All posts by Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez shares money tips and reviews on My Financial Reviews.

5 Mobile Apps To Help Lower Vehicle Costs

mobile apps t save money on cars

The average annual costs of owning and maintaining a typical sedan in the U.S. was $9,122, or about $0.608 per mile based on 15,000 miles driven, according to the 2013 AAA Your Driving Costs study. That number represents a 2 percent increase from the previous year.

Some automotive-related expenses are unavoidable, but proper maintenance and due diligence can cut costs significantly. Download these five apps to start saving money immediately:

aCar

It’s difficult to find a more comprehensive app that offers a fully functional free version. Once you install aCar, enter all your vehicle information including make, model, and year. You can then track gas mileage by entering your odometer reading at the time of fill-up, along with the number of gallons and price of the gas. The app also keeps records of all maintenance and repairs to determine the total costs to keep your car on the road, and whether it may be time for a new one.

The aCar app is Android and Blackberry compatible. The free version is adequate for most car owners. The $5.99 Pro version allows data import and export, and has multiple language options.

Flat Tire Help

For those who do not have roadside assistance and technical expertise for these types of emergencies, Flat Tire Help is the app for you. It gives simple step-by-step instructions, complete with detailed images, for changing a tire on any type of vehicle. Flat Tire Help will save you towing fees and help get you to the nearest shop to determine if the tire is salvageable or new tires are necessary.

Flat Tire Help is available for Android devices for $0.99.

GasBuddy

The average price of a gallon of gas across the U.S. on October 11 ($3.25) was the lowest recorded since 2010, according to AAA. Missouri had the cheapest gas in the country that day, but the range between stations was substantial. A Conoco in South St. Louis had $2.65 gas, while a West St. Louis BP was selling gas at $2.93. That is why the GasBuddy app is so invaluable.

Simply enter your city, state, and zip code, and GasBuddy does the rest. Prices are updated throughout the day by the app’s community of users to ensure accuracy. Those who report prices accurately receive rewards points that enter them in prize giveaways.

GasBuddy is free and compatible with Android, Blackberry, and iOS devices.

Car & Auto Insurance Quote Finder

Auto insurance premiums vary greatly by state, age, and several other factors. But the National Association of Insurance Commissioners placed the average yearly costs at $797 for 2011, the most recent data available. That means insurance can represent upwards of 15 percent of annual expenses for some car owners.

Car & Auto Insurance Quote Finder allows you to compare several quotes from multiple companies to find the best deal. It acts as a virtual marketplace that puts all the quotes in one place and saves you from surfing the web from site to site.

The app is available for all iOS 5.0 or later devices.

Torque Pro

Automotive technicians hook your car up to fancy diagnostic machines to determine a repair and maintenance schedule. Of course it will cost you upwards of $200 for this service. The Torque Pro app can do all that and more for you for a fraction of the price.

You’ll first need to get a Bluetooth on-board diagnostic tools, which costs about $15. The other caveat is that your car must be a 2000 model or later, as older vehicles do not have the port to plug the adapter in below the steering wheel. Once you sync the adapter and your phone, it sends emission, fuel economy, torque, and other data depending on the vehicle. Mechanics and other car geeks rave about its accuracy and overall usefulness.

The total investment for the app ($4.95) and Bluetooth adapter will pay for itself the first time you use it.

Optimize Your Investments with Personal Capital

personal capital investment tool review

Many my friends want to get their investments squared away without having to track every small dip and tick of the market. They are living busy lives and they don’t have the time (or really the desire) to nitpick their investments. They’re also tired of all the crazy fees that seem to be tacked on.

I feel the say way and I think you probably do too. (After all, that’s why you’re here – to save time and money, right? )

Free Financial and Investment Tools with Personal Capital

If you are looking at optimizing your accounts, Personal Capital has some wonderful tools to get you ready. One of our goals is to retire early. I’ve been using them because I was looking for a more robust tracking tool to gauge how our investments were doing. We have several accounts between the two of us and I wanted one place I could log into to get a snapshot of our progress.

We also wanted to see if there were some ways we can optimize our portfolio so we could minimize fees and instead use that money to grow our net worth.

I first heard about Personal Capital from Financial Samurai and I’ve been pleased with their service so far.

Portfolio Check-Up

Even if you think things are going well, it’s also handy to do a check up on your portfolio to make sure things are truly squared away. Besides making sure that your asset allocation meets your plan, you should also see if there is a way you can lower your fees. Personal Capital offers a free portfolio review so you can eliminate excess fees from your 401(k) like us.

Personal Capital will review your portfolio to make sure your investments are reaching their potential. You have the flexibility of tracking your portfolio by account or asset class.

401(k) Fee Analyzer and Mutual Fund Fee Calculator

Nobody wants to their hard earned money working for someone else when it could be put to better use (like growing for your retirement). Besides typically having fewer investment options than an IRA, 401(k)s can sometimes have higher expenses with their funds. That’s a double whammy.

