Marvelous money apps

Remember way back to when you actually had to balance your checkbook by hand and track expenses on a spreadsheet? When you had to call or drive from store to store to compare prices? Or pull out a workbook to teach your kids about money? All of that has changed with the explosion of smartphone apps that make money matters a cinch.

Here are some of the handiest—and free—money-related apps.

1 & 2) Twitter and Facebook
These social media tools do so much more than connect you with friends and favorite celebrities. Follow your brands and stores you like so you don’t miss out on the latest offers. Some companies, including airlines, offer exclusive sales on Twitter. American Express cardholders can sync their cards with Twitter and tweet special-offer hashtags in return for discounts. And many high-value coupons can only be found on Facebook. Available for iPhone and Android.

3) Shop Savvy
This barcode scanning app is an easy-to-use way to find out if the Lego set your child is clamoring for is cheaper across town. Press “scan” on the app, point and shoot the barcode, and prices for both brick and mortar and online retailers appear. The program also keeps track of your scanning history. Available for iPhone and Android. 

4) SavingStar
Finally, a paperless way to use coupons. Select desired coupons and link them to your store loyalty card. Use the card at the register and your savings are automatically posted to your SavingStar account. The balance can be traded for a bank deposit or store gift cards. The drawback? The app only works at participating stores with loyalty cards. In the Twin Cities, Rainbow is the major participant. Available for iPhone and Android.

Use the smartphone app for this popular personal financial management tool to check your budget before sitting down for an impromptu lunch or to splurge on a deeply discounted, but still potentially budget-blowing pair of shoes. Many banks also offer budgeting and tracking on the go, but Mint’s tool allows you to see your bank and credit card balances from multiple financial institutions all in one place. Another personal financial management tool to consider: Available for iPhone and Android.

6) Spotify or Pandora
These aren’t money apps, but if you love music as much as I do, you’ll wonder how you lived without these apps once the CD budget was re-allocated to buying diapers. Listen to custom radio stations based on your favorite artists and tailored to your preferences. There is a subscription version of Spotify, but get your feet wet with its new radio service before locking into the much-enhanced monthly service. Available for iPhone and Android.

7) Your bank or credit union’s app
These are must-have apps for the busy parent, especially if you’re like me and never seem to have cash to pay the babysitter. At the very least, most bank apps will help you locate a free-ATM machine and check your bank balance to see if you can afford take-out. But it gets better from there, with some banks offering remote capture deposit, which allows you to deposit a check with the snap of a picture. Others offer person-to-person money transfers. I predict banks will continue to add nifty conveniences. Most apps are available for iPhone and Android.

8) GasBuddy
If you’ll actually wait in line for gas at Costco, then this app is for you. It helps you locate the most affordable gas closest to where you happen to be. Perfect if it’s your week to carpool. Available for iPhone and Android.

9) Amazing Coin
Sick of telling your kindergartner “no” when he asks to play Angry Birds on your phone? Amazing Coin offers a few free games for younger kids who are still wrapping their heads around why the smallest coin isn’t worth the least. The full version costs 99 cents and has nine games about counting and making change. Available only for iPhones.

10) Groupon or LivingSocial
The apps make it easy to purchase, track, and redeem your daily deals. Perhaps too easy. The one-click purchasing technology makes it so easy to buy on impulse that it can be difficult spend wisely. Those with a pile of yet-to-be redeemed deals—download at your own risk! Available for iPhone and Android.

Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to