College is an expensive investment, so finding ways to increase your savings during the years leading up to it, as well as during it, is a must. There are traditional methods, such as 529 Plans and prepaid college savings accounts, which offer you the ability to make contributions over several years, but you shouldn’t limit your saving habits to these conventional options. You could actually be saving and earning money by completing everyday tasks. How? The answer is right in the palm of your hand. Your smartphone can unlock the door to a multitude of apps that can help you do everything from finding the cheapest gas to earning money while you shop for this week’s groceries. The rewards may seem small at first, but over time they can really add up. Here are just a few of the apps worth checking out.
If you’re a college student on a shoestring budget, this app is a must. It helps you locate the best drink prices in town, pinpoint great happy hour specials, and even unlocks coupons for local establishments. You just might save enough over the semester to help pay for a textbook or two. DrinkOwl works on iPhone, iPod, Android, and Blackberry.
Want to find the cheapest gas in town and have a chance to win $100 in free gas? Check out GasBuddy. Simply type in your ZIP code and you’ll receive a listing of the cheapest prices and locations. If you help report prices in your area, you’ll also earn points for prize drawings, including a chance to win a $100 gas card. There’s a new winner every day. GasBuddy is available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry users.
If you dread the thought of clipping coupons, this app is for you. Forget combing through Sunday circulars or store fliers, this app brings all the coupons to you in one tidy location. You can search for hot deals online or in-store nearby. Simply use the code provided (online) or have the clerk scan the coupon from your phone (in-store). Coupon Sherpa is available for iPhone and Android users.
4. Checkout 51
I started using this app two weeks ago and have already earned $7.00 without any real effort. Basically, you earn rebates on products you purchase. To redeem, you simply upload a photo of your receipt and claim any items available for that week. New offers are loaded every Wednesday. Available rebates include produce, personal care, and pretty much anything else you may purchase at a grocery store. You can cash out once you reach $20.00. Checkout 51 is available for Android and iPhone users.
This app is very similar to Checkout 51, but you can earn more per offer based on your activity. For example, you could come across an offer for Clif Bars that rewards you $.25 for learning more about the product, $.25 for choosing between two flavors, and an additional $.50 for taking a short, one-question survey. Once you purchase the item, just upload the receipt and claim your reward. Unlike Checkout 51, you can cash out at $5.00 or receive a gift card once you reach the $10.00 level. The app is available for Android and iPhone users.
Earn additional money while grocery shopping by downloading the SavingStar app. Offers include small amounts on single purchases, rebates for large purchases, and even 100% back on limited deals. If you register your reward cards, your rebates are added automatically, but you can also upload receipts from over 35,000 different stores. Best of all, once you reach $5.00 you can have the money direct deposited into your bank or PayPal account, placed on an Amazon.com gift card, or have it donated to charity. The app works for iPhone and Android.
Forget selling your textbooks back to the college bookstore. BookScouter searches over 40 online book-buying sites to find the highest offer possible. All you need is the ISBN number, which you can scan from your smartphone camera. No registration is required. The new mobile app is available for iOS and Android users.
Of course, these mobile apps will only help if you actually use them and set aside the savings you earn. If you find that you are spending the rewards instead of adding them to a college savings account, you may want to think about another way to save money without really thinking about it – credit cards that offer cash back rewards. Depending on your spending habits and the card you choose, you can earn up to 5% back on your purchases. In the case of the UPromise MasterCard, the cash back rewards are placed in a savings account or can be linked to a UPromise 529 College Savings Plan. I use my card whenever I dine at restaurants (4%), purchase gas (3%) or shop online for gifts (5%). Over the years, I have earned enough rewards to help my daughter cover all her textbooks for her undergraduate degree program.