Cut costs for groceries, gas, and family fun with these free apps
For budgeting families, a fancy data plan can feel like an albatross; the monthly bill is high, but fear of the early termination fee keeps you paying. If you want to escape this cycle, make your data plan work for you with couponing and comparison-shopping apps. If you have a large family like mine, the savings on gas and groceries alone can easily cover your smartphone bill. Here are a few of my favorite apps to slash costs, for both Android and iPhone.
1. Red Laser (Android, iOS)
There are quite a few apps like this, that allow you to scan barcodes for information about a product, but Red Laser is the most comprehensive and powerful that we’ve seen. You can scan any product you find at the grocery store and get instant information about competitive prices and coupons at other stores, as well as nutrition and allergy information. If you shop at stores that honor competitors’ coupons, this app can take a huge bite out of your grocery bill each month. Another neat feature for bookworms: if you scan any book’s barcode, it will check availability and even reserve a copy for you at the closest library that stocks it, so you can read for free. (Cost: free)
2. GasBuddy (Android, iOS)
If your family needs a van or SUV to get around, you have to pick your gas station carefully—a difference of ten or fifteen cents can mean an extra five bucks per fill-up—and cruising around in search of cheaper gas can nullify any savings you might find by burning extra gas. GasBuddy allows you to input your daily route and displays the cheapest gas along that route, so you can save money without doubling back or going out of your way. With all the driving we do during the day, this app saves me $20-$30 each month. (Cost: free)
3. Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper (Android)
Of all the apps we’ve selected, this is by far the ugliest; but it makes up for that in functionality. This app doesn’t have the breadth of Red Laser, but it definitely benefits from focusing tightly on groceries. It not only aggregates the low-hanging fruit of advertised coupons, it also cross-references with manufacturer coupons and compares coupon deals to non-coupon offers at competing stores, so you’re guaranteed to get the lowest possible price. You can also scan an item and input a price, and it will immediately give the price a star rating to let you know if you’re getting a good deal, or if it’s worth taking the time to look elsewhere. Display bugs have been commonly reported on older smartphones; we’ve tested the app on new HTC phones from T-Mobile with no problems, but your results may vary.
4. Scoutmob (Android, iOS)
The previous apps covered essentials; but every family needs to get out once in a while, and services like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Scoutmob can save you a lot of money. We’d recommend downloading all three—they’re all free, and they compete for deals so each one opens up your entertainment options—but if you have to pick just one, go with Scoutmob. You don’t have to pay ahead of time, the offers are much more focused on stuff people want (restaurants, entertainment venues, etc.), and instead of having to do any math, all coupons are a flat 50% off the regular price. Our family goes out to eat once or twice a month—but with a big family, a half-off coupon makes a huge difference for our budget. (Cost: free)
Julia Peterson is a writer for AndGeeks.com, a popular website that provides up-to-date news, detailed commentary, and unbiased reviews on cell phones and related topics. Julia resides in Galveston, Texas in a cozy little house in the country with her husband, young son, and their Labrador retriever, Darby.