How to justify purchasing a smartphone

Eight apps that can help students save money

Smartphone photo by leyla.a on Flickr.

From the Maclean’s University Rankings. For more university advice, get your copy today!

Let’s face it: university is expensive. Between tuition, textbooks and having a social life, the cost adds up quickly. Luckily, smartphones can cut costs with a range of apps designed to manage money and track expenses. Forget bank tellers. Since the first mobile banking application became available in Canada in early 2010, the number of Canadians using daily mobile banking has climbed to more than 2.5 million, according to a July report by the Toronto-based Solutions Research Group.

Not surprisingly, the number of apps has also exploded. Here, in no particular order, are the top eight for saving money via your smartphone.

1. Mobile banking apps

Cost: Free

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry or any Internet-enabled device

Standing in line at the bank is as exciting as a library tour. Luckily, Canada’s “Big Five”—the Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce—all offer a full suite of mobile apps for everyday banking transactions such as checking account balances, paying bills, and transferring money. Plus, you can use your bank’s ATM locator to avoid wallet-gouging fees from machines outside your bank’s network.

2. ATM Hunter

Cost: Free

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry

Wallet-gouging ATM fees are unavoidable when it’s an emergency, you’re in a remote location, or you’re just plain lost. But ATM Hunter scouts out the nearest cash point from your bank’s own network, based on your current location. There’s even a map so you can grab cash and find your way home (or back to the bar).

3. Mint

Cost: Free

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android

To ensure you aren’t broke by Christmas, Mint’s account aggregation lets you track cash flow, bank balances, credit cards and student loans, as well as create a budget and set financial goals. Every transaction is logged and categorized so you see exactly what you’re spending each month and how; categories include spending on groceries, clothing and coffee shops (sorry, there’s no hiding your Starbucks addiction). Mint also alerts you to activity across your accounts, such as when your paycheque clears, when you’re low on cash or credit, or when you overspend in a particular category, so you’ll know exactly when you’re one latte from the brink.

4. BillMinder

Cost: $1.99

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android

Keeping track of bills can be annoying, but getting your water cut off mid-shower is worse. BillMinder allows you to track recurring bills and enable push notifications to make sure you (or your forgetful roommate) never miss a payment. It also manages bill collector contact information, separates paid and unpaid bills, and calculates the total amount owed for each month so you know how much money to set aside. For peace of mind, you can back up your data and export via email.

5. CheckPlease Lite Tip Calculator

Cost: Free, or $0.99 for the advertisement-free upgrade

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android

When dining (or drinking) with friends, CheckPlease answers the question that has bedevilled undergrads from time immemorial: “How much do I owe?” Simply input your total bill, the number of people in your party, and the percentage of your tip for fuss-free payment.

6. CardStar

Cost: Free

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry

Discount and points cards are the unsung heroes in cash-strapped students’ wallets, but can become increasingly unmanageable (and bulky) as they accumulate. CardStar stores and organizes digital copies for quick retrieval, and also finds nearby stores based on your location. Bonus: it alerts you to coupons.

7. Economy Shopping Lite

Cost: Free, or $1.99 for the upgrade

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch

This app replaces the diehard pen-and-paper shopping list, filtering items by category for convenience. Forgetful? The app automatically sorts your shopping list by the date of last purchase, so you’ll never accidentally sip sour milk or argue with your roommates over whose turn it is to buy toilet paper. Another feature: you can input price and the location where you purchased the item, so you’ll never forget where to find the cheapest food. Economy Shopping also composes a chart of your monthly grocery bill, so you can see where you could stand to cut back.

8. PayPal Mobile

Cost: Free

Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry

PayPal, the world’s largest free online payment provider, allows you to transfer funds on the go using three useful mobile features. The Bump feature lets you transfer money between two PayPal accounts by gently bumping two iPhones together. Like CheckPlease, the Split Check feature lets you divide the cost of a meal, including tax and tip, among up to 20 people, and allows for quick reimbursement. The Collect Money feature permits you to request money from multiple people for things like rent and bills.

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