You can increase your next bank statement with the click of a button—but there’s a catch: That button has to be part of a money-saving app or website. Nearly 60 percent of the people who frequently use online banking tools say the resources helped them save more cash, according to a recent survey from the insurance and investments company Country Financial. As an added bonus, 70 percent of all the people who reported using the tools say they’re also great for staying on top of their finances.
“The reality is that if you break down your financial life into a series of smaller, doable goals, you can spend less and save more,” says Catey Hill, a personal finance journalist and the author of Shoo, Jimmy Choo! The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spending Less and Saving More. “Lots of apps and websites can help do that.”
Hill shared a few of her favorites. The sooner you sign up for (or download) these, the sooner your bank account can start growing:
You may think of “budget” as the other B-Word, but Mint.com makes it a much friendlier term: The site links to your credit card accounts, and every time you swipe, the app automatically organizes your spending into categories (rent, groceries, gas, etc.) and creates a chart. “It’s unlikely that someone would write out every purchase he or she makes,” Hill says, “so this app does all the hard work for you.” The app also sends you email and SMS alerts when you’re close to going over your monthly spending limit, which helps prevent buyer’s remorse.
This app takes the legwork out of bargain hunting. Use your phone to scan the barcode of any item while you’re shopping, and the Red Laser app pulls up a list of websites and nearby stores that carry the same product, along with the price tag at each place. Driving five minutes to save $ 25? So worth it.
Filling up your tank and then realizing gas is 10 cents cheaper at a station off the very next exit is the worst. Enter Gas Buddy. The app keeps a running list of user-generated data from across the country (i.e., 20 million users who’ve shared gas prices), so you’ll know where exactly to make gas stops on your next trip, whether it’s from one coast to the other, or simply across town.
Even if you tear out a coupon, that’s no guarantee you’ll remember to bring it with you when you go to the store. SnipSnap solves that problem. With the app, you can take a picture of a printed coupon and store it on your phone so you’ll be sure to have it on you at all times.
Retail Me Not
Saving money is no fun if you can’t splurge on clothing, shoes, and makeup every once in a while. The good news is you don’t have to give up your shopping habit—just rein it in a bit by downloading Retail Me Not. The app uses GPS tracking to determine what store you’re in, then gives you any available coupons for that shop and surrounding retailers. “All you have to do is hold your phone up at the register to be scanned,” Hill says.
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When it comes to losing weight, two methods are better than one. According to a new Northwestern University study, you’ll be more successful at losing weight if you pair weight-loss apps with regular monthly attendance at diet and exercise meetings, rather than just taking the classes alone.
The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, tracked 69 overweight adults who attended diet and exercise meetings on a monthly basis. Each participant received weekly calorie goals based on their current weight, and weekly activity goals based on their current activity level. The group was then spilt up: One group recorded their eating and activity on paper, and the other used a weight-loss app. Those who used the app and attended 80 percent of the meetings lost 15 pounds. Overall, the average weight loss for the app users, including those who did not attend the meetings, was 8.6 pounds. Significantly, those who attended the meetings but didn’t use the app lost little to no weight.
“Weight-loss apps provide real-time feedback, which not only helps you track what you’re eating, but helps you make smarter decisions in the first place” says study researcher Bonnie Spring, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. It gives a stronger sense of accountability than tracking your diet and exercise on paper, she adds.
But if you’re substantially overweight—like the study participants—the app alone is not always enough. “The combination of the app and meetings creates a sense of accountability and establishes your peer group,” Spring says. “You’re interacting with folks who are walking the same trail as you,” Spring adds, which gives you a sense of comradery.
Whether you’re looking to lose a handful or a hundred pounds, weight-loss apps are an excellent place to start. If you really want to give yourself a greater chance at weight-loss success, pair your app with a supportive community with similar goals. Here are the three top-rated weight-loss apps that include community support, recommended by Chad Catacchio, a tech expert for thenextweb.com.
MyFitnessPal (free on iOS and Andriod)
“One of the best reviewed weight-loss apps on Google Play, and an editor’s pick from both PC Mag and Wired, MyFitnessPal has a pretty impressive food database of over 2 million foods that it can count calories for,” Catacchio notes. The app syncs with the service’s website, which has a large community where users can exchange weight-loss triumphs and difficulties.
Noom (free & paid on Andriod)
If you like to be told what to do, this is the app for you. Noom tells you exactly what to do every day with daily weight-loss tasks, which it tracks in real-time. Your progress is then graded, which allows the app to continually adjust itself to help you lose weight. Think of it like a game! “The nice-looking app uses gamification tactics to get you motivated,” Catacchio mentions. It’s also integrated with Facebook and Twitter so you can get your friends in on the pound-dropping action.
Diet Point (free & paid on iOS and Andriod)
If you’re looking for the basis, Diet Point is the way to go. It claims to have the largest list of diet plans (55 for free, more than 150 for paid users) as well as the largest mobile weight-loss forum. The app comes with BMI and BMR calculators along with real-time meal reminders. “The app is relatively basic looking, but the reference and community seem to be its strengths,” Catacchio reports.
Does the idea of crunching numbers (or splitting a check amongst a group of friends) make you nervous? You may be scared for a good reason. According to new research from the University of Chicago, “mathematics anxiety” can elicit a response in the brain comparable to experiencing physical pain.
Researchers scanned the brains of participants as they solved problems, some involving math. Surprisingly, researchers discovered that the anticipation of having to do math, and not actually the act of doing math, activated the pain sensor regions of the brain.
Study author Ian Lyons, PhD graduate in psychology from the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral scholar at Western University in Ontario, Canada, compares the response to getting a shot from your doctor. “When you see the needle coming, you mentally shrink away,” explain Lyons. “It’s the gut reaction of ‘here’s a thing coming that will hurt me,’ even though rationally you know it’s not true,” he says.
Essentially, if you have high math anxiety (meaning you have a tendency to avoid math-related situations), you only consider the negative aspect of doing math, which can feel very threatening, says Lyons. “These individuals are simulating the worst-case scenarios—they can really only see math going badly—and that can fill them with a feeling of dread, which can be painful to a certain extent,” says Lyons.
So how can you lessen the blow? Lots of math homework probably isn’t the answer, says Lyons. The solution is to treat the anxiety itself, he explains, and reassess your approach to math entirely. Luckily, there’s an app for that.
For downloadable shortcuts to offset the math-related brain pain, we turned to our own smart phones, as well as Veronica Belmont, co-host of web show Tekzilla on Revision3.com, for recommendations. Here, 4 cool number-crunching apps to download today:
$ .99 (iOS)
Not only does this app keep track of who owes what, you can also split items (in case you shared that order of sweet potato fries) and wirelessly enable your dining partners to help figure out the math.
Free (iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Palm)
Need to track your expenses remotely? You can scan receipts, log mileage, and consolidate everything into a report once you’re back at your computer. Plus it can do all the calculations for you.
$ 2.99 (iOS)
Converting units, whether it’s inches to centimeters, ounces to cups, fehrenheit to celcius, etc, is a pain in the butt. Convert handles it all seamlessely, and has a built-in calculator so you don’t have to switch back and forth between apps.
Free (iOS, Android)
Stumped at how much to leave your server? This free app isn’t fancy, but it easily allows you to divide up the bill and the tip for your meal separately, so nobody overpays (or accidentally leaves a tiny tip) again.
Top image: iStockphoto/Thinkstock, App images: Courtesy of Apple
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