5 Free Finance iPhone Apps That Can Save You Money

There used to be a time that you walked into a store, picked up what you wanted, and paid the person at the checkout stand. No instantaneous comparison shopping, no e-tailers to check first, and depending on where you lived, not even too many places to choose from. But with the internet and so many people carrying around miniature connected computers in the form of smartphones, shoppers can now check on a price of a product everywhere else before plunking down their hard earned cash. There are hundreds of apps to choose from, and while I can only recommend iPhone apps for comparison shopping (as that’s the phone I own), I am sure there are comparable apps for other phones as well. Let’s take a look at 6 free ones that can help you save money, along with the links to each (which open in iTunes).

Red Laser

Red laser is my absolute and standard go-to app when I need to comparison price shop. Like most of these other applications, Red Laser uses your phone’s camera to scan the barcode of any product, which then brings up a page of different places and prices you can buy it. It has been flawless for me in finding the correct information, and has saved me a ton of dough over the time I have had it. It has a place on the first page of my iPhone, if that tells you anything. (iTunes Link)


Half.com is where I used to go all the time for cheaper CD’s and books, but now they also have video games, video game systems, and DVD’s. Using their free application you can scan the barcodes of music you want or textbooks you need for school, and find cheaper prices online. You can also buy right from the app, which makes shopping a little more convenient while also saving you money. (iTunes Link)


Another eBay company, like half.com, shopping.com offers not only the ability to comparison shop, but also millions of unbiased product and merchant reviews from the Epinions community. (I love epinions.com) You can shop for cars, electronics, clothing, media, office supplies, musical instruments, sports equipment… the list goes on forever. (iTunes Link)


OK, so Groupon isn’t exactly a comparison shopping app, but it can still save you a ton of dough. Groupon is a “group coupon” site, which pools together all interested parties to buy discounted products or services. Once signed up, you get a daily groupon that members can buy into, and the savings can be quite significant. As I am writing this, the deal for the day is $100 Worth of Custom Framing at FastFrame – for only $45. That’s quite a discount! (iTunes Link)


While I mentioned that I can only vouch for the iPhone apps of each, these guys also feature an app for Android phones as well. Owned by Experian, one of the three credit reporting bureaus, PriceGrabber lets you easily compare the prices on a ton of products from literally any category you can think of. They also offer coupons, review forums, and Deals of the Day. (iTunes Link)

So if you have a smartphone and you go out shopping without an app like one of these, you may be paying too much for whatever it is you are looking for. While I do prefer shopping Mom and Pop stores if I can, and will gladly pay a little more for the privilege of doing so, sometimes the only option is a big box store – and that’s when these kind of apps come in handy. If I am in a Barnes & Noble and want a book, I will always use Red Laser to scan the barcode and check the prices of it online. Almost always, I can get it cheaper elsewhere – all using a free app on my phone.

Do you have a favorite comparison shopping site or application for your phone? If so, please tell us about it!


Need Help Paying Medical Bills? – Negotiate and Ask For a Discount!

I just received yet another medical bill from a pathology office that my Dermatologist used a few months ago. After a small biopsy on one visit, and then surgery and stitches on another, I thought I had wrapped up paying off this latest round of skin cancer medical bills – but boy was I wrong. See, I had finished paying off the $700 in doctor’s bills, but not the bills for the lab that did the pathology testing and diagnoses. I had forgotten that my doctor said that those services would be billed separately! Thus, a new bill showed up the other day for $382 from these guys, and just as I was preparing to call them up and pay off the bill with my rewards credit card, I remembered something pretty important: my doctor gave me a discount on his services because I don’t have health insurance and I was paying in cash. Would the pathology organization be willing to give me a discount as well? What could it hurt to ask?

So ask I did… and I received.

