Want to save money? There's an app for that — in fact, many.
Whether you're looking for budgeting guidance, shopping deals or ways to make cash by selling unwanted stuff, several free apps could add a little extra to your wallet. And the timing is spot-on, given that so many people are facing a tough economic situation.
Even better, using most of these apps costs nothing, whether you grab them from Apple's App Store, for iPhone or iPad, or Google Play, for Android smartphones and tablets. And many can synchronize with a web version for Macs and Windows PCs.
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Shopping apps aplenty
Rakuten. Known as Ebates until last year, Rakuten (and apps like it) pays members up to 40 percent cash back every time they shop online through participating retailers. And it includes outlets you're likely patronizing anyway, such as Amazon, eBay, Kohl's, Macy's and Walmart.
Here's how it works: Sign up for a free account and start shopping at the Rakuten app or site in order to get the cash back. Once you buy an item, you'll start earning cash that can be sent to you via check or deposited into a PayPal account quarterly if your total proceeds are more than $5. The percentage of cash back varies by retailer.
Realize that the price you pay for the cash back is having your browsing and purchases tracked, but that's something that already happens now on each retailer's website as well as through your credit card company. Rakuten and similar apps also combine your information with that of other users, to spot trends and analyze consumer behavior.
Do use a credit card that rewards you with cash back or other benefits when shopping online. Yes, it's OK to double-dip.
Flipp. For when you shop at stores in person, this app delivers weekly newspaper circulars to your phone or tablet and lets you store coupons and loyalty cards on the app that you scan at the cash register. Browse by store or search by keyword to see deals at clothing chains, electronics stores, groceries, home-decor outlets, pet food stores, pharmacies and sporting goods retailers.
Tap items to virtually clip them for your shopping list, or tap and hold to read more about an item. A “smart” shopping list lets you add items, such as chicken breast, and the app will show you which retailers have the best price.
Slickdeals. This site has evolved into the largest deal-sharing community on the web. The community vets deals that members share through votes and comments, and the best ones (say, half off an item for a limited time) often move up to the Popular Deals forum.
Deal editors then screen the best of the listings in the Popular Deals forum and put them on the app's front page. Deal Alerts notify you whenever a bargain that matches what you're looking for is posted.
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Buying and selling via marketplaces
Retail chain apps don't always have the best deals. Consider online marketplaces that connect buyers with sellers directly.
eBay. Most of its products are brand-new — contrary to popular belief — plus, you can get an item without going through the auction process by clicking the Buy It Now button.
Local classified-ad sites. Sites such as Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and letgo offer a mix of new and used merchandise. If you're meeting someone to buy an item, be sure to do it in a public place, perhaps with a friend, and inspect the product before you hand over the money.
You can use these same platforms to sell unwanted items, too. As you declutter, create a listing, snap a photo, and meet a potential buyer at a coffee shop or other local venue, to exchange your stuff for cash. With eBay, you need to ship the product to the buyer.
Gazelle. On this site for tech buyers and sellers, you can unload your old MacBook (sorry, no Windows PCs), phone or tablet. Answer a few questions about your device, ship it for free, and receive money via Amazon gift card, check or PayPal.
If you decide to buy something from Gazelle, all products are certified as pre-owned (meaning they are “like new") and sell for a fraction of the retail price, according to the site.
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Help with budgeting, micro-investing
Mint. One of the most popular budgeting picks is from Intuit, the company best known for TurboTax and QuickBooks. In a nutshell, Mint helps you set budgets, track expenses and reach financial goals.
This handy money management tool (for computers, smartphones and tablets) lets you see what you're spending and saving through color-coded lists and graphs. Plus, you can track your bank account and credit card balances in real time, follow investments, break out your expenditures by category and even receive alerts when you've exceeded your budget.
As you might expect, Mint is password-protected, so your data is safe even if your device is lost or stolen. It offers bank-level 256-bit encryption, to protect files on the company's servers. Mint is also monitored through third-party sites such as TRUSTe and Verisign.
Mylo. This Canadian app has a novel approach to saving and investing. By linking Mylo securely to your credit and debit cards, it rounds up all your purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the spare change.
So if you spend $9.30 on a round of coffee for friends, you'll be charged $10 on your card; the 70 cents will be dumped into your investment account, which is a mix of stocks, bonds and commodities.
Mylo says you likely won't miss the spare change and may amass quite a lot each year. It isn't free like the other apps here; it will set you back $3 a month, though there's no cost to withdraw your money. Ask yourself first, Do I make enough purchases to offset the $36 yearly cost?
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Save when you travel again
GasBuddy. When you start venturing out again, GasBuddy can help you find deals on gasoline and diesel in the U.S. and Canada. Using your phone's GPS, the app shows you which nearby stations have the lowest prices —for regular, midgrade, premium and diesel fuel — and provides maps if you don't know the area. View gas stations by company; distance; price; or amenities, like car washes, restaurants and restrooms.
Pruvo. This app helps you score a better price on your hotel — after you've booked it. First, reserve a room on a site such as Expedia, Hotels.com or Trivago; then forward your confirmation email to email@example.com.
If the hotel drops the rate on the room before your stay, which happens more often than not, you'll be notified on your phone of how much you will save by canceling the reservation and rebooking at the lower rate. And don't worry; the app walks you through the entire process. The catch: You need to have the option to cancel your room to begin with.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast, Tech It Out, aims to break down geek speak into street speak.