It was supposed to be the epic family road trip of a lifetime, but suddenly it looked doomed.

Linnea Nelson, a Denver-based IT professional, had been looking forward to touring 10 European countries in a van with members of her extended family.

One of Nelson’s sisters lived in England with her own young family and had always spent her vacations flying to see relatives in the U.S. In spring 2016, Nelson and another sister on the U.S. side decided to cross the Atlantic instead.

In all, it would be six people seeing a whole lot of Europe in one van.

But then…

“We were about an hour outside of their town — in England — when the van broke down,” Nelson said. “It was a holiday weekend. Long story short, there was one place that had one van available for rent. But it was going to cost $2,200.”

“I guess we can’t go on our trip,” Nelson’s family was saying at the time.

“Wait a second,” she said. “Let me see what I have in Digit.”

BOOM.

Problem solved.

She had $2,400 in her account with Digit, an automated savings app.

This came as a surprise to her and her family, because she’d never really been a big saver before.

“I took that money, rented the van, and we went on our 10-country tour,” Nelson recalled. “They call it a rainy day fund, and that was a rainy day.”

Flashing back to the beginning of her family’s epic European trip, she recalled, “It actually was raining that day.”

Fast-forward to today: She has more than $25,000 saved in her Digit account.

‘I Had No Idea How to Save’

Nelson pictured with her sister Arwyn Nelson and her nieces while walking on the Highland Bridge in Denver, Colorado. Daniel Brenner for The Penny Hoarder

A few years ago, when she was in her mid-30s, Nelson was never able to save any money.

“Not even a little bit,” said Nelson, who works in cybersecurity. “My credit score was crap. My husband at the time was very bad with money and was managing money awfully.”

At one point, a hailstorm damaged their roof, and their insurance wouldn’t pay for it. Nelson had to borrow $10,000 from a co-worker and pay it back over time. “At that point, I realized I was very lucky to have a friend to loan me the money.”

“I had no idea how to save,” she said. “I had no idea how to actually go about doing that in a way that would work for me.”

In early 2015, she read about Digit online. She said she thought to herself, “You know what? I have zero savings. I need savings. What the heck? I’ll try it out.”

Save Money Without Missing It

Nelson checks her Digit app on her phone Sunday, July 8, 2018 while walking around Union Station in Denver, Colorado.
The Digit app is linked to Nelson’s checking account and strategically saves her money without her having to lift a finger. Daniel Brenner for The Penny Hoarder

For Nelson, Digit serves as a sneaky and effective way to build up an emergency fund. The app is linked to her checking account and strategically saves her money without her having to lift a finger.

Having analyzed her income and expenditures, Digit’s algorithm determines how much money she can safely afford to set aside each day. Then it withdraws small amounts into her FDIC-insured digital savings account.

“It knows when your bills are due,” Nelson says. “It calculates however much it can take, then it saves it. You don’t notice the money missing.”

“I think it’s great. I don’t have to worry about it. [Digit] just figures it out.”

These days, Digit typically pulls between 6% and 9% of her salary each month.

“I like that it isn’t a set number. Its figures adjust to your current income and spending, so it fluctuates based on that,” Nelson said.

For example, in January 2017 it set aside 1.24%, but the next month it set aside 8.06%. If Nelson knows some big bills are coming in, it’s easy for her to pause Digit whenever she wants.

Digit is free for your first 30 days and costs $2.99 a month after that. If you sign up through The Penny Hoarder, you get a $5 bonus. Additionally, savers will receive a 1% bonus every three months.

$25,000 in Savings in 3 Years

Nelson, right, with her nieces Skylar Rogers, 7, left, Paige Nelson, 4, center, and sister Arwyn Nelson, second from left, play together Sunday, July 8, 2018 in Denver, Colorado.
Thanks to her Digit account, Nelson’s family’s vacation was saved at the last minute. “That’s why it’s there, to save the day,” she says. Photo by Daniel Brenner for The Penny Hoarder

So, thanks to her Digit account, Nelson’s family’s epic European road trip of a lifetime was saved at the last minute.

“That was the first time it actually made a big difference,” Nelson said.

Best memory from that trip: Racing with her sister around the inside of the Colosseum-like Pulah Arena in Croatia — as the children cheered them on.

What next?

After her European triumph, Nelson set her sights on another bold quest: New kitchen countertops.

Yessss!

She created a goal called “Kitchen” in the Digit app and set it for $3,000.

Nelson further evolved her thinking on this topic: “At first I thought, ‘Maybe just countertops.’ But when I hit that number, I thought, ‘Wait a sec, I can probably save for the whole thing.’”

New goal: Top-to-bottom kitchen renovation.

“It needs it badly. The tile is falling off the counters.”

Nelson, who makes a six-figure income as an IT professional specializing in cybersecurity, hasn’t withdrawn a penny from the app since her European trip.

After saving toward her Kitchen goal from 2015 to 2018, she had $25,174.31 in savings with Digit.

“My magic number in my head is $30,000,” she said. “That should handle [the kitchen renovation] — unless another rainy day comes along.

“That’s why it’s there, to save the day.”

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He’s here to save the day.

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