My $382 bill was cut almost in half, which brought it down to a total of $197. That’s a savings of $185 just for asking a question of the woman answering the phone in the billing department. Most doctor’s offices (and obviously outside services, too) should be willing to give out discounts on medical care for cash-paying customers without insurance because when they are able to bill insurance companies, they rarely get their “set” rates. If you are lucky enough to have health insurance, take a look at your next bill/statement. On it you will see two different prices – the dollar amount that the doctor wants to get paid (his or her rate), and the amount they are going to get paid by the insurance company. There is often a rather large difference between the two, and is often the cause of a doctor raising their rates to exorbitant heights, in order to actually make some money in their practice! Many people think that doctors are rolling in dough, and while some of them are, my old primary care physician in California actually went into a private, dedicated practice where he doesn’t take insurance anymore – he couldn’t afford to pay his staff on what the companies would pay for his services. So now he has a set amount of patients who pay an annual fee directly to him for most medical care and issues, and he was able to stay in business, pay his staff well, and continue to practice the kind of medicine he wanted to. It was a win/win for his office and his patients alike. Because of this discrepancy between the set rate and the actual paid rate, doctors are usually willing to give those without insurance (like me, for now) a discount on their bill, where they can still come out ahead of what an insurance company would have paid them for the same services.

While I hope the 34 million people without health insurance in this country are able to get some relief sometime soon (I just wrote about how to get access to pre-existing insurance coverage), and it may be cheaper to go to a local clinic than a doctor’s office for less urgent care, if you are receiving and/or paying a doctor’s bill right now with cash, make sure you call up and ask for a discount. What have you got to lose? Chances are that you will see your bill significantly reduced, and in these economic times, who couldn’t use a big break on a bill?


Buy Local – How Spending Money Locally Benefits You & Your Community

Sure, the convenience of those big-box stores is nice because you can get almost everything you need (and a bunch of stuff you don’t, if you are anything like the average person – myself included) in one place, but do you know where your money goes after you give it to the clerk? It heads right back to the big-box headquarters, paying out giant bonuses and perks to the bigwigs while leaving the workers to fight for minimum wage and meager benefits. I fight the urge to buy everything at the big-box stores as much as the next person, because of convenience and price, but when I think about where my money is going it does make it a little easier to try to search out smaller shops. When I lived in New Mexico, I lived in a very small town where most of the stores and restaurants were locally-owned, and I tried to make it a point of buying from them instead of driving the 63 miles to the nearest Target Superstore. (There was a Walmart in my town, but I never shop there for reasons I won’t get into here and that you guys have heard before) Sometimes it took going to 2 different stores to find what I needed, or spending an extra $.50 over the price it would have been “down the hill”, but it was worth it because there was a local human behind the storefront.

These people worked very hard to keep their small businesses alive in town, and as a resident of the town, I wanted to support them as much as I can. And even though I now live in a major city again, I still prefer to patronize an independent coffee shop or diner when I can, so that I know my money is staying in my community and benefiting my friends and neighbors.

There are several reasons why supporting local small businesses is so important for our communities:

1. When stores are kept in business, it keeps jobs in town. That might not seem too important to you if you live in Los Angeles or NYC, but in small-town America, every job counts. Believe me, I have seen it first-hand.

2. Money spent in your town in a local small business usually stays in town. It goes into the local bank, where it is loaned out to local residents, and it circulates within the local economy. Money spent at the big-box stores leaves town immediately and goes to the headquarters of said company, never to return to the local economy again. One 2004 study found that for every $100 spent at a local businesses, $68 remained in the community versus $43 for chain stores. That’s a big difference.

3. You get better customer service from small businesses. Have a problem with something you bought? Walk in and talk to the guy that sold you the product. Try getting someone to truly care at Target or Walmart!

4. It keeps your community alive. Instead of having a busy big-box store down the street and empty store-fronts lining your downtown, keeping local business owners “in business” keeps your town alive and kicking. If Taos, NM didn’t have a local economy, the town would not exist. Period. We had 1 Walmart and 1 Applebees there (other than fast crappy food); the rest were privately owned stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, coffee shops, etc. Starbucks? Yea right – thankfully we had 4 independent coffee shops selling great coffee to locals and tourists alike. Keeping the economy alive also helps with local events, which small businesses are more apt to sponsor and support. Big-boxes usually just take the money and run.

