While some moneysaving apps can be genuinely handy, others might encourage you to spend unnecessarily or change your shopping habits. I examine the pitfalls of these downloads and point you towards (in my humble opinion) genuinely helpful apps.
By Iona Bain
Are you one of Britain’s 36 million app downloaders? If so, chances are you may be a devotee of the moneysaving app, helping you to spot bargains, compare products, collect loyalty points and generally become an all-round tip top consumer.
In theory, nobody could fault it. Handy, ingenious, right there in your pocket to help you save money at the flick of a button (or rather the swipe of a screen).
Moreover, most of these apps are free, so surely they are worth a download when nearly everything has a price these days?
Perhaps so. Any tools in the moneysaving armoury should generally be welcomed. My gripe is that many of these apps look far better than they actually are. Some don’t actually save you that much money or time while some could be subtly changing your consumer habits – and not for the better.
Pic from www.myfamilyclub.co.uk
Take the Orange Wednesdays app. Regularly lauded as one of the best ‘money saving’ apps on the market, you have to step back and realise that only Orange customers could, in fact, take advantage of ‘2for1’ cinema tickets on Wednesdays. This app doesn’t offer much beyond the basic texting tool available to all Orange customers before the smartphone came along, besides interesting reviews for cinephiles. Besides, you shouldn’t plump for an Orange contract just to take advantage of this deal. It isn’t unique on the market (Vodaphone and O2 offer similar reward schemes for their customers for days out and pop concerts) and contracts have to offer all-round good value, depending on how much you use your phone and what you need in terms of minutes, texts and data usage.
Another pitfall of moneysaving apps is that you may splash out unnecessarily or only use certain shops just to take advantage of discounts/cashback. Rather than saving your money, you could end up committing a sin of consumerism – being perpetually swayed by discounts rather than getting underlying value in the long-term.
Splashing out rather than saving
Two of the most popular apps around are Vouchercloud and Quidco. Vouchercloud points you in the direction of retail partners who offer exclusive discounts and deals in your local area. Just request the voucher from your smartphone and it’s delivered to your screen.
I’d be lying if I said that Vouchercloud hasn’t been a godsend in the past when I’ve been on a night out with friends and decided to get 15 per cent off or 2 for 1 at at your standard restaurant chain. For those occasions, it’s got to be worth a download.
Pic from retaildesignblog.net
Quidco works in a similar way but it also gives you cashback – 25p at most – when you shop in certain stores. When you first discover discount vouchers and cashback, you feel like you’re genuinely saving a few quid. But if you hadn’t been alerted to 10% off at a certain restaurant, or 20% off at a local beauty salon, would you honestly have intended to spend money on meals or manicures? Let’s face it, it would never normally cross my mind to have a seven course dinner, with portions that wouldn’t feed a gerbil on a diet, at a pricey restaurant that desperately needs my custom, or to have ravenous fish nibble away at my flaky tootsies in a harshly lit basement somewhere.
I exaggerate for comedic effect, dear reader, but we’ve all been there, haven’t we! The internet is awash with horror stories about misunderstandings and shoddy service on the back of these deals. Beware the false bargain!
The way to avoid this pitfall is to use the app (or website) ONLY when you’re making a purchase anyway, just to see if you could shave a few pounds off the total cost.
When it comes to Quidco, there is no harm in checking the app when you’re using high street stores as a matter of course. Just ask yourself how many times you’re going to frequent B & Q, Homebase, Carphone Warehouse and the other partners it has signed up before you put too much time or expectation by it. It only works if you’re shopping regularly in these stores anyway, since the cashback of 25p per shop (at most!) is not reason enough to shop at these retailers instead of their competitors. This is especially the case when talking about big-ticket purchases – your mobile contract and DIY items – at these stores. What’s more, Quidco retain the first £5 of your cashback earned anyway, so you’d have to do this an awful lot to make it cost-effective!
By all means, have these apps on standby (like I do) for must-have purchases but be wary of splashing out for the sake of a meagre saving. See my previous blog on how certain websites in this field have provided links to payday loan companies.
When loyalty doesn’t pay
Two apps that are also overrated are the Nectar and Tesco Clubcard apps. You scan your phone at the supermarket till to get Nectar or Clubcard points. The former applies to shopping in Sainsburys, Homebase and BP, the latter only works for Tesco – and only the main tills at the main supermarkets, not the Express stores, Tesco petrol stations or at self-service and basket tills. So you’ll have to carry the physical Clubcard anyway if you’re using the scheme already.
Pic from @JulieMcCaffrey on Twitter
Another advantage of the Clubcard is that it offers ‘exclusive discounts’ with partner retailers – but these are much the same as the deals offered by Vouchercloud, which doesn’t require the same loyalty that Tesco’s app does.
Of course, these are handy for those who are already signed up to the Nectar or Clubcard schemes. But don’t let this sway you into shopping at one store only. Don’t forget that Aldi and Lidl have their own apps, and while they do not offer an exclusive discounts for App users, its worth browsing their special offers in any event.
Any savvy consumer will only really save money by shopping around and NOT letting discount schemes sway their decision.
And now for the good news
CookIt (available on Apple and Android handsets) can save you time, food AND money. The app will find recipes based on food you have in your cupboard – simply enter the ingredients you have and the app will suggest a tasty meal you could make.
Another handy download is Onavo. It saves on your smartphone data usage –up to 80% – by rerouting your online activities through its server and sending it back in a compressed form. Considering the high charges you face if you go over your monthly data limit, smartphone users who surf the web will find this essential – it may even allow them to go on a cheaper contract with lower usage.
Finally, Red Laser allows you to compare prices on the shop floor – just scan barcodes or QR codes using your camera phone (or enter them manually) and the app will search thousands of local and online retailers for the best prices and check that products are in stock.
Let me know what your favourite moneysaving app is below or email ionabain[at]hotmail.com