College Connect: Using Smartphones to Save, and Help Manage Your Money

Posted By sabew

By Theo Keith / Saving and Investing in College

Among the dizzying number of applications for your smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that, and that, and that), some can help students save money.

As the Android and iPhone technology improves, so do the apps that make the pricey phones useful to own. Budgeting apps provide shoppers with constant reminders not to overspend, while coupon apps allow consumers to get virtual discounts at their favorite participating stores, creating the modern “coupon-clipper.”

Budgeting

While we know what we earn — and watch over our paychecks like hawks — a smaller number of us know what we spend. Few people make budgets, fewer yet actually stick to them.

Budgeting software and online tools such as Mint.com make it easier. You input your bank information online, then Mint compiles it all. You can set budgets on everything from car payments to coffee, and Mint will track your spending.

Mint has also introduced apps for the iPhone and Android. So, if you have a smartphone, you can take your little budget angel with you wherever you go. Once you set a budget, you get a warning message when you’re buying something that puts you over your spending limit. One too many frappacinos at Starbucks? You’re over the coffee budget.

“With the apps, it basically extends that desktop experience or that laptop experience to your hands when you’re in the store,” said Andrew Zumwalt, who tracks technological trends for the University of Missouri’s Department of Personal Financial Planning. “It used to be you had to go to each financial provider’s website, and now, you can just go to one place.”

Of course, even with a Mint.com app, we still have to listen to the budget angel — that’s often the hardest thing to do. But for young people with smartphones, this removes all excuses of “forgetting” about how much money flies out of our wallets.

The websites claim bank-level security. Mint and others are read-only, meaning you can’t make account transfers on the site itself, only monitor your finances.

Coupons

But tracking coffee consumption isn’t the only way to make that expensive smartphone work for you. Some say the days of clipping coupons out of the newspaper are numbered, as apps now allow consumers to find out about discounts virtually.

Startups, such as Columbia, Missouri-based GraphicAir, LLC, are targeting what they hope is a coming mobile phone advertising boom.

For about $950 per year, restaurants and other shops can use GraphicAir’s “ItelitextApp” to send text message alerts to registered customers. Shoppers can download a free app for each store to see discounts instantly. It’s catching on in bigger cities, but some businesses in Columbia, with its 108,500 residents, have begun using the service, said GraphicAir’s owner, Ken Boles.

“When that phone rings, you see what it is and say, ‘We’re right near there. Let’s go grab a bite. We’ve got a coupon for that right now,'” Boles said. “It enabled the web to become part of your phone, and actually have those coupons available. Instead of having, ‘Oh, I clipped it out and left it on the table. I know where it is — I’m sorry, honey.”

As with all coupons, experts suggest using coupons only on things we were already planning to purchase. The recent coupon-club craze seems to be sending younger and older consumers into a buying frenzy. But just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. Coupons can be bad for undisciplined shoppers — but, if you use them properly, they’re another way to save.

Theo Keith, a senior at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is a SABEW/National Endowment for Financial Education fellow. He has had internships at Bloomberg News in Detroit and Fox News Channel’s “Your World with Neil Cavuto,” and he plans a career in business journalism.
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