Photo (cc) by Don Hankins
It’s not easy keeping up with new technology, especially when buying the latest gizmo empties your wallet.
But what about tech tools that keep the money in your wallet? From tracking your account balance with your smartphone to finding the lowest rate on a mortgage, the latest technology can pay for itself many times over. The trick is separating the money-makers from the time-wasters.
In the video below, Jim Robinson shows you a few free money-saving websites you may not know about. Check out his report, then read on for more.
Jim named five tools in the video. They’re linked and recapped below with pros and cons – along with five more worth checking out.
What’s the safest present to give someone you don’t know well? Many people would say a gift card – but those same people probably have several gift cards they’ve never used. And some gift cards have expiration dates. Instead of wasting that money, you can list your cards on this site for free and get a check or Amazon.com credit for them.
Pros: It’s easy to find cards and buy them at discounted rates, and whether you’re buying or selling, shipping is free. You also tend to get a higher payout in Amazon credit than you do in cash.
Cons: While you can sell cards with a partial balance, there’s a minimum – you can’t cash in on cards worth less than $25.
Splitting the bill for a dinner out is easy. Just ask the waiter for separate checks. And in a nutshell, that’s what PayDivvy does for whatever kind of group expense you want: roommates’ rent, bills, club dues, or planning a party. The site names everybody’s share, sends reminders, processes payment, and lets you know when everybody coughs up the cash.
Pros: It’s a low-hassle way to pay that can be used for recurring bills too.
Cons: There’s obviously no way to make anybody pay through PayDivvy, and while it may be straightforward for you, you may have a hard time getting your parents or other tech-unsavy folks to use it. It also sounds like the payments may be a little slow to clear. From the site’s FAQ section: “Bank account payments may take up to 4-5 business days to clear. Debit and credit card transactions usually clear within 1-2 business days.”
The name makes sense: It’s essentially a 1.1 percent interest-earning savings account with tools to help you set goals and make regular contributions. This is a piggy bank for grown-ups.
Pros: Your bank probably doesn’t offer a better rate on a free savings account, and if you set your goal in the form of a gift card at certain retailers (including Amazon, Lowe’s, Travelocity, and others) you can get up to 14 percent in cash back savings.
Cons: SmartyPig also lets you save and spend on a prepaid rewards card that can give you up to 10 percent cash back depending on the retailer – which sounds more like a pro until you notice the fees, which include a $2 ATM charge (on top of what the machine charges, unless you use an Allpoint ATM) and a 50-cent balance inquiry fee. It also can’t be used to pay for gas. But the card is optional, and you’ll be fine if you use it smartly.
4. Money Island
Designed for kids 8 to 14, this is a free online video-game site designed to teach kids the basics about money: spending and saving, wanting vs. needing, taxes, interest, and credit.
Pros: It’s simple, fun, and free. The demo version of Money Island on the site includes an introduction and two levels, and there are four other standalone games plus some videos and quizzes. The site also plans educational supplements for parents and teachers.
Cons: The main draw of the site, the Money Island game, doesn’t seem fully available yet. An option allows parents and teachers to sign their kids up for the full version, but when we tried, we just got an email that basically said, “Thanks, try the demo!” According to the Credit Union Times, as of April the game is still in a pilot phase at some public schools and community banks. (Update: The makers emailed to say Money Island is “live at 16 community financial institutions across the country and 31 CFIs are about to launch.”)
There are tons of retirement calculators online, but this one’s more straightforward than most. You plug in some numbers, including your annual contribution, your employer’s, and how long you’re saving. It does the math.
Pros: You can fill in all the info on one screen rather than going through a tedious multipage, ad-filled step-by-step tutorial. And it will spit out a pretty little graph and a year-by-year account value breakdown based on your input.
Cons: It asks for a few variables you can’t possibly know for sure – like your expected salary increase rate – which can skew the results.
PayPal continues to beat on old-school money-wire competition like Western Union with services like this. Their partnership with Discover lets cardholders send money to any email address or phone number for free.
Pros: The recipient doesn’t need to be a Discover customer or even have a PayPal account, although they’ll have to sign up for the latter to claim the money.
Cons: There’s no word on whether PayPal will be doing this with the other card companies – Visa and American Express already have their own solutions, but Visa’s only works with other Visa users and AmEx’s is more complicated to use and charges some fees. Also, only certain kinds of Discover cards are eligible right now, though they plan to expand the program.
Getting into debt is easy, getting out is hard. This free tool is for people who don’t know how to approach repaying debts and need some options explained to them. You tell the Debt Coach how much you earn and how much you owe, how comfortable you are making payments now, and your priorities in paying off the debt. It does the math and recommends a repayment strategy, the advantages and disadvantages, and how much you should pay a month.
Pros: It can pull debts from your credit report (at no cost to you or your credit score) for you instantly, and you can tell it to ignore debts that are incorrect or disputed. This makes it easy to assess how much debt you have if you don’t have an exact handle on it already.
Cons: As far as it goes, this looks like a good resource. But if you’re in serious debt, a computer can’t answer all your questions and you may need professional help.
Are you good about keeping your receipts, or do you have a messy pile in a drawer, in your wallet, and in your car? A growing number of retailers – including Walmart, Office Depot, Whole Foods, and Best Buy – offer digital receipts, and this site is a great way to organize and keep track of them.
Pros: Some retailers accept these for returns and exchanges (if not, you can print them) and they may come in handy during tax time.
Cons: While some big-name retailers are partnered with the service, there’s only a handful right now. This won’t be getting rid of your paper receipt clutter just yet.
One way to save money is renting instead of buying. This site helps you do that, from private parties or businesses. Whether you need a car, a few chairs, a camera, a drill, or even a building, Zilok can match you up (for free) with people in your area.
Pros: And one way to make money? You can rent out your own stuff.
Cons: The company charges a commission on your rental gear, which ranges from $1 to $125-plus for rentals over $2,000.
Most people know a good site to save on plane tickets. But what about tickets for everything else?
Pros: The site offers lower rates on some sample events we checked out. For a local baseball game (Marlins vs. Phillies) it offered us seats behind home plate for $71, while Ticketmaster wanted $118.
Cons: The savings don’t seem consistent. Looking at a U2 concert, Ticketmaster had seats in an upper section for $112, whereas RazorGator wanted $231. Ouch. This site is probably best used for comparison shopping with others like SeatGeek, which aggregates many ticket sites but doesn’t get every best rate.