“Sheltering in place” wasn’t even in our vocabulary a few months ago. Now, it’s a daily reality.
How, especially if you are not a tech whiz, can you know which of the many apps will help most when you are stuck at home?
We winnowed the field and found a handful of the best and easier apps that help make banking, video conferencing, grocery shopping, budgeting and transferring money painless and even fun from home.
What it is: Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing app that lets you use a computer or mobile device to see, hear and collaborate with colleagues, friends and family.
Cost: Free for two-person video calls and group calls of up to 40 minutes. For more use, subscription plans start at $14.99 per month per host.
Pros: Free and easy and fun to use.
Cons: Zoom has recently been plagued with security problems, with hackers disrupting users’ meetings. We include Zoom here, however, because it is so popular currently that it’s hard to avoid. Also, the company says it is beefing up security and has posted instructions for conducting secure meetings.
If you do use Zoom, install software updates regularly so you’ll have the latest security fixes. You also can make Zoom a lot safer by following the steps in “Here’s My Zoom Security Checklist.”
What it is: This app enables you to order groceries and have them delivered. Personal shoppers visit grocery stores in your area to fill your order and deliver the products in their vehicles. While Instacart is not everywhere in the U.S., it is widely available. See cities and states here.
Cost: A 5% (or $2 minimum) service fee is charged per order with nonalcoholic beverages. A different service fee schedule applies for alcoholic beverages. Also, delivery fees start at $3.99, and tipping is separate.
Instacart Express, a membership option for people who use Instacart regularly, involves different costs, as detailed on the Instacart Express webpage.
Pros: Same-day delivery. According to The Kitchn, the service is convenient and can deliver from stores in your area besides grocery stores. In some areas, Instacart may even deliver from Costco — even if you don’t have a membership. Ordering is easy, and shoppers are friendly and communicative, says The Kitchn.
Cons: As are other businesses experiencing heavy use in the pandemic, Instacart appears to be coping with high demand. The site currently features this message:
“We’re currently experiencing very high chat and call volumes, resulting in unusually long wait times. We are working as quickly as possible to respond and appreciate your patience. Please try searching the help center for answers to general questions.”
Alternatives: In addition to Instacart, Tom’s Guide recommends AmazonFresh and Walmart Grocery, both widely available across the U.S., as well as other regional services. Locally, some regional grocery store chains and local markets offer delivery or pickup services. Call them to ask about availability.
What it is: YNAB (short for “You Need A Budget”) lets you track spending and budget income. It’s a powerful budgeting app and a Money Talks News partner. We detail how it works in “This Tool Makes It Easy to Track Your Spending and Build Your Savings.”
Cost: $11.99 monthly or $84 annually after a free 34-day trial
Pros: Users tout YNAB for helping them gain control over spending and for saving money to pay off debt and reach other financial goals. Customer support is stellar, in my experience. The site offers numerous types of help for learning the system, including classes, webinars, articles and videos.
Cons: YNAB is more expensive than other popular budgeting apps and using it takes commitment and time to learn.
What it is: Venmo, a subsidiary of PayPal, is a peer-to-peer digital wallet. For example, you can use it to send money to others who have a Venmo account.
Cost: Venmo doesn’t charge for basic services, and there are no monthly or annual fees. But the app does charge for certain services, as detailed on Venmo’s signup page.
Pros: Venmo enables you to make cash payments while avoiding the hassles of carrying and using cash. Friends and family can accept payments from or send payments to your bank account. That lets you easily split a lunch or a shared purchase on the spot.
Cons: Be careful to select Venmo’s private setting. Otherwise, the app can display the transactions you’ve made with others. Also, be extremely careful whom you use Venmo with and watch out for scammers. Venmo’s user agreement stresses, in capital letters:
“VENMO SHOULD ONLY BE USED TO TRANSACT WITH PEOPLE YOU KNOW AND TRUST. DO NOT USE VENMO TO TRANSACT WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW, ESPECIALLY IF THE PAYMENT INVOLVES THE PURCHASE OR SALE OF A GOOD OR SERVICE.”
Alternatives: Bankrate, in an article about Venmo’s safety, says:
“In addition to options like PayPal, CashApp or simply using cash, most banks now offer Zelle as a potential alternative to Venmo. It’s difficult to determine which is the best — they have similar security protocols and their convenience will likely depend on each individual’s payment network.”
5. Your bank online
What it is: Your bank’s website or smartphone app.
Cost: Although banks don’t generally charge for online banking or mobile apps, they may charge for accounts and services. But smart shoppers easily can avoid many banking fees.
Pros: Online banking and banking apps let you pay bills and track and transfer money online. Some show you where to find ATMs. The best ones accept online deposits easily and offer good customer support by phone and chat.
Cons: Banking online or using a banking app can raise security concerns. Be sure to take security precautions like using a unique and lengthy password for your account. If you use an app, set it to ask for your password each time you open the app. That way, if someone gets ahold of your phone, it’s harder for them to access bank accounts through your banking apps.
Alternatives: Most banks offer both online banking that you can access on your computer and an app that you can access on a mobile device, so you can choose between the two options or use both.