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MoneySmart apps; These free apps can turn your smartphone into a great money-saving tool

Penny pinchers have a lot to be thankful for in the information age.

Rather than schlepping from store to store comparing prices, search engines fetch our merchandise and list them starting at the lowest price first. A legion of deal sites such as Groupon and SweetFind deliver half-price bargains to our inbox every day. And budgeting websites stand ready to transform our spending habits into visually pleasing charts and graphs at the click of a mouse.

But with the latest smartphone apps -- oh, our cup runneth over!

Here are some of the top applications that can make your money-smart life easier. Even better: They're free.

>CardStar

It seems every store has a rewards card. The only problem? They're usually sitting home on your dresser when you need them. There are just too many of them to fit in your average wallet or on your keyring. CardStar lets you carry them in your phone instead.

Just scan the barcode on any loyalty card to load it into your phone. You can "clip" and load electronic coupons onto your card, too. When you get to the register, just bring the card up onto the screen and let the cashier scan it. Available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Windows and Ovi.

>ShopSavvy

Your comparison shopping probably already involves Googling prices on your phone before you buy anything. This app gives you a more direct route. Just scan the barcode and compare prices for the same product online and in stores.

You can create product wish lists, set up price alerts and share deals with friends. Available on Android and iPhone.

>TheFind

This app does what ShopSavvy does, but also rounds up coupons and savings. You can customize your search and results preferences and save your favorite stores.

So this is what Jane Jetson feels like when she goes shopping! Available on Android and iPhone. You can also use expanded features, including catalog viewing, on iPad.

>GasBuddy

Like GasBuddy.com, this app helps you find the best prices on gas. Instead of driving out of your way (and wasting gas) to seek discounts, the app lets you check in wherever you are so you can fold fill-ups into your regular required driving.

The app will tell you where to find the closest gas stations with the cheapest gas, listing prices per gallon and even offering driving directions. Available on Android, Blackberry, iPhone and Windows.

>GroceryIQ

When it comes to grocery shopping, having your act together can save a fortune. This app lets you scan barcodes on items as you run out of them, adds them to your shopping list, then arranges them by category. It even rounds up coupons for the items on your list.

If only it carried your bags in from the car! Available on Android and iPhone.

>Carticipate

You can save a lot of money on gas and maintenance by carpooling. Perhaps you'll even be able to convert to a one-car household. Carticipate helps you match up your driving plans with those of other local users. Available on Android and iPhone. Blackberry has the similar CarpoolCalculator for 99 cents, which helps people split the costs of ride sharing.

>CheckPlease Lite

Never sure if you're tipping your server the right amount at a restaurant? This app calculates tips for you, taking into account things like tax and coupons. It also helps you split a bar or restaurant tab among several people.

You can pay 99 cents for the upgraded version, which doesn't have ads. Available on iPhone and Android.

>Square

Did you spend your summer in the driveway hosting a perpetual garage sale? Do you supplement your income selling crafts in the classifieds? Imagine how much more money you could make if you weren't limited to accepting cash.

Square allows you to take credit card payments without having an expensive card machine or their costly contracts. Square sends you a free cardreader in the mail, which attaches to your phone and allows you to swipe Visa, Discover, MasterCard and American Express cards for a 2.75 percent swipe fee. The money is deposited into your account the next day. Available on iPhone and Android.

>PayPal

Sometimes the best deals are found through resellers, who only take PayPal payments. Deals abound on sites such as Etsy.com, too, where individual craftsmen sell their wares in the virtual marketplace, taking PayPal payments. It's a great way to handle transactions without disclosing your payment information.

PayPal's app lets you manage your account, make payments and even send or receive money among friends and associates. Available on iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

>BigOven

BigOven puts more than 170,000 recipes at your fingertips. Search recipes by keyword, ingredient or course. Is the fridge looking empty? Enter whatever ingredients you have on hand and BigOven will help you whip something up. Available on iPhone.

>DinnerSpinner

AllRecipes.com has a similar app to help you plan dinner around whatever is in your fridge. Available on Android, iPhone and Windows.

>Personal finance apps

Instead of helping you save nickels and dimes, some apps help you keep a handle on your overall financial picture.

>PageOnce

PageOnce is a personal finance powerhouse. With a very simple and user-friendly design, it allows you to see all of your account balances at a glance. You can easily track billing, payment, purchases, deposits and credit card transactions. Available on iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows.

>Mint

The app version of Mint.com is much more limited than its website. It's not worth using as a standalone app but is a nice supplement if you're already using Mint.com. Available on iPhone and Android.

>MoneyStrands

This app helps you budget your money and track your spending. Available for Android, Blackberry, iPhone and Windows.

>SpendLite

This is the free version of the Spend app. It offers a simple way to create budgets and keep an eye on how your spending is matching up with the limits you've set. Available on iPhone. An upgraded version is available for 99 cents.

>InvestingAnswers

InvestingAnswers gives you access to expert investment advice through educational articles and tutorials. It also features a glossary of investment terms. Available on iPhone and Android.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com

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