5 Money-Saving Apps

Rick Emerson, author of "Zombie Economics," did the legwork for us and found the best apps to help us save money.

Note: all of these apps are available for both iPhone and Android. Most of them are also available for Windows Phone and BlackBerry.
1) Mint
Mint is the gold-standard for personal finance apps.
Have you ever asked yourself “I wonder exactly how much I’m spending at the Waffle House every year?” (Well, maybe not, but how about “I wonder how much I’m spending each month on lattes?” or “Did the cable bill go up? It seems a lot higher than last time.”)

Mint allows you to see exactly where money is coming in and where it’s going out. Using Mint, you can see your spending, your savings, your retirement, and you can even break it down by categories – you can see how much is going to restaurants or to filling up the car or to iTunes. Everything is visible in a big, easy-to-read format of graphs and pie charts, and it really lets you see, almost for the first time, exactly how you operate financially. Admittedly, this an be a little terrifying (especially if you suspect that your latte habit is into six figures), but, as they say, knowing is half the battle.

Also: Mint does not allow you (or anyone else) to actually move any money anywhere (it’s for observing your money only), so your risk is very, very low.

2) Bill Guard
By now, we’ve all heard of “Crowd-Sourcing”. Think of Crowd-Sourcing as asking a room full of people for help, like “Has anyone seen my keys?”

The internet lets us ask a much bigger room with a lot more people, and we can ask them things like “Has anyone else gotten a mysterious five-dollar credit charge from this website in the Cayman Islands?” That’s basically how Bill Guard works. Bill Guard lets you know when a credit or debit charge looks a little suspicious – you’ll get an alert on your phone saying “hey, there’s a thirty-five dollar payment to a company called X, and a lot of people have flagged that company as being shady”. Then you can look at the charge…when it was made, the details of the purchase, and report whether it’s actually shady or not. As more people use Bill Guard, it becomes more accurate about what charges might be fraudulent. It’s also good for spotting recurring payments – monthly bills for things you may have forgotten about, like software subscriptions or website memberships.

Like Mint, BillGuard is considered very safe, with little to no risk of abuse.

3) Red Laser
See if this sounds familiar: you’re standing in the store, looking at a stepladder, and then you pick up your phone, trying to go to Ladders.com to see if the same ladder is cheaper somewhere else…but Ladders.com doesn’t have the ladder, so then you’re looking up the big-box store down the street, only their website comes up looking really tiny…

Red Laser makes all of this a lot easier. You open the app, you scan the barcode or the QR Code (that little square thing that looks like a Rorschach blot), and Red Laser will not only look for the best prices for that exact item online, but also in stores that are nearby. That way, you can look at all of your options and skip right to the part where you get what you’re after for the lowest price (and often that same day, instead of having to order it and then hoping it arrives on time.)

4) AllPoint
One of the big Zombie Economics no-nos is paying to use your own money…and that usually happens like this: you need some cash, your bank is on the other side of town, and they have no official ATMs nearby, so you end up paying a service fee to a third-party ATM. Even worse, your own bank sometimes penalizes you for using this other ATM, so you’ve paid twice…to use your own money. This is how a fifteen-dollar purchase ends up costing forty dollars.

Enter…AllPoint. AllPoint does one thing and they do it well: they partner with banks and credit unions to provide no-fee ATMs across the U.S and Canada…no fees on either end of the transaction. There are 55,000 AllPoint ATMs, including a lot in this area. The AllPoint app tells you exactly where the nearest AllPoint ATM is, so you can skip paying that two (or three, or four) dollar fee. The app is continuously updated and will provide walking or driving directions to the nearest AllPoint ATM.

5) RepairPal
The cliché really is true: information is power…so when you don’t have information, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated. This is especially true when it comes to things like car repair. (I’m the first to admit that I know effectively nothing about cars. I recently went online and secretly learned how to replace steering fluid…just so I could look less ignorant when my wife asks about it.)

RepairPal is an app for anyone who feels like they have to just take the mechanic’s word for it when they get an estimate. RepairPal lets you specify your car, the year, and what the needed repairs are (or what part it calls for), and then it tells you what the actual estimate is….it even tells you how much of that estimate is for the part and how much is for labor. RepairPal also links to area autoshops and gives you an idea of how much they would charge to do the work. This way, you don’t have to call every nearby listing to figure out where to go.
 

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