12 Frugal Apps that Make It Hip to Be Square

A host of new apps for Droid and iPhone have finally done the impossible: they have made it cool to be frugal.

iPhone 4's Retina Display v.s. iPhone 3G by Yutaka Tsutano on Flickr

The app market has exploded in recent months—there are currently over 350,000 apps available on the apple.com website alone—and more are being added constantly. Many of these apps are designed to help thrifty consumers save money. There are apps to help you cut costs, track spending, maximize efficiency, and even avoid budget-busting pitfalls.

It’s now positively cool to pinch pennies using a slew of apps that can help you throughout the day: on your commute, while preparing meals, at the grocery store, even during happy hour. Here are a few money-saving apps to help you squeeze the most out of your monthly budget and look cool doing it:

1. Dinner Spinner – This iPhone app from the popular cooking site allrecipes.com allows you to enter an ingredient and see a list of recipes using that item. It can be a great source of inspiration when you are trying to whittle down the pantry supplies, or are stumped for what to do with an eggplant. Price: Free. (A pro version with enhanced features is available for $2.99.)

2. BigOven – Similar to Dinner Spinner, this cooking app has a deep recipe database and a special function to help you use up leftovers creatively. Available on iPhone and Android. Price: Free.

3. Groupon – Groupon’s subscribers leverage the power of collective purchasing by signing up for daily deals in select cities. If the minimum number of purchasers signs up, then the coupon is activated and users receive a deep discount on a product, event or service. Available on iPhone and Android. Price: Free.

4. Carticipate – This carpooling app puts riders and drivers together to unclog the roads, take advantage of rideshare lanes, and reduce pollution. Go green and meet like-minded people in your area, all while lowering your monthly gas bill. For iPhone. Price: Free.

5. CheckPlease – Much more than a tip calculator, this app also helps you divide up restaurant bills among multiple diners, switch to different currencies, and even skip tipping on sales tax. Helpful if you have friends whose math-impairment leaves you with an unfair share of the bill at times. Available for iPhone and Android. Price $0.99.

6. Cobra iRadar– All of your scrimping and budgeting for the month can be blown away by one hefty traffic fine. The award-winning Cobra iRadar app for iPhone alerts drivers to red-light cameras and speed traps, as well as dangerous intersections. Bugs in earlier versions have been largely resolved. An Android version will be available in early 2011. Price: Free.

7. Skype — Skype is a great resource for making free calls either computer to computer or device to device over WiFi or 3G. Skype is especially useful for avoiding steep international phone charges. Calls and text messaging to land lines are charged at reasonable prices. Available on Android and iPhone. Price: Free.

8. Mixology – The free app Mixology Drink Recipes lets you be your own bartender. Look up a few cool recipes (the “Guilty OJ” sounds pretty interesting), invite some friends over, and have happy hour at home instead of going out and paying for overpriced cocktails after work. With nearly 8,000 drink recipes, this little app should keep you entertained for quite a while. Available on Android and iPhone. Price: Free.

9. Coupon Sherpa – This coupon app allows you to take advantage of in-store merchant discounts without the hassle of clipping or printing out coupons. The location-based software uses your phone’s GPS to identify coupons for stores in your vicinity. To redeem, the cashier scans a bar code from your device or enters a numeric code. You can also customize the display to highlight your favorite merchants and filter out the duds. Special coupons for app users are available as well. Available on Android and iPhone. Price: Free.

10. GroceryIQ – Shopping from a list helps keep your grocery store bill under control by eliminating impulse purchases. The shopping list app Grocery iQ takes the shopping list to a new level of usefulness. This app helps you get in and out of the store in an efficient manner by organizing your list by aisle, and also lets you scan and record favorite items for future reference. Coupons, sorted by aisle or brand, help you trim costs, and a new feature allows you to synchronize shared lists with multiple users so you and hubby don’t come home with redundant purchases. Available on Android and iPhone. Price: Free.

11. Mint – No money-saving app list would be complete without Mint.com. Mint is an on-the-go personal finance app that gives users a detailed financial picture across multiple accounts. Categorized budgeting info gives you an up-to-the minute spending picture for the month, so it’s easier to keep your finances on track. Available on Android and iPhone. Price: Free.

