Apps to help you save money

This series is brought to you by
TurboTax Federal Free Edition.

Here's a roundup of some of my favorite money-saving apps for iOS:

SmartyPig. My favorite money saving app is SmartyPig. It's designed to let create virtual "piggy banks" for specific savings goals. I have piggy banks for my yearly car insurance bill, for Christmas present money, for my kids' college funds, and for a new computer every three years.

SmartyPig is linked to your checking account, and every month, a specified amount of money is transferred from your bank account to your piggies. As the pigs get closer to their goal, you can see them getting full. When the goal is reached, you can have the cash transferred to your bank account, or redeem it for a retailer gift card such as Amazon and get a bonus. I seem to have the incurable habit of spending all the readily available money in my checking account, so SmartyPig helps me meet my savings goals.

Debt Free. Last year, I foolishly used credit cards to pay for things I’d ordinarily have used cash to purchase: vacation, back-to-school supplies, school books, clothes for my kids, and business travel. It added up fast. As a result, I am now carrying balances on three different credit cards. The total amount I owe is large enough that I can’t pay it off immediately, so I needed to come up with a plan to get out of debt.

I figured there’d be an app for that, so I looked around the iTunes app store and found something called Debt Free. It’s a well constructed app that helps you use the “Snowball method” to pay down your debt (including credit cards, car loans, lines of credit or any other kind of loan).

If you’re not familiar with the Snowball method, here’s how it works:

1. Make a list of all of your outstanding loan balances, sorted from the lowest balance to the highest balance.

2. Write down the minimum payment for each loan.

3. Figure out how much extra you can afford to pay every month. This is your “snowball.”

4. Pay the minimum payment on each loan, and apply the snowball to the loan with the lowest balance.

5. When the lowest balance loan gets paid off, start applying the extra payment to the next lowest loan on your list.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until you are free of debt.

Debt Free automates the above process. You simply enter information about each card (remaining balance, interest rate, due date and minimum payment) and how much of a snowball you can afford. It crunches the numbers, generates a payment schedule and tells you when you will be debt-free. It will also notify you when a bill is due (even if the app is not running), and send you a detailed report by email.

Mint. I’ve been a user of Mint, a personal finance website, for several years, and it has become an essential tool for keeping track of my expenses and organizing information that my accountant needs to prepare my income taxes. The great thing about Mint is the way it pulls data from my checking account, savings accounts, stock brokerages, and credit cards and creates attractive and easy to understand reports and graphs. It’s so much easier to use than Quicken, which I struggled with for over 15 years. As soon as I started using Mint, I zapped Quicken from my hard drive, vowing never to use it again. (I got nervous when I learned that Intuit, the company that publishes Quicken, purchased Mint, but so far Intuit has not mucked with the elegance of Mint.)

Shortly after the iPhone was introduced, Mint created an app for it. And like the Web version, the iPhone app was very useful at providing a snapshot of my income, expenses, and financial status. I didn’t think Mint could get much better, but in October the company created an iPad version (which is free, like all versions of Mint) and it is the best way yet to take stock of your personal finances.
When you launch the iPad app you are presented with a screen that displays the following:

1. A pie chart that shows your spending by category;

2. Alerts about upcoming bills and other important information;

3. A progress bar that shows how much under or over budget you are for the month;

4. A list of your top spending categories for the month.

If you click on any of these items, Mint will drill down to display detailed information about it. If you need to edit a transaction, or change the spending category that Mint has incorrectly assigned to a transaction, you can do that on the iPad app, but I find it easier to make those kinds of changes on the web-based version.

If you haven’t tried out Mint yet, I highly recommend that you do. And if you have an iPad, I’m betting you’ll find the Mint app to be as useful as I do.

note: Mint is owned by Intuit, sponsors of this content series. Intuit had no input into or review of the content of this post.