Help pack a million meals for struggling seniors on Sept. 11. Volunteer today

Bits & Bytes

Most Popular


How to Get Your Smart Phone to Pay for Itself

The coolest thing about the latest phones may be how much money they can save you

two new cellphones

Two smart phones currently on the market, Apple's iPhone and HTC's EVO. — Nicky Loh/Corbis

We did it before, and now we've done it again. Three years ago we proved you could make a personal computer pay for itself within a year. Now it's the smart phone's turn.

Here was the challenge: Could using a smart phone save enough to cover our spending?

We called on some savings-savvy folks who consider a smart phone as essential as their wallet, and also tested one ourselves. Crunching some of their big-ticket deals plus our findings, we figure we could easily save an impressive $1,601, putting us almost $400 to the good.

And it wasn't rocket science. All it took was a bit of time to find and download the apps, those mini-software programs that help you do everything from saving hundreds on a new flat-screen TV to pinpointing the cheapest gasoline in the neighborhood. (Apps are free unless otherwise noted.)

What We Spent:

One Phone $199
Voice and unlimited text and data plan $990
27 apps (U.S. average, most of them free) $18
Total cost 


Price check everything

So you spot that new single-cup coffeemaker and wonder if you've found the best price. Find out in a snap by scanning the barcode. Apps such as pic2shop, PriceGrabber, and RedLaser use your phone's built-in camera to scan a product's barcode, then display prices from nearby retailers and online merchants.

Using RedLaser, Jason Gurwin, co-founder of the grocery coupon app Pushpins nabbed a 52-inch flat-screen television online for $150 less than what a local electronics store wanted. blogger Erin Gifford says barcode reader apps help her find the best prices on small electronics and appliances, plus allow her to negotiate an in-store price match. "I was shopping at Best Buy for a TV priced at $299. I looked up the model on my iPhone and saw it on Amazon for $279. I told the sales associate about my find and he modified the price, no questions asked," she recalls.

Scanning can be tricky (pic2shop helps with a horizontal red bar that turns green when you're properly lined up), but most apps also provide a way to type in the UPC code. Janet Evanovich's latest novel, Sizzling Sixteen, sells for $27.99. RedLaser found it for $14.99, but, even better, pointed out nearby libraries that had it on their shelves. In our book, free wins every time. Gifford estimates saving about $700 a year on her buys. Figure doing at least half as well, and taking the hint to use the library four times.

Savings: $462

Clip cyber coupons

Coupon Sherpa, Yowza, Valpak, and Shooger scour the Internet for discounts or cut their own exclusive deals—typically in the 15 to 30 percent range—with local businesses and national retailers. Type in a zip code or let the phone target your current location. Then the app helps you find coupons by store name or product category. Simply "clip" (store on the phone) any coupons that appeal, then show them at checkout to receive the discount. We dug up $10 off any $60 purchase at Finish Line, 15 percent off anything at The Container Store, and 50 percent off food and drink at a Fort Lauderdale bar’s happy hour. Considering the average American consumer spends about $4,600 a year on clothing, entertainment, and services, even 15 percent off stacks up.

Savings: $675

Reserve a table

Not only does OpenTable ( make it easy to find even last-minute reservations (perfect for those "I don't care, where do you want to go, honey?" moments) at restaurants without having to call, but you collect reward points each time you dine. Reservations earns a minimum of 100 points and some places offer 1,000-point tables. Collect 5,000 points and receive a $50 dining check which works like cash at any of the thousands of dining spots affiliated with the site.

Savings: $50

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.


Social Networking

Step-by-step instructions on how to use some of the Web's most popular networking sites. Go


How to Use Your PC

Guides covering everything from setting up your desktop, to getting the most out of Excel. Go


Protect Your Digital Life

Keep your computer secure, your web surfing safe, and your inbox spam free with these tips. Go


Discounts & Benefits

Geek Squad Computing

Members save on Geek Squad services with Geek Squad® Tech Support & Guidance for AARP® Members.

AARP Discounts on ADT Companion Services

Members get 20% off NEW installation and activation of ADT® Personal Emergency Response System.

AARP Discounts on Consumer Cellular Phones and Plans

Members save 5% on monthly service and usage charges with Consumer Cellular.

Member Benefits

Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change. Join Today


computer questions and tips

Computer Questions & Tips

Pick up some handy how-tos from this savvy group of techies. Discuss


Freebies Group

Favorite Websites & Freebies

Share your top sites for interesting information, helpful resources — and free stuff! Discuss