Want to save money? There's an app for that

By Sarah Damon

Demand for smartphones shows no signs of slowing down, but if you have one, are you taking full advantage of how your phone can save you money?

According to market researcher Gartner, the smartphone industry had its highest year-over-year sales increase since 2006. Depending on the availability of promotions, a smartphone can cost anywhere from free to over $400.

Let's face it, these devices are pricey! And for what? The ability to make a phone call from the grocery store? But smartphones, as you know, do more than phone a friend. There are an endless number of apps for everything from losing weight to killing ninja zombies, but more important to your finances, there are some great apps to help you save cash.

If you've paid big bucks for your smartphone, that's all the more reason to use it to shore up your high-yield savings account now! The following are some cheap-to-free apps that save money:

Money management

One of the easiest ways to save money with a smartphone is through a comprehensive money management app. These programs allow you to stay on top of your finances with an overview of your accounts, low-balance alerts, on-the-go data entry, and more.

Two apps that top the list are Mint and Pageonce, both of which can be downloaded for free. Mint allows you to enter transactions and update account balances, and will alert you when you're close to overdrawing your checking account, going over your budget, or if there's been unusual spending (which can help you detect identity theft almost as soon as it happens).

Pageonce offers similar features, and allows you to connect other online accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, AT&T and American Airlines. You also can sign up for alerts when you're close to exceeding your cell phone data usage or letting airline miles expire (most helpful if you're counting on those miles for your dream vacation).

Comparison shopping

How many times have you stumbled upon a product on sale and wondered if it's truly the best price out there? You don't want to pass it up and risk the store selling out, but what if there's a better deal somewhere else?

ShopSavvy is a free app that solves this problem, turning your smartphone into a portable barcode scanner. Scan the item in question, and you'll get back a summary of information about the product, where else it's sold (both online and in nearby stores) and at what prices. You'll be able to make your purchase confident that you're getting the lowest price.

Cheap gas

There's no need to pay any more for gas than you have to, and with the free Cheap Gas! app, you'll have the inside track on the best price in your area. Cheap Gas! uses the GasBuddy.com database to show you gas stations in your immediate area and their prices per gallon. You can select the cheapest option, or if you're already running on "E", sort the list by distance to get to a filling station ASAP. Not sure where the station is located? The app will map your route.

Save money on new devices

As previously mentioned, a smartphone isn't just a device for making phone calls. It's an Internet connection, GPS device, camera, calculator, compass, MP3 player, messaging device and more. When you're tempted to buy a new device to solve a problem, find out if there isn't an app that could allow you to use your smartphone to fill the same need.

Blogger Fred Wilson purchased an Apple Wireless Keyboard and a Gyration Air Mouse for $160 to better control his home theater computers. That day, a friend tipped him off to the Mobile Air Mouse app for $1.99. When his $160 set-up failed to work and left him frustrated, Wilson downloaded the app, which worked well. "Bottom line for me," he writes, "apps beat devices. Lesson learned. Relatively cheaply."

To really see the savings from these tips, each time your smartphone saves you money, transfer the amount saved directly into your savings account. You might be surprised how quickly spare change can add up to help you reach your financial goals.