Saving money with technology

Saving Money Through Technology

Monday, August 25, 2014

Making Your Gadgets Work For You

We live in an age of amazing technological opportunities. Currently, I’m using my phone to try and learn French (available on iTunes or Google Play) and study two separate university courses for free.

But, how practical is our technology when it comes to day-to-day life? Can our gadgets help with something as mundane as saving money?

Of course.

There is a vast number of apps out there that can help you manage your money, cut down on expenses and develop nice money saving habits with relative ease (and minimum expense). Furthermore, they’re mostly multi-platform – meaning, even if you don’t have a smartphone, you can still use these various programs via your computer to help you save some money.

From my personal experience, there’s one app I’d recommend before all others, though - Lift. It’s a nice and simple app designed to help you build (or break) habits. It basically allows you to create a template of daily and weekly goals for you to hit and offers periodic gentle encouragement to stick to them. When you fall off the wagon, it’ll give you a little nudge to get back into it.

When I first encountered it, I was quite skeptical. I was worried it’d send me endless emails or advertisements or cram inspirational advice down my throat. But, you can choose exactly how you use it and how you interact with it. I once used it to help get me back into the rhythm of waking up early by rewarding me for getting up at 6am every day for a couple of weeks. Conversely, I’ve also used it to help me get into the habit of practicing French every day – which I’ve been doing for about eight months now.

I recommend Lift before tackling any other app because, as I’m sure all of us know, downloading an app won’t make you use it. And, frankly, a lot of money saving tactics come down to nothing more than developing good habits. That isn’t easy. How many New Year’s resolutions have we all let slip? In my experience, something like Lift will make that process a little easier. If nothing else, it’s free – so you’ve really got nothing to lose.

After Lift, I’d look into a nice budget/expenditure app. When saving money, it’s tempting to simply go after where you think you’re spending a lot of money – but there could be areas where you’re spending a lot of money without even thinking about it. The boring example is your daily paper. My personal example is songs on iTunes. “Less than two dollars? I can afford that…” But, of course, it all adds up. Eventually, you have a library full of guilty pleasures and no money.

An app like Pocketbook will help you avoid those pitfalls. Pocketbook actually connects directly to your bank account/s and keeps track of and categorises your transactions for you. It will make note, for example, of how much you’re spending weekly on groceries, clothes, entertainment and everything else. With that information, it can also help you build a budget – and help you stick to it. It will even notify you when there’s a surprising fee or a leftover bill on your account.

There are other similar apps that you can explore if Pocketbook doesn’t sound appealing. Toshl Finance, for example, has some great features. If you’re looking for something more straightforward, Spending Tracker does exactly what it says on the box. But, frankly, no other app makes keeping track of your money as effortless as Pocketbook. Still, they’re all free – try them all and see what works for you.

Finally, I’d recommend looking into a good meal planning app. If that sounds like something geared towards weight loss or health, it isn’t. It can help you achieve goals in both of those areas – but it can also help you save money. After housing, food and groceries are typically the biggest household expense for your average Australian. You cut down your grocery bill and you’ll have a much healthier budget.

I’d actually suggest using a combination of apps to do this most successfully. An app like Mealboard is excellent for things like recipe management, meal planning and creating grocery lists – but I’d combine it with a new iPhone app called Smart Kitchen. Smart Kitchen is a nifty little tool that allows you to input whatever ingredients you have in your fridge or pantry and get a list of recipe suggestions. It comes with 50 recipes included – but you can bump that up to 200 recipes for a small fee.

Smart Kitchen allows you to shape your meals around whatever ingredients are least expensive. Mealboard will then allow you to construct a meal plan and help you stick to it. While neither app is really free, they can ultimately help save you a lot of money. The only kicker is that you may want to import your recipes into Mealboard from Smart Kitchen to make meal planning easier – and that’s a bit of a frustrating process.

(As a suggestion; you can simply import the name of a recipe and refer back to Smart Kitchen when you need to. Switching between apps is a relatively painless process.)

So, hopefully, you can see that it isn’t all that difficult to make your technology work for you. A little habit-building, a little budget-watching and some nice meal-planning and you’ll be saving money in no time.