This article has been requested by a small army of readers. For many of you, this article won’t apply much at all – for a few of you, hopefully this article will prove quite useful.
As I mentioned a while back, I received an iPod Touch as a Christmas gift this year. An iPod Touch, for those unaware, is basically an iPhone without the phone – but also without the ridiculously high monthly phone bill. Over the past three months, I’ve used it a ton – but not as an iPod. Instead, I’ve been exploring the mountains of free applications available for it that you can download at your convenience right on the device.
There are literally tens of thousands of applications available for the iPod Touch and you can simply browse through them at your heart’s content, downloading the ones you want to try. Many of these applications are completely free – no cost at all – but many of the truly useful ones do come with a fee.
Given my interests, it’s not surprising that I’ve dug deeply into the personal finance and productivity applications available for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I’ve literally tried out hundreds of these applications over the last three months and, in the end, I’ve found only ten that I would actually recommend to others – and six of them are free.
An aside: I do not think the iPod Touch or iPhone is a necessary purchase for anyone. While I have found uses for it, I do not think it is worth the out-of-pocket entry price. Don’t view this as a list of reasons to buy one – look at it as a list of very useful things if you already have one.
Let’s dig in.
Six Essential Money-Saving Free Applications
These six tools are free for download from the App Store. I use each of them on a regular basis, particularly Bloomberg and the tip calculator.
Several different banks (Bank of America, Chase, PNC, and Citi among them, as well as several smaller banks that use a combination tool from AT&T) offer tools for the iPod Touch/iPhone that allow you to access online banking from anywhere. Depending on the bank, these offer the ability to check your account balances, do online bill pay, and even locate nearby ATMs (if you’re using an iPhone). These tools are perfect for doing your bills while you’re waiting at the doctor’s office, for example. Hey, ING Direct! If you’re listening, such an app would be an awesome addition to your tools!
Bloomberg’s stock-tracking app is a huge improvement over the default “Stocks” tool that comes by default on every iPhone/iPod Touch. The tool provides financial headlines, a stock market ticker, and the ability to set up your own portfolio of stocks and index funds to follow. The data this tool provides is a great way to do basic research into stocks and index funds on the go, though it’s not a perfect tool for day traders. It’s just what I needed, though. [App Store]
My Budget Money Management
There are several free budgeting tools for the iPhone/iPod Touch – this one is the best of the lot, by far (in my opinion). It’s pretty easy, actually – you just define any number of spending categories you want (Auto, Entertainment, etc. – it comes with ten categories by default, but you can remove and add to your heart’s desire), how much you want to spend in that category, then just enter expenses as the month goes along. If you already have a household budget worked up in a spreadsheet or on paper, it’s pretty easy to switch. Even better, if you have a Mac, there’s a desktop client for My Budget that enables you to do most of the work on your computer, then do the little expense entries on your handheld device. [App Store]
Mint is a nice service for managing your finances all in one place, but I have some personal information security concerns about it. If you’ve decided for yourself that the benefits are worth it, then Mint’s iPhone/iPod Touch application is really useful for keeping an eye on all of your finances easily in one place on the road. There were a few other personal data aggregation tools for the iPhone/iPod Touch that were quite slick, but the security of such tools makes me nervous (and thus makes me not recommend it). [App Store]
CheckPlease Tip Calculator
How much is an appropriate tip? What if you’re splitting the ticket and tip among several people? Most of the time, when this comes up, people just make ballpark estimates, but a good tip calculator (and this is the best free one available for the iPhone/iPod Touch) can make such calculations easy. Just type in your total, set the percentage tip you want to leave, and the number of people splitting the ticket, and the calculator will tell you what tip you should leave. It also adds the tip to your total, making filling out a credit card receipt quite easy. This is a lot better than just “rounding up” for your tip. [App Store]
Bankarama is basically a checking account ledger on your iPod Touch/iPhone. It’s an incredibly useful way to keep track of recent debit card uses and thus keep you from accidentally overdrafting your account (due to transactions that haven’t hit your account yet). This application would have saved me many times over the years. [App Store]
Four Essential Money-Saving Paid Applications
I also discovered four paid applications that are well worth using. Each of these can easily pay for themselves with even minimal regular use.
