatically transfer funds into your account when you spend less than you budgeted for a certain expense or when you spend money on something you identified as a "guilty pleasure." Or you can contribute a lump sum to your fund daily, weekly or monthly. The idea is that your money is moved automatically, so you'll save up to your goals without constantly reminding yourself.
By linking Qapital to the "if-this-then-that" app IFTTT, you can add other rules that trigger savings -- when you hit fitness goals, post a picture to Instagram or get your paycheck, for example.
If you need a little social pressure to hold yourself accountable for working toward your goals, Qapital lets friends and family track each other's progress. Don't worry, though -- they won't see what you spend your money on.
There are no fees for using Qapital. Be aware, though, that your account won't earn interest like a traditional savings account. Withdrawing money will take two business days.
» MORE: Best savings accounts
Best for investment options
Like Qapital, Acorns rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar and automatically tucks the difference away into an account. Unlike Qapital, Acorns is an investing platform. That means the money will be invested in a portfolio based on your income and goals, and you'll reap the return on investment.
» MORE: NerdWallet's review of Acorns
Each Acorns portfolio is composed of exchange-traded funds, with options that range from conservative, having a higher percentage of bonds, to aggressive, having a higher percentage of stocks. You'll pay $1 a month if your balance is under $5,000; for anything above that, you'll pay a fee of 0.25% of your account balance. College students can use the service for free for up to four years.
If you make purchases using a card linked to your Acorns account with one of the company's partners, such as Hulu, Airbnb and Blue Apron, those companies give back a percentage of the purchase to your Acorns savings account.
Because your money is being invested, your savings may shrink if there's a dip in the markets where you've allocated your money. Also, keep in mind that it can take several days to withdraw money from your account, because shares in the ETF you're invested in must be sold first.
Best for fast withdrawal
Unlike Qapital and Acorns, Digit goes beyond squirreling away your spare change. It calculates what you can save by looking at your income and spending, and it puts that amount aside -- typically $5 to $50 every two or three days -- in an FDIC-insured Digit account.
Because the amount taken out of your checking account can vary, you'll want to keep an eye on your balance to avoid an overdraft. Digit refunds up to two overdrafts, but you can set up a minimum balance that'll stop Digit from drawing money out of your checking account if your balance dips below a designated amount.
Money in your Digit account won't earn any interest. You can text Digit when you want to withdraw money, and you'll have it the next business day.
If you have trouble saving up, getting an app that automatically does it for you can be a good first step. Getting yourself in the habit of regularly putting aside some money -- and seeing your total grow -- will get you on track to mapping a healthy budget.