Holiday Crunch: The Best Apps to Help You Stay on Budget
Spend less and save more with this roundup of free apps that provide budgeting guidance, investment tips, or ways to save while shopping. Photo: Ziga Plahutar/Getty Images
With the holiday season upon us, and many looking to make their dollar go farther while shopping for gifts, revisit some expert advice for how apps can help protect you from overstretching your pocketbook.
Getting your finances in order? There’s an app for that.
A few, in fact.
Whether you’re looking for some budgeting guidance, investment tips, or ways to save while shopping, several apps could help take some weight off your wallet. There’s no cost to use many of these downloads, whether you grab them from the App Store (for iPhone or iPad) or Google Play (for Android smartphones and tablets). And many can synchronize with a web version for Windows PCs and Macs, too.
And so, the following are a few money-saving considerations.
When it comes to budgeting, one of the most popular picks is Mint 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 smartphones, tablets, and computers — lets you see what you’re spending and saving through colour-coded graphs and charts, plus you can track your bank account and credit card balances in real-time, follow investments (including retirement contributions and balances) and even receive alerts you if you exceed your budget. Mint is password-protected, therefore your data is safe even if your device is lost or stolen, plus it offers bank-level 256-bit encryption to protect files on the company’s servers.
The aptly named You Need a Budget – or “YNAB,” for short (pronounced “why nab”) – is also a popular platform for budgeting. Free to start, this award-winning software teaches how to manage your money (regardless of your income), get out of debt, and save more for the future. According to the company, new users save $600 in the first two months, on average, and more than $6,000 in the first year. Similar to Mint, you may sync YNAB with your accounts (such as a supported bank and credit cards) to access real-time, share with a spouse, and set and track goals. Available on a mobile device or computer, YNAB offers detailed (and visual) spending and trend reports to help measure progress, as well as more than 100 free and live workshops each week. At the time of writing, after the free month, YNAB costs $14.99/month.
Also consider KOHO (a free chequing account, prepaid Visa and app all rolled into one); Passiv (a highly-rated portfolio rebalancing tool for DIY investors); and Mogo (giving you a free Equifax credit score, with free monthly credit score monitoring, along with a low-cost way to buy and sell cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin).
As you might’ve seen advertised in several TV commercials, Rakuten (formerly eBates) gives you cash back every time you shop online through participating stores – and there more than 750, says the company. Here’s how it works: sign up for a free account and launch the app or website whenever you want to start shopping. Now you can tap on the logo of a supported store to search for products — such as Hudson’s Bay, Walmart or Indigo — or type in a keyword in the search bar at the top, and once you buy an item you’ll start earning cash that can be sent to you via PayPal, Amazon gift card or cheque (every three months). The percentage you get back varies from retailer to retailer, but Rakuten says you can get up to 30 per cent cash back.
If Rakuten focuses on online shipping, the Canadian app Flipp helps you save while shopping locally at retail. Instead of those paper flyers you get each week delivered to your door — where you get newsprint on your hands and you need to recycle it all — Flipp shows the best deals in your area, whether it’s groceries, home décor items, clothing, tech, and so on. First type in your postal code and it’ll pull up all local retailer and supermarket flyers to “flip” through with your finger. See something you like, tap and hold to read more or quickly tap to clip it into your shopping list. You can browse, search by keyword, or take advantage of the new Watch List, where you can type in something you want when it’s on sale. Flipp also holds all your loyalty and rewards cards, so you don’t need to carry a pocket- or purse-full of plastic.
Why pay more for gas than you need to? That’s the simple premise behind Gas Buddy, a convenient app designed to save you money while filling up. For Canadian and U.S. users, this app shows you which nearby stations have the lowest prices — and provides maps if you don’t know the area. View gas stations by distance or price, plus you can see prices for regular, midgrade, premium and diesel fuel. There are several other tools, too like a trip cost calculator, fuel logbook, vehicle recalls, and more.
On a related note, disabled drivers were forced to fill up at pricier full-serve stations, with attendants who can pump gas in their vehicles for them, but a new app called fuelService solves this problem. Quite simply, fuelService tells you which nearby self-serve stations have assistants available who will refuel your car. When it’s safe to do so, such as before leaving the home, the first step is to open the app, choose fuel type and select a station from the list (or map view); fuelService will then contact the gas station and ask them if they can help. Great idea.
Finally, when we start traveling more, the app and website Pruvo is a little-known gem as it can save you money on your hotel — after you book the room. Say, what? First, reserve your stay however you like — such as Hotels.com, Expedia, or Trivago — and then forward the confirmation email to Pruvo. If the hotel drops the rate on the room before your stay, which happens quite often, you’ll be notified on your phone about how much you’ll save by canceling the original reservation and rebooking at the lower rate. And don’t worry, the app walks you through the entire process. The only catch is you need to have the ability to cancel your room to begin with.
A version of this story was published on Jan. 5, 2021.