Smartphones may not be the most frugal choice. But let’s face it, more and more of us have succumbed to their lure in our mobile society.
So why not put that pricey gadget to work for you to save time and money?
With the simple download of an app, you can save big money on any number of everyday purchases, including gas, Internet fees, groceries, DVDs, books, toys, clothes and dinner out.
The potential savings are even greater when you’re traveling and unfamiliar with the retail terrain. Best of all, most money-saving apps can be downloaded free.
Here are a few of my favorite frugal-minded apps. All of them are free and are available for the iPhone and Android phones:
1. Never pay retail. With the help of the Coupon Sherpa app, you won’t have to. I love this app because it’s so simple to use. Retailers – from A.C. Moore to Yankee Candle – are listed alphabetically. At any one time, Coupon Sherpa will list more than 100 coupons to major retailers. Simply scroll to the retailer of your choice, tap once to see the offer, tap again to show the coupon to the cashier.
Are retailers equipped to handle mobile coupons? Some of the coupons are provided to Coupon Sherpa from the retailers, so you shouldn’t have a problem redeeming these. Others are aggregated from the Internet and Coupon Sherpa doesn’t guarantee retailers will accept them, though acceptance of mobile coupons is growing. If you run into resistance, ask for a manager.
Cool feature: You can search for coupons by retail category. For example, search for sporting goods; on a recent search, nine offers showed up. The app also allows you to keep your own list of favorites.
Pitfall: If a retailer won’t accept your mobile coupon, you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way: emailing the coupon to yourself, printing it and returning to the store later, wasting time and gas.
2. Check in for freebies. As you’re running errands, use the Foursquare app to check in to your location. To attract customers plugged into social media, many businesses are offering Foursquare specials, often freebies.
I was introduced to Foursquare by my 20-something son but wasn’t really interested until I heard about the freebies and other discount specials. Among the specials I’ve found for checking in: a free small drink at the Apex Chick-fil-A, a free order of garlic fries at Tyler’s Taproom in Apex, Durham and Carrboro, five free 4x6 prints at Wolf Camera locations around the Triangle and buy one game, get one free when you check in at Buffaloe Lanes on High House Road in Cary.
Cool feature: The freebies, obviously. But you can also tap into the wealth of knowledge of other Foursquare users who leave tips and reviews. Once again, if you’re traveling, this can help you find a great place to eat or steer you clear of a pricey mistake.
Pitfall: Other Foursquare users can see when you’re out and about. Although Foursquare has some privacy settings, the app has raised security concerns.
3. Be your own price checker. Scan a product bar code using the Red Laser or ShopSavvy apps to compare prices on a particular item you want to purchase. These are great apps to use around the holidays when you’re in a store, see an item on sale and want to make sure the price is truly a bargain.
Cool feature: When you scan a book on Red Laser, it also tells you which nearby libraries have the book on their shelves.
Pitfall: Most price comparisons now are for online retailers, so their use is extremely limited on some items, such as groceries.
4. Freedom from fees. Not sure where to find the closest ATM? Use the ATM Hunter app to find the closest cash machines and see which ones you can use free. The ATMs are listed in ascending order by distance from your location. The app also identifies the ATM’s network to help you find one that won’t charge you those ridiculous fees.
Cool feature: Find ATMs in any airport.
Pitfall: You may have to power off your smartphone to change your phone’s internal GPS location.
5. Organize and save. Download the KeyRing app and you can toss all those annoying store loyalty cards cluttering your wallet or keychain. Once you have your cards loaded, you’ll have access to coupons and special offers. Some stores will occasionally offer KeyRing users freebies.
Cool feature: Lowes Foods and Kroger customers have access to their digital coupons through KeyRing so you can load a coupon on the spot and save.
Pitfall: Some grocery scanners still aren’t equipped to handle a smartphone image. If that happens, ask the cashier to type in the number manually.
6. Never pay for Wi-Fi. Use the Wi-Fi Finder app to scope out places near you that offer free wireless Internet. This app has access to 650,000 wireless Internet locations in 144 countries. Using your phone’s GPS, it finds all Wi-Fi spots nearby. You don’t need Wi-Fi to use a smartphone, of course, but this app comes in handy when you’re in search of a spot to use your laptop. This is especially helpful when you’re traveling and aren’t familiar with local hotspots.
Cool feature: You can shake your phone to reset its internal GPS to recognize when you’re on the move.
Pitfall: The spots aren’t listed by distance, so you have to scroll through to find the closest spots or use the pin points on the map.
7. Gasoline on the cheap. You may have used the Gas Buddy website to find the best price on gasoline near your home or office. But the Gas Buddy app allows you to find cheap gas when you hit the road. It includes prices on all grades of fuel and when the prices were last updated.
Cool feature: To encourage folks to report prices, Gas Buddy rewards you with points toward prize giveaways, which include a weekly $250 gas card. Each report earns you 150 points, up to five reports per day. One thousand points gets you one ticket in the weekly drawing.
Pitfall: Reliability depends on the frequency of those who choose to report prices.
Dunn: email@example.com or comment at blogs/newsobserver.com/saver