HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- ABC13 loves helping you stretch your dollar. Here are our top picks for free finance apps, tips for saving at the grocery store and while eating out (including where kids eat free), how to buy in bulk the right way, and wonderful inexpensive date night options.
Top finance apps
The most basic, fundamental way to stretch your dollar is to know where every dollar is going. That might sound intimidating, but free apps for your phone or tablet make it easier than ever.
Here are seven top-rated picks, available for Apple and Android, that are either free, have a free version or a free trial period. Many offer bank-level encryption and multi-factor authentication. The apps are also "read only," so you don't use them to pay or move money.
- "Mint" by Intuit does most of the work for you. Link your bank and card and loan accounts. The app will track and categorize (and sub-categorize!) everything for you. You can create custom categories, and a budget, if desired. Fully free!
- You Need A Budget (YNAB) is another consistently top-rated app, but more hands-on than Mint. For those who want to spend more time creating their own budget. Link your bank account. Free trial period available.
- Good Budget is similar to YNAB. You make the plan, but you don't link your accounts! Free version available.
- Pocket Guard can link your accounts or not, up to you! Lots of features and a free version available.
- Personal Capital, now called Empower, allows you to link all accounts, including investment ones. This is primarily a tool for investors, but it also includes budget options. Fully free!
- Honeydue allows two people with different accounts to view each other's finances (what you want them to see). It also includes a chat feature. Fully free!
- EveryDollar, an app by the Dave Ramsey team, has a very basic, free version that doesn't sync accounts. Paid versions do have the sync option.
Grocery store pro tips
The average U.S. family of four spends $1,000 per month at the grocery store, according to recent government estimates. Here are three simple ways to save this week.
- Don't go inside the store: Instead, try free apps that let you order online for pickup or delivery. That way, you're not tempted to buy things you don't need just because they look or smell good. The apps also lets you filter for cheapest options!
- Use the apps to find sale items and get cash back. Chances are, your favorite store has an app that shows you which items are on sale that week. Chances are, that app awards you cash back to use on future purchases. In addition, try free apps that show you coupons for hundreds of stores, including: Coupons.com, Fetch, Ibotta, and Shopkick. Digital coupon-clipping!
- Buy generic and store brand! You may be shocked to realize how much more we pay for a fancy box or bag. Oftentimes, the only difference between the big brand and the one you've never heard of is the commercial and logo. Whether it's beans, noodles, rice, cereal or water, generic and store brand items can be as much as half the price!
Kids eat free and other ways to save eating out
You may think spending $15 a few times a week on lunch is no big deal. But that's nearly $200 a week and $2,300 a year. Save cash by eating out less. Take 10 minutes to pack a lunch. When you do eat out, consider these tips.
- Your kids can eat free! Many restaurants that used to offer free kids meals like Denny's, IHOP, El Rey Taqueria and Russo's don't do that anymore. But Firehouse Subs, Buffburger, Backyard Grill, La Finca Mexican Restaurant, Luby's and others do have free kid offers! Call ahead for details.
- Join restaurant rewards programs! Chances are, your favorite restaurants and fast food spots have them. Don't eat out more, just earn points, rewards and free meals when you do. Take advantage of birthday freebies while you're at it.
- Don't usually finish your food? Share an appetizer and meal and spend only half the cash.
- Skip the soda, get water instead. Over time, that adds up, especially with kids.
- Do a lunch date instead. Sometimes, the same food is half the price.
- You can also eat during happy hour or order the discounted special.
Buy in bulk the right way
You won't save anything by buying in bulk unless you do it right. You can save tons of money if you do. Here are a few basics and simple price comparisons.
Don't buy stuff in bulk you don't need or that will go bad fast. Are you really going to eat that two-gallon jug of mayonnaise? Don't buy produce that will go bad before you can finish it. You won't save anything that way.
Do buy what you actually use in bulk (all comparisons were made at the end of February 2023 between Sam's Club and Walmart, owned by the same company). Do you like jasmine rice? You can get a 25-lb. bag for $17 at Sam's. You'll pay $7-plus for a 5-lb. bag of the same rice at Walmart.
The same Quaker oatmeal is half the price in bulk. A case of 40 16.9-oz water bottles at Sam's costs the same as a 24-lb. case of the same water at Walmart. You'll pay $6 for a 12-pack of Goldfish crackers at Walmart and $12 for a 36-pack at Sam's.
What about diapers? We found a pack (size 4) of 92 for $40 at Walmart, one of the cheapest options. You can get 210 (same size) diapers at Sam's for the same price!
You have to pay for a membership to Sam's Club and Costco, but those will easily pay for themselves if you know what you're doing. Some memberships also give you cash back, which can also be used to pay for the membership.
Inexpensive date nights
You don't have to spend big to have big dates in the Houston area. Check out these inexpensive options and follow the links for tons more (many options are free).
- Many Houston Museum District museums are always free and all of them have free speciality days (most of them on Thursday afternoons). Visit https://houmuse.org/free-admission-times/ for details.
- The Houston Zoo is free on the first Tuesday of the month, except during the summer. Visit the site above for details.
- Skip the restaurant and visit a local food truck! Chances are, you'll save money. Here's a list from our partners at the Houston Chronicle: https://www.chron.com/food/article/food-trucks-houston-17548297.php Here's another list from Houston Easter: https://houston.eater.com/maps/houston-best-food-trucks
- The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo offers half-price carnival passes. But hurry! The last sale day is Saturday, Feb. 25. Visit https://www.rodeohouston.com/Ticket-Info/Carnival-Rides-Games-Food for details.
- Free concert in the park! Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park's been there for 100 years. Concerts are always free! Here's the schedule: https://www.milleroutdoortheatre.com/performance-list/
- Did you know every Tuesday you can see a movie in theaters for around $5? That includes Regal, AMC and Cinemark theaters. Sometimes, they offer half-price popcorn. Plus, see a matinee for half-price any day.
- Here's a list of 14 dates in Houston that will cost you $25 or less from our partners at the Houston Chronicle: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/trending/article/cheap-data-ideas-17075897.php
SEE ALSO: Tips for managing your finances during inflation