The money comes from you, so you’re the one losing out. If you have a 5.75% front load instead of investing $500 a month, you’re investing $471.25. That might not sound like a lot, but it adds up over time. There is also no proven advantage into getting a loaded fund versus a no load fund with the same performance level. How can you avoid such a waste?

Personal Capital will also benchmark your 401(k) for free so you have a clear idea of whether or not, you need to update your holdings. It’ll be a change that will speed up your portfolio’s growth as the years pass.

Stay in the Loop with Personal Capital

You can set it up so Personal Capital can give you helpful and informative weekly updates on your finances, allowing you to know right away if you need to make any adjustments.

We’ve been using them for about a year now and I enjoy how easy it is to get a snapshot of our finances with them. With the free tools that they offer, it has been a great solution for us. Since most of our financial system is automated, Personal Capital is a tool that keeps us in the loop without having to log on everyday. If you’re in a similar boat, I recommend checking them out and signing up today.

For those who have already tried out their service, please share your feedback in comments.

Amazon Prime Membership Benefits

When we first signed up for Amazon I had used their Mom membership. We just had a our baby daughter and I heard about the significant discounts Amazon had for diapers and other baby supplies. When that deal ran out I used Prime and really enjoyed the shipping benefits. I also loved their Instant Video options and this year, some of shows are available to watch as they air. Since we’ve cut back on cable, this has been a huge plus for us as I don’t have to miss some of my favorite shows or wait for them on Netflix.

Our anniversary date is coming up and we will be charged the new membership fee of $99/year. As with all of our subscriptions and memberships, we take a review to make sure the benefits outweigh the costs.

Amazon Prime Beefing Up Benefitsamazon prime benefits

As I went on the site to check things, I discovered the company has been adding new features and benefits to Prime.

  • Free 2 Day Shipping for eligible purchases
  • Unlimited streaming of movies and videos with Amazon Instant Video
  • Borrow books from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.
  •  Unlimited, ad-free access to hundreds of Prime Playlists and more than a million songs  on Prime Music
  •  Download a new book for free every month from the Kindle First picks
  • Access to Prime Pantry, allowing members to get  low priced grocery, household, and pet care items for a flat delivery fee of $5.99 for each

I’m glad I reviewed the benefits because I discovered even though we are saving just with the shipping and television benefits, we weren’t really using all that we could.

Thoughts on Amazon Prime

It looks like we’re going to stick with our Amazon Prime membership. I’m also going ahead and try out some of the other features including the Prime Music and the Kindle First download. Hopefully we can save some more money taking advantage of these.

5 Tips for Safe Online Shopping

online shopping tips

Adoption of online shopping closely followed that of home internet access a couple of decades ago.  Despite fear of something new the advantage of not having to drive to a retail location was too strong to resist.

Initially people were not used to entering personal information into a computer and especially hesitated when it came to payment data.  Gradually it became commonplace and there are many who do a majority of their shopping online today.  Although it is a fairly safe practice, it is important to be smart about it and use the following guidelines.

Shop at Home

With public Wi-Fi widely available users should remember that it is not secure and hackers can access the connection to steal your information.  For the same reason, you shouldn’t log into private accounts or enter confidential information when using public computers at locations such as libraries and hotels.

My email was hacked shortly after using a hotel business center computer during business travel.  It may be a coincidence but is an effective reminder about the lack of security.

Pay with Credit

online shopping tips

There are a couple of  reasons to use credit cards when paying for your internet purchases.  There is only a $50 limited liability for unauthorized purchases with a credit card while it can become unlimited after 60 days with a debit card.

Additionally, if you do not receive the products or services purchased a credit card issuer will investigate a disputed charge  and usually refund your money.

Review Transactions

Before making the actual purchase review the amount and all charges.  Are there any “hidden” fees you weren’t expecting?   Make sure all coupon or promotional codes are applied.

I’ve had the browser error when making a purchase and didn’t know if it went through and not.  When you get your bills, make sure the transaction matches and there are not any unauthorized charges.

Keep Records of Your Shopping

Keep all correspondence related to a transaction until you at least receive the merchandise or service.  I don’t leave the site until I either get a confirmation email with the details or print out the page.

For larger purchases,  make sure you have a copy of the terms.  For example does that vacation package include meals or not?  What is the cancellation policy for the hotel reservation?  These are important details that can end up costing you money if you don’t know.

Navigate to Website Yourself

Don’t click on links from search engines unless it is a URL you recognize.  Scammers work to get their fraudulent sites  returned by search engines with the goal of phishing your personal information.  Make sure the site accessed includes a security indicator such as a lock (depending on browser) and the URL includes https before entering personal information.

Be suspicious of unsolicited emails even if it appears to be from a known retailer.  Go to their site directly to make sure it’s not a scam message.

Shopping online can be convenient and safe by taking a few precautions.  Do you have another tip for safe online shopping?

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Photo Credit: izzatFulkrum