Chances are, you’re as tethered to your smartphone as the next guy or gal, incessantly texting, browsing and emailing throughout the day. But chances are equally high that you’re not using that smartphone as well as you might to save yourself time, trouble and — most importantly — cash, at least when it comes to shopping.
The power of your smartphone goes well beyond the ability to kill time playing Angry Birds while waiting for your flight to board. From easily building smart grocery lists to instantly comparing prices at various retailers, your Android, Blackberry or iPhone has a vast reservoir of untapped (pun intended) time- and money-savers, literally at your fingertips.
Whether it’s for essentials or frivolities, shopping is a part of life. And streamlining what you spend (and how much time you spend looking for a great deal) can make your life all the more stress free. Here’s your guide to making the most of your phone
A free app for both iPhone and Android, this makes adding items to your grocery list a breeze. Forget tapping them into a note app or (God forbid) scribbling them onto a list kept on your fridge — just use your phone’s camera lens to scan the barcode when you use up the mustard or snag the last Coke. The item will be automatically added to your grocery list, which can then organize items by aisle so you don’t spend half the day running laps around Safeway.
Remember the Milk
The ultimate task-master, Remember the Milk is a free app that allows you to synch your to-do lists from iGoogle, your Google calendar, iCal, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and practically anything else you can think of. Phone not handy? Update your lists online from your laptop and synch up later. Tasks can be organized by proximity to where you are and you can get reminders by email, SMS or instant messenger to pick up your laundry as you’re passing by the dry cleaner. You can even email your to-do list to your hubby so he has no excuse for skipping a grocery trip on his way back from the golf course. Never forget the milk again.
With Craigslist firmly stuck in 1995 and showing no signs of wanting to usher its still-popular classified ad site into the modern age, CraigsPro is the solution. Browse listings, post ads, scroll through full-screen photos and (coolest of all) see deals near you in an app that’s easier to use than the Simple Simon site itself. $1.99.
This must-have free app for iPhones, Androids and Blackberrys will change the way you shop forever. Scan the barcode of any item and quickly see price comparisons for online and nearby local retailers for the best deal, complete with a map of the closest places to buy. Prefer to buy online? Do it from the app and pick it up at a store near you. Allergic to nuts? Scan items in the grocery store for a list of a product’s known allergens.
We’ve all been there, splurging on a session of shopping therapy only to wonder a week later why there’s no money left to fill the gas tank. Those days are behind you with the Mint app, available free for iPhones and Androids (and even iPads). Named one of the top personal finance apps at the 1st Annual App Awards, Mint keeps your bank accounts up to date in real time, as you make purchases, letting you see exactly how much you have left to binge on a pair of Manolo Blahniks.
The Coupons App
Do you remember when people used to “clip” coupons made of “paper”? LOL, ask your grandmother about it. Today’s coupons come to your phone, personalized through GPS to deliver those that are in your vicinity. Search for the cheapest gas, get daily deals at retailers and restaurants, scan products’ barcodes to find out who has slashed prices, and share the love through text, email, Twitter and Facebook. And to think that grandma’s phone only made calls. Free for Android and iPhone.
Say what you will about this retail behemoth and its impact on American culture, its updated iPhone app gives you something to do with your phone other than take pictures for PeopleOfWalmart. Flip it into “store mode” when you walk in the door and locate all the items on your shopping list by aisle, scan barcodes to calculate your bill, check for in-store deals and even check the inventory to be sure what you need is in stock before leaving home. Sadly, Android users have to wait for a future update to capitalize on these
Apps for individual stores are becoming more and more commonplace, and Safeway’s new app has some nice touches (especially compared to another local grocer, King Soopers, whose parent company, Kroger, offers a much more basic no-frills app that still has a way to go). Safeway offers the standard features of grocery lists, weekly coupons and store locator, but it has the added bonus of tracking what you buy in order to offer you deals on the items you actually use. If you can get over the Big Brother aspect of it, it can save you some bucks.
In the grocery category, Whole Foods takes the (gluten-free) cake. This app is a powerhouse, allowing you to search recipes, filter them by categories such as “budget” and “dietary restrictions” and add the ingredients to a shopping list. You can shop smart by looking for low fat or vegan ingredients and even search for recipes using ingredients you already have. The app even has handy cooking tips you can use to make your selection, eliminating the possibility of buying the wrong kind of mushroom, for example, when experimenting with a new recipe.
As much as Amazon has changed the shopping experience, there’s still nothing like parking in a sea of cars and spending the day wandering around an old-fashioned mall, trying not to give into the temptation of the smells from Cinnabon. With Fastmall, you no longer have to seek out those oddly rare mall directories to find your favorite stores—the app comes loaded with interactive store maps that don’t rely on GPS or WiFi. Locally, you can navigate the Twenty Ninth Street mall in Boulder, Flatiron Crossing, the Orchard Town Center and dozens of others. The best feature might be “Where Did I Park?”, which uses GPS to take you back to your car.
Here’s an app that independent sellers have been dreaming of — a credit/debit card swiper (via the free card reader, delivered separately, that plugs into your phone’s mini-jack). Install the app, plug in the card reader, synch up your Pay Pal account and whether you’re selling tomatoes at the local farmer’s market or old furniture at a yard sale, you can take Visa, MasterCard and American Express through your phone. Receipts can be emailed to buyers through the app and you can even deal with the occasional refund, all from your phone. (Card reader and app are free, but Pay Pal charges a 2.7 percent transaction fee on each purchase.) Available for iPhone and certain Androids running specific software; check Google Play for your phone’s compatibility.
The Secrets of QR Codes
If you’re a bit behind the curve on just what your smartphone is capable of, it might come as a surprise that it can also interact with the physical world in order to deliver deals, specials and detailed information about products and services to you no matter where you are. This is done by scanning a QR Code, those square 2D blocks of black and white pixels you see everywhere from advertisements (including in this magazine — be sure to keep your eyes peeled) to the sides of buses to business cards. Finding a QR code is like finding an Easter egg — scan it and see what happens. Most commonly, you’ll be directed to a company website, a secret coupon, product information or a person’s contact information. Almost all new smartphones come with a QR reader, but if not, download any of the free versions from iTunes or Google Play. You can also generate your own QR codes to send customers to your company or personal website. Flip through this issue to find QR codes for local businesses Vilas Online and The Dawson School, to name a few.