Supporting local businesses is a way of living mindfully and giving conscious thought to where you are spending your money and where it goes after it leaves your wallet. Sure, there are times when I need to pick up a few things at Target because I cannot get them at a small shop nearby, and that’s fine with me. It’s getting harder and harder to find Mom and Pop shops in big cities, but I do my best to try to support them. Besides, I like saying “hi” and knowing the face behind the counter.

Do you have a favorite small town store you frequent instead of just heading to the closest big-box store? Tell us about it!

(photo credit: Mike Cattell)


New Bank Overdraft Fee Laws For Your Debit Cards & Checking Accounts

As of August 15th, 2010, there are new laws in place regarding overdraft fees from your bank. Up until that date, many banks and credit unions automatically enrolled customers in an overdraft service that could run as much as $35 each time you over-drafted your account. This service was there (in addition to padding the bank’s bottom line) to “protect you” from having your card declined due to having insufficient funds in your account. Granted, if they had just left the $35 IN the account, maybe you wouldn’t have gone over the limit, but still – this was an automatic enrollment and not something you could opt out of. Well, that all changed on August 15th, when the overdraft section of the financial legislation overhaul went into effect.

An overdraft fee is a financial penalty that the bank takes from you when you try to spend more money than you currently have available in your account. Ranging from $20-$35 or so, banks have been making a fortune off this fee for many, many years, without you having a choice if you wanted to pay it. Overdraft your account, they take the fee. Period, the end. But now you can opt-out of the fee, and your card(s) will just be declined if you do not have enough money to cover the purchase. I really appreciate this new rule, because I think it encourages people to be more diligent in knowing the balance of their accounts and just how much they can spend. By opting out of this service, it’s almost like using cash to buy things with, in that you have to actually have the money to spend it! (True, this is for debit or ATM cards only, and I will touch on using credit cards instead a little later) So what can you expect from your bank now that the rules have gone into place?

The new Federal Reserve rules state that your bank and/or credit union, (or any financial institution you may deal with) has to send you an explanation of how their overdraft rules can apply to your account. This is for all debit and/or ATM cards that you have at your bank of choice. You now have a choice to enroll in their overdraft service or not, and you will be marked as opting out if you do not specifically opt in and agree to their rules. If you do opt in and agree to pay for the overdraft service, you can still change your mind and cancel at any time in the future. You may also do the opposite – opt out now and opt in later. (But I say you stay opted out) These new rules do not necessarily apply, however, to writing checks and/or any bills you have automatically paid out of your account. Banks may still charge you overdraft fees on these transactions, and it’s up to you to make sure you have enough in the account to cover those type of drafts.

Anything to reign in the absurd profits that banks have been making off people is good news in my book. Yes, they need to make money, otherwise they don’t have any money to lend out to borrowers like you and I. But there is a difference between making a profit and just gouging your customers – and thus I like this new rule. Personally, I have never overdrafted my checking account for anything, so I would never have needed this service on my account and have never paid the fee. But if you run that risk on occasion, a better alternative to the bank fees would be to use your credit card for purchases and pay off any balance at the end of each month. I rarely, if ever, use my ATM card for buying anything. I always use my rewards credit card so that I have protection against fraudulent activity and my checking account doesn’t get cleaned out. And to make sure I always pay off my card each month, I make 4 monthly payments every Monday that equal an approximation of my monthly expenditures and automatic payments to bills. So if my monthly credit card bill is $500, I send $125 every Monday to the credit card company. This makes the balance easier to pay every month and assures me that my balance is always paid off. So while the new Federal Reserve rules can help you avoid overdraft charges, there are also other ways to keep annoying fees from raiding your bank accounts!

Photo by frankh


Could Your Lack Of Money Be Your Own Fault?

