How to Use a Smartphone To Save Money

I think most people, no matter how frugal they are, have things that they're willing to spend money on, here and there, the things that are important to them so they have meaningfulness and happiness in their lives and don't feel deprived. For some people, its cleaning help, for some vacations, and for some its going out to dinner. These luxuries are totally acceptable in a frugal lifestyle, so long as you make sure to budget them in, and cut back on other things as necessary to be able to afford them.
My luxury that I need is good, healthy food, homebirthing, and once in a blue moon going out on a dinner date with my husband (once or twice a year). My husband's luxury is technology, those little gizmos and gadgets that are proliferating on the market. Mike bought himself and me an Android smartphone, and the way he did it, at least, was smart-part of a deal that gave us better phone service for less money than we had been paying previously. While I don't necessarily recommend that people go out to get a smartphone, because they can be quite pricey, he and I have discovered a whole bunch of ways that you can save money with a smartphone, either because you can eliminate the need to buy certain other items, or because the phone itself allows you to save money.
How's this?
Via certain applications, aka "apps" on the phone, that you can download via an "app store".

My husband and I chose to forgo a data plan; we don't have any internet on the phones itself, but can pick up wireless internet in Wifi hotspots. There are enough Wifi hotspots around here that we don't really miss having internet on the phone. And if there's something for which we especially need the internet, we wait until we get home.
I've put together a list of different ways in which your phone can save you money, divided into two lists- one is ways your phone can eliminate the need to purchase something else, as there is an app that converts the phone to be used for that purpose. The other way is via apps that help you spend less money when you do need to inevitably spend.

I'm including only free apps, because what good is an app that saves money if you have to spend money to get it? (Ok, I know some of you will say that there are some that are worthwhile, that they save you more than you spend, but since nothing is guaranteed to save you money, I'm only including things that are free.)
I'll note when internet is necessary for a certain app to work, and when it is an app that can be utilized even if you have no data plan.

Use Your Smartphone Instead of a:

  • Clock- there are apps to set the phone to constantly show a clock face, so that from a quick glance across the room you can see the time.
  • Alarm Clock- so you can get to work on time, even if you really would rather sleep in...
  • Radio- not all smartphones have this ability, but if you enjoy listening to the radio, you can get a smartphone with the ability to play the radio even when not connected to the internet.
  • Ipod or MP3 Player- download your favorite songs onto your phone (there are even apps to save the  sounds from youtube videos onto your phone), and use it to listen to music.
  • Camera/Video Camera- most smartphones have pretty decent quality cameras, even if not professional quality.
  • Scanner- there are apps that turn your smartphone camera into a scanner, with the ability to scan documents and upload them as necessary.
  • GPS/Map- no need for expensive GPS systems to help navigate areas with which you are not familiar, nor to spend money on purchasing extensive maps of areas to help you once you get lost, or to spend extra money on ultra expensive gas when you wander around in circles, lost... Programs like Waze allow you to search for a route to and from a certain place, and then it downloads a map for the area when you're connected to the internet. Once you have that map, the GPS will work like any other GPS, even with no internet connection, and you'll even be updated when there is traffic, when police cars have been spotted along the route you've chosen, etc...
  • Walkie Talkie- with programs like Zello, you can turn your phone into a walkie talkie, so you can converse with anyone else who has Zello without needing to use up minutes. I assume that you do need internet for this to work, but its worked even when I've been places that I didn't think were Wifi hotspots, so who knows?
  • Telephone- free phone calls via Viber or programs like it, which allows you to find other users via their telephone numbers, so you don't need to have their screen name in order to call them for free.
  • Skype- video call, chat, or make phone calls without using your minutes, so long as the other person has Skype. This does require internet.
  • Text Messaging- With apps like WhatsApp you get free text messaging and other multimedia messaging between members. You do need internet for this, but if you're away from a Wifi hotspot, your messages will be stored for you and you'll be able to see all that you got while away as soon as you have internet again.
  • Ebook Reader- You can download an app to turn your smartphone into a Kindle or Nook ebook reader, with which you can download millions of books, many of them absolutely free. You do need the internet in order to download the books, but once they're on the phone, no more internet is needed.
  • Music Making- There are all sorts of apps you can download free to turn your phone into different musical instruments, like a keyboard, a guitar, a beatbox, etc, which means you can avoid having to buy musical instruments if you just want something simple. (I've even seen a video of a "concert" being given on an NYC subway, with the only musical instruments being various smartphones.)
  • Level- If you're a DIY type of person, you might be amused to hear that you can turn your phone into a level. 
  • Flashlight- to help you see in the dark.
  • Compass- if you want to go hiking or orienteering or do some other wilderness survival stuff, you can turn your phone into a compass.
  • Mosquito Deterrent- there are various apps you can download that make certain high frequency noises that serve as a deterrent to mosquitoes, because they hate the noise. I hate the noise as well, but apparently, most people can't hear it (especially if you're older). My 28 year old sister in law and I tested it out- we can hear the noise and it irritates the heck out of us, but my husband and brothers in law and mother in law aren't able to hear the noise at all. This makes for some very fun nights, sometimes, when I come into bed at night and hear the incessant wail of the anti mosquito app and ask my husband to turn it off, and he wants to know how I'm able to hear it...
  • White Noise Machine- to help you sleep without all the distractions of other sounds... or to drown out the sound of the mosquito deterrent.
  • Dictionary, Thesaurus- there's an app for those, whether you need synonyms, definitions, or translations to other languages...
  • Games- everyone knows about these, I think, but I just have to mention that with all the available games on iphones, there isn't a need to buy many different types of games, from video games to board games, as you can download most of those (or similar) as apps...
  • Pen and Paper Entertainment-You know, those things that you usually look for in the back of the newspapers- those word searches, crossword puzzles, and soduku? They are all available as apps on the smartphone.

Save Money With Your Smartphone By Using:

  • Budgeting software. There are ones for pay, but there are also plenty of free budgeting software apps that utilize things like the envelope system, to help you keep track of income vs expenditures each month. Some synch with your bank account.
  • Coupons- there are apps to help you find coupons for items you want to buy- you just show the cashier the coupon on your phone, no need to print it out.
  • Groupon- Be aware of special limited time deals via the Groupon app.
  • Gasbuddy- Gasbuddy helps you find the cheapest gas in your area, constantly being updated. It utilizes GPS to give you the nearest gas stations and their prices; you do need the internet for this. 
  • Comparison Shopping- there are different apps that let you scan the barcode of an item, and via the internet, it tells you which stores in the area sell that item, and how much they charge for that, so you know if you're getting the best deal or if its worthwhile to go someplace else.
  • Shopping Lists- There are notepads on which to write your shopping lists, to do lists, etc... I use this when I go grocery shopping so I don't forget what I needed and end up getting it at a more expensive store or need to make a second trip.
  • Grocery Tracker- Certain apps help you run up a tally of your grocery shop before you get to the register, so there are no surprises and you can put things back if your total is getting too high.
I'm sure there are plenty of other money saving apps, as well as other money wasting apps out there, but these are the ones we've found useful. (Ok, I actually don't use any of the ones on the second list other than the shopping lists because of the availability in my area- but I do plan on using the grocery tracker- but they are useful tools.) Yes, getting a smartphone can be the opposite of thrifty, but at least we use our smartphones to help us save money.

Do you have a smartphone? Do you use any of the apps I've mentioned? Do you have any that you'd recommend for me or for other people to use to save money?
Do you have a data plan on your phone? Why or why not?

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Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This is a great list to have if I ever get a smartphone!

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