This is the most effective tool I’ve found for making a truly effective grocery list. Just type in the first three letters or so of an item you want to add to your grocery list and the program automatically fills in the rest of the information and adds it to your grocery list. The list itself is auto-sorted for you into sensible groups – dairy, bread, frozen foods, etc. – so that you can snag all of the items in that area of the store all at once. You can also organize the list by aisle in your favorite store by assigning these item groups to aisles once – after that, your list will automaticlaly list items by aisle as well. This tool has made grocery shopping substantially faster, which means I spend far less time wandering the aisles – which means far fewer impulsive buys at the grocery store and thus money saved. Excellent tool. [App Store]
Cost: Free for lite version, $4.99 for full version
While the above “My Budget Money Management” is the best free budgeting tool, it is clearly surpassed by the full version of iXpenseIt. iXpenseIt is pretty much the closest thing to Quicken in your pocket – it’s a thorough, robust, and flexible tool that handles virtually every budgeting or expense tracking task you can throw at it. My recommendation is to try out the free “My Budget Money Management” first to see if it fits your needs, then investigate this tool (by trying out the free “Lite” version) if you’re sorely needing a few particular features. [App Store]
I’m almost obsessive about keeping track of the mileage on my truck. I like to see how different things affect the mileage – does it do better on the highway or the city? How much does inflating the tires help (quite a bit, actually)? Does an oil change and other regular maintenance help (actually, a fair amount)? Gas Cubby not only works as a perfect mileage tracker (with plenty of room for notes), but it also functions as a very useful maintenance calendar, alerting you to any and all maintenance you need to do based on your current odometer reading. If you keep a maintenance calendar for your vehicle (a great way to keep your vehicle running well) and also want to keep tabs on your mileage, this is an essential tool. [App Store]
Remember the Milk
Cost: Free (sort of)
I’ve tried almost every task management program on the iPhone/iPod Touch and I keep returning to Remember the Milk. RtM is a free web-based task management tool that I’ve been using for years – and, because I’ve used it so much, I was quite willing to pay extra to support the tool and become a “pro” user (it costs $25 a year, but it’s worth it for me to support a tool I use so often). With that “pro” membership comes an iPod Touch/iPhone application that has all of the functionality of RtM, except that it can be used offline, anywhere you are. The application is usable for two weeks without a “pro” account if you want to try it out. Given that I use this to manage everything in my life – personal things to do, work-related things to do, managing projects – it’s well worth it to me. There are many other options for task management on the iPhone/iPod Touch, but I’ve not found one that matches RtM for me. [App Store]
Bonus: Five Free Google Mobile Tools You Need to Bookmark
Google offers a ton of goodies for people who have mobile devices like the iPhone/iPod Touch. Just point your web browser at these URLs and bookmark them.
I don’t use the email program that comes with the phone at all. Instead, I use Gmail – it centralizes all of my email in one convenient place. The “mobile” view of your email is very easy to read and it lets me check for new messages, read them, and punch out quick responses without much effort.
I use Google Reader to keep up with about fifty different blogs. The mobile version of the site allows me to browse through the fresh articles on all of these sites in a format that’s very readable on such a small screen.
Again, I use this as my primary calendar tool both on my iPod Touch and on the desktop. I find it much more useful than the iPhone/iPod Touch built-in calendar tool, though I do sync up my Google Calendar with it so I can get my appointments and important dates even if I’m offline.
If you’re just looking for a very simple task list on the go, this will probably do exactly what you need. Just add tasks, then check them off as you do them. It’s at least as good as any free task list tool on the iPod Touch/iPhone, plus you can edit it at your desk if you prefer.
I use this to take longer notes and save them for future reference. Often, I’ll jot down notes on my iPod Touch, then look at them later when I’m at my desk so I can appropriately deal with the idea/material.