12. GasBuddy – Another simple, but popular app, GasBuddy, lists fuel prices based on the user’s location. Powered by a community of users who input data on local gas prices, this app will save you money at the pump (as long as you don’t drive across town for a one-penny-per-gallon discount). For iPhone and Android. Price: Free.

Since there are a few hundred thousand apps out there that I didn’t mention, there are probably many more that could be added to this list. If you have any favorite frugal apps, please share them!


  1. YNAB. $9.99 companion for YNAB on your computer. You know how much you have left in each category before you buy. YNAB over Mint. Any day.

  2. Um, I don’t believe Coupon Sherpa is available for Android. I just checked the Market, as well as the Coupon Sherpa website.

    Looks to be just available for iPhone. Can anyone tell me if I’m wrong?

  3. Nice list. Goes to show that in many ways, there’s more information and more tips on how to save money these days. The tools are right there for our use, it’s just a matter of accessing them and making (finding?) the time to do so.

    Great point with GasBuddy – price information can be really useful and information on low gas prices fits the bill in that regard. Just remember how to use such information, like spending 30 minutes on saving $1.00. Unless you are fine with an effective $2.00 per hour pay rate!

  4. I am a huge fan of Groupon and all the ones like it (Deal Chicken, Living Social, etc). I have never had a bad experience and saved lots of money. I didn’t realize the app was available..thanks!

    One other money saving app is free Pandora Radio. Plug your phone into your car system and there is no reason to pay $12 a month for satellite radio. Pandora’s variety is actually wider than what is available on XM Radio.


  5. These apps look cool, but frugal me says how frugal is one of these phones in the first place? I’m too cheap, er frugal, to pay for one and the monthly fees associated with it. I’m sure I more than save the monthly cost difference for an iPhone than these apps would save me.

  6. My problem is that I am too frugal to pay the $30 a month data plan that I would need in order to have an iPhone or Android. So, I miss out on these cool apps, but I gain an extra $30 a month!

  7. I already use several of these, and they really are quite nice. Especially GroceryIQ.

    For those who say that owning a smartphone isn’t frugal… well, neither is owning a car. If it helps you enough to be worth the data plan, get it. If you don’t feel like it is worth it, don’t get it. Simple enough. 🙂

  8. Wow. I really wish I has known about Dinner Spinner and Big Oven as Mr. BP and I were nearing the end of our month long pantry challenge…coming up with meals from what was left was challenging and at times, gross. I currently use a number of these apps and though I do agree that for some people you can’t always justify the expense of a data plan, since I utilize my smartphone for work purposes as well as personal I will continue to spare the expense. Two other apps that I like are the ShopRite app and RedLaser. Both are free apps. ShopRite alerts you to sales at your particular supermarket location and allows you to create a shopping list based on those sales items and RedLaser allows you to “scan” and item and displays competitor’s prices.

  9. Thanks for sharing this list!

    I actually checked out GasBuddy the other night when my husband saw the gas station charging $4.99 (I know this is unbelievable, he could not believe all the people that were paying that high for gas, but it was by the airport) for reg unleaded gas. Thankfully, I was able to tell him other stations that were nearby with more reasonable prices.

  10. Ack! The one I’m really interested in – Dinner Spinner – isn’t available for Android!! Any comparable apps? That would be soooo helpful for me to move existing food out of my freezer/pantry. Grocery purchase is a big money leak for us.
    Thanks for the other suggestions, too!

  11. Tip Calculator Free is a good alternative to Check Please. It does everything you describe but only in $US.

    Thx for heads up on Dinner Spinner.

  12. I am from Little Rock Arkansas and there is a new company that just released a new app in the iTunes store that I’ve used several times and saved quite a bit of money. You can become a VIP to any business you want and when they create a new qpon you get a push straight to your phone… it’s the best I’ve seen and thought it was worth sharing. The name of the app is QPON REVOLUTION.

  13. I love this. I just bought a Droid, and I’ll definitely check out some of these apps. Thanks!

  14. Try Shop Savvy. It’s what sold me that the idea of a paying the extra $30 was worth it. You can scan a barcode of an item you are purchasing and see if that is the best price. Great for places that price match and great for making sure you are spending your cash the best you can.