About two weeks ago, I was having a pretty in-depth conversation with a good friend of mine when the topic of money came up. Normally, I try to keep talk about both money and politics out of my discussions with my friends, but this time I decided to go with it to see where it went. We talked about how much money we used to make in our twenties compared to today, and if we were doing better now than we were then. While I make about 50% of what I used to make at my highest earning level in corporate America, I am much happier than I was then – I make my own hours, work when I want, and have downsized my life enough that I can still live comfortably. My friend, on the other hand, makes a great deal more than me but yet wouldn’t stop complaining about not having any money.

He is single like I am, so he doesn’t have anyone else dependent on him, but he lives a much bigger lifestyle than mine – his apartment is twice the size (and rent) of my 700 square foot place, his car cost $10,000 more than mine (and he makes payments while I paid cash for mine), and he spends a ton of money on “going out”, whether it be to bars, dinner, or partying. And yet here he sits in front of me, discussing his lack of funds. Sorry, but I couldn’t feel bad for him, as this lifestyle is of his own design. If he was happy in it, that would be one thing. All power to him if all is well! But it’s not – so I took the time to point out a few things to him that he should have realized but never really added up the figures on. Let’s take a look at why his bank account doesn’t display the fruits of his high-paying job.

He goes out for lunch every day of the week

Yep, Every. Single. Day. Not once in 3+ years of working at this company has he brought a lunch from home. I found that hard to believe, as that’s normally the number one thing people cut back on in order to save some money. Going out, or not being “part of the crowd”, was more important than the money it was costing him. At a minimum of $10 a day (I imagine it was much more, knowing this guy), that’s $50 per week or $2,500 of post-tax income going right out the door each year. And that’s the MINIMUM. Never mind if it cost more. That’s as much as the payments on a decent Honda each month!

He’s a smoker

And a heavy one at that… Smokers never want to hear about how much money they are wasting, but back when I stopped doing it I realized just how much money I spent on something designed to give me cancer. How stupid! There are so many habits that are better for you and are much more enjoyable, yet pack a day smokers continue to spend upwards of $5 per day, or $1,825 per year, on a product that makes you sick. Cigarettes in NYC are $11 per pack, which would equal $4,015 per year. Talk about a waste of money that could be put to much better use than slowly killing oneself.

He likes to party several nights a week

The price of this partying is seemingly endless, so I can’t even put a number on it. Happy Hours on Wednesday and Thursday night for a few hours, and late night bar hopping on Friday and Saturday nights must add up to an incredibly huge bar tab. I know that when I go out with friends and we spend a few hours at a bar, we all end up dropping a healthy amount of money. But I am fine with it because I A. rarely do it and B. know ahead of time I will be spending some money. However, I cannot imagine going out 4 nights a week to bars, as I would be broke in no time at all! When beer is $6 and a mixed drink is $9, a few cocktails every night can take a bite out of your take home pay.

There is a big difference between not making enough money to live versus making plenty but spending it before it even gets to spend a night in your bank. Those not making enough to survive on have a real difficult situation to deal with on a daily basis; overspending on superfluous stuff is not one of them. Not a single one of these three things above is necessary for my friend to have a comfortable life. In fact, I would imagine healthier lunches, not getting cancer, and waking up with fewer hangovers would actually make for a better life! I am not a teetotaler, at all – I enjoy going out and having a few drinks with friends, heading out for a nice meal once in a while, and spending some money on experiences that I really feel are worth it. I am not a person who thinks that money is only for saving and not spending. I realize that my lower income is because of my own choices in life and in order to keep my lifestyle at the level I want I need to watch how I spend my money – but some people, like my friend I was talking to, can’t see how some of their behaviors are leading to their own unhappiness. He wanted to blame the economy, his boss, or his company – but he truly only has himself to blame. And I think he got that after our discussion. Will he quit smoking? Doubt it – it’s “him”, so he says. But maybe he could take a lunch once a week or go out just on Fridays. Only time will tell…

Photo by pinguino

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