High-Tech Saving Websites: Not Ready for Prime Time

Photo (cc) by zzzack

At Money Talks News, we’re always looking for new and better ways to save and track spending – not just for you, but for us, too. And while we have some cool features on this site, including a deals search engine and tools to find better interest rates and credit cards, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other sites with lots to offer – the web is full of innovation when it comes to financial tools.

With that in mind, I recently took a look at two other sites that bill themselves as financial forerunners. I found them simple enough to use, with interesting possibilities – if they can work out the kinks:

  • Billshrink.com finds the best deals on cell phone and TV plans based on the way you use them.
  • Bundle.com lets you peek at the average amount your neighbors spend on everything from groceries to clothes – and where they buy.

I tried out the sites myself – which are both free. Here are my thoughts…

Billshrink

I’m always looking for ways to shrink my cell-phone bill, so the first thing I tried out was their “wireless service” feature. The process is straightforward enough: I told the site some details, like my current provider and how much I pay now, how many minutes and what features I use, and when my contract’s up.

It offered to make the process even easier by sucking that info out of my account for me – if I’d just give up my account log-in and password. I didn’t like that idea and entered the info by hand instead.

It came back in a few seconds with a dozen plans and rate comparisons, telling me whether each would save me or cost me, along with a breakdown of features.

It turns out that the only plan that would save me more than my current one is a “seniors only” plan, which I’m not eligible for. (I’m not yet 30.) I wasn’t sure whether to be glad that means I’m already a smart saver, or annoyed that my phone usage looks like an old person’s. (I don’t recall it asking my age at any point.)

I also tried out their feature to save on gasoline costs. It supposed to factor in the time and cost it takes to detour to a gas station when it’s finding the best prices. It seemed to work fine, but of course I have no way of knowing if it was really showing me the lowest prices.

Pros: Free, simple to use, with potential savings.

Cons: people worried about the safety of their personal info might want to skip out, although Billshrink spells out its privacy and security policies here, and they seem decent.

When it comes to gas prices, the only con is that it searches by ZIP Code, not physical address, so the distances might be slightly off.

I was a bit skeptical about how the site could pay for itself, but they explain that, “We make money only if you save money. If you find that you can save money by changing to a different credit card or cell phone plan, BillShrink gets a fee from the retailer when you switch.” They add, “However, these fees never impact the results we present to you.”

Bundle

My first thought: This site just took “keeping up with the Joneses” high-tech. Not only can you set up your own budget and get recommendations on cutting costs, but since other people are doing the same thing, you can look at what others typically spend in any given month on any typical expenses.

Don’t worry, it’s anonymous. So you can’t literally look at what your neighbor spends, but you can scope out people in your ZIP Code. The idea is that if other people are saving more than you, you can re-evaluate your own spending habits and look at where they most frequently shop to get ideas.

One of the ways you can set up the budget and track your expenses is by linking your bank accounts to the site. It then uses your transactions to make a visual diagram of different spending categories – food, shopping, transportation, and so on – in colored bubbles.

It’s cool enough, if it works. When I tried it, it was struggling to pull the data from my bank account. The only transactions it could find were a couple recent transfers and deposits. Maybe it’s because I use a local bank, or maybe the site was just having a rough day.

Pros: It’s a free and fun way to evaluate your spending and check out the spending of others.

Cons: Again, people worried about the protection of their info might have some concerns. You have to put in your online banking username and passwords to use certain features of the site. Obviously this would be a concern for Bundle.com itself, too. This is what the sites has to say about that: “This information [your banking details] is always encrypted when stored or transmitted, and Bundle employees are not able to access these credentials.”

The site’s also in “beta,” which means they’re still working out some kinks and testing new ideas. Like I mentioned, it didn’t work right when it tried to pull a list of transactions from my bank account, but I assume that’s a temporary issue.

The site’s financially backed by Citigroup and Microsoft.

I’ll keep trying out other sites that look useful, so stay tuned. And if you have experiences to share regarding these or other sites – good or bad – I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below!

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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