These Mobile Banking Apps Helped Me Save for My Dream Vacation Without Thinking About It

In six months, I've saved enough for the five-day trip to Montreal that I've been daydreaming about since last year, and I didn't even have to think about it. 

I'm an all-or-nothing saver. I start with a strict and well-intentioned budget, rationing off large hunks of my income to my savings account. But then, after one emergency vet visit or car expense, I inevitably open the vault, and before I know it, I'm considering a late-night coffee run an emergency worth charging to my savings account. 

You don't have to be a saver to save. You don't have to be a financial wizard, and you don't have to be rich. 

It's an endless cycle, and I'm tempted to blame it on the fluctuation of freelance income, living in an expensive city (Los Angeles) and, of course, the economy. But, truth be told, it's me. Well, me and the entire millennial generation: We save at a dismal average rate of -2%. So I decided to do something about it. I set out with a goal in mind — a dream vacation, which I'd been wanderlusting over for months — and began crafting a plan to make it happen.

After admitting my savings shortcomings, my next step was looking for apps to help me fix the error of my ways. I've tried auto-deposits and at-home cash reserves, but the only thing that's worked so far is a combination of modern banking tools that do all the hard work for me. Here they are.

You Need a Budget is a good place to start. 

As it turns out, millennials aren't too bad at budgeting. Sixty-six percent of us follow a monthly budget. But as I know all too well, even a budget with the best of intentions can go bust. You Need a Budget is a desktop and mobile app that helps you start fresh right this minute. 

You input and estimate all of your bills and income, then make space for surprise expenses. With YNAB, every dollar you earn has a job, even if that job is to stick around until you need to pay for a sneaky home repair. Before YNAB, Soukprida Phetmisy, a Teach for America manager, was afraid to look at her checking account. "I was just terrified to see what I was actually spending," she told Mic. But now, with the app, she checks her account more frequently without feeling guilty.

The app's goal is to help you pay off debt and kick the paycheck-to-paycheck habit, so ultimately you're living on your previous month's income. This is the only program on the list that isn't free  it'll cost you a one-time payment of $60 — but if you follow the rules, they say, you'll triple that with your first month's turnaround.

Phetmisy is sticking with it. "It's super transparent and empowering," she said. "I feel like I have ownership of my money in a positive way."