My father preached that if you wanted something, research needed to be done and funds needed to be lined up—when I say research, I mean that full-on spreadsheet analyses were included in the process.  I remember the day our family’s Toyota Previa surpassed 300,000 miles and its life would slowly begin the dreaded descent.  My parents would spend the next days and days at the dealership looking at the endless options that could be included in a car decision—often I think back to how I would have hated to be the salesmen dealing with this bockle.  This was really the process I came to know when there was any sort of family purchase to be made.

While I think it goes without saying, this much preparation and planning is a bit absurd and unrealistic in the fast-paced environment we live in.  What I did take away from his endless planning and overanalyzing, was that it was important to know where you stand financially and what you can handle buying whether that was a small or large item such as a car.

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Finances and careers go hand-in-hand—in my opinion.  When settling on a degree or career path, money has to be considered.  Now, I am not saying it needs to be considered because you want to follow the highest grossing career field, more so that your needs and wants align with the chosen path.  Here are four finance apps and programs that will help you budget, save, and address your loans after graduation to start on the right foot.

Mint [Free | 4 ½ stars]

Mint is life changing or can be.   While the app will not find you lost treasure, it may very well help you locate where you might have thrown your money the past month or year.

Many people would say that there seem to be 1-2 categories of spending that can easily slip their mind and exceed what they were estimating in their minds.

If you spend $10-$15 on lunches here or there it seems as if it is somewhat minimal without stepping back to assess the entire month’s spending.  You might jump onto your online banking towards the middle of the month and realize the majority of your paycheck is already gone—so where did it go?

That’s exactly what the app aims to do, help you find out where you are spending and if there are any categories such as restaurants, shopping, or some other hobby that is sucking your wallet dry.  I will warn you, it can be brutal to see at first.  I’ve even had friends start and quit using it simply because their budgets were always red and they kept receiving emails mentioning just that.  As a user interface, Mint is the best I have seen when it comes to budgeting, inputting all financial aspects of your life, and learning what different locations mean in terms of spending.  All of your retirement savings, home or school loans, and paychecks continuously update when you have added them to the system.  Mint uses similar security software to online banking to ensure your identity’s safety.

Acorns [Free + $1 monthly fee | 5 stars]

Have you ever been to the grocery store and they ask if you would like to round your total amount up to the dollar for a certain cause or group?  What an easy approach to raising money, right?  This is the idea behind Acorns, except your savings is the cause that these hard-earned leftover pennies will go to.

I know what you are thinking; this will amount to nothing, or at least nothing worth putting effort into.  For example, if you were to swipe your card only once daily—which I am going to venture to say is on the very conservative side—and average a 50-cent round up with a 6% annual return you would have over $15,000 in 30 years.  Remember, this by no means should be your retirement strategy but can be seen as more of a replacement to that glass jar on your nightstand full of spare change.

Now—where is your money being invested?  When you create an Acorns account, you will be asked to look at your comfort level with investing and there will be five different portfolios with ranges of risk tolerance to choose from.  While percentages of investments held by individuals will vary depending on that risk tolerance you chose, all investments will be highly rated and include large and small company stocks, government and corporate bonds, and real estate.

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Level Money [Free | 4 stars]

I like to think of this as the Dave Ramsey envelope idea for the 21st century.  Keeping a handful of envelopes full of cash that you must carry around to pay for any expenses including a simple run to Target can seem as if you are stuck in the stone ages.  Don’t get me wrong here, the idea of only spending what you have and simplifying this process is great—but thanks to technology there are easier ways.

Level Money looks at your previous spending and different trends that will help the app plan for bills and extra spending you will need to budget for.  Once the app has calibrated with your spending habits or you have entered what outbound transactions there will be for the month, it will create “spendable” virtual envelopes if you will.  While Mint will show you how much of a certain budget is left for the month, I see it as a more reactive approach to just understand what you might need to change next month.  Level Money’s interface is more closely aligned with Ramsey’s plan and focuses in on only spending what is allotted.

Debt Manager [$1 | 4 ½ stars]

You will not find any sort of debt eliminator app on the Apple or Android store.  Trust me—I checked, twice.  I would like nothing more than to share an app that will erase student loans.  I would say the best idea next to completely ridding yourself of loans is managing and understanding them.  Loan repayment can be overwhelming, no matter the type of loan, but these fears or issues can be lessened with help from apps such as this, reaching out to the campus’ financial counselors, and touching base with the servicers that house your loans to make sure everything is lined up for on time payment.

Debt Manager allows you to input loans, what you owe on them, and the date you will pay them off down to the month and year.  The interface allows you to see, somewhat immediately, if you were to pay extra on a loan how this would shorten the length and lessen the interest paid. After all, immediate satisfaction is gold.  I often think back to when we were applying for a home loan and saw the difference in cost from interest from a 15- or 30-year loan, it was unreal.  Sometimes it is unrealistic to have the 15-year loan, but the point is to be aware of opportunities that lessen the length or to pay extra because it can make a big impact.

How do you keep on track with your finances?