With inflation the highest it’s been in 40 years, we’re paying more for just about everything these days. A lot more.
From rising costs of gasoline and groceries to computers and cars, our wallets are getting walloped and with many economists predicting we may be feeling the pinch for some time to come.
And you can add utility bills to that list, too, with homeowners paying 25.1% and 6.5% more for natural gas and electricity, respectively, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The good news is technology can in fact save you money, both in the short term and long run.
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smart apps that provide free services (that you’d otherwise pay for), buying from online marketplaces opposed to retail and devices that can lower your energy bills, the following are a handful of random examples of tech that may take some of the pressure off.
Save on your wireless bill
Did you know you can use your phone or tablet to make free calls and texts?
TextNow (iOS, Android) even gives you an incoming phone number (based on the city of your choice). It’s like a second-line or “burner” number on your existing smartphone.
All calls and text are free over Wi-Fi, but TextNow is also offering a SIM card for only 99 cents and then cellular service is also free for calls and texts (supported by ads). Data plans start at only $8.99/month.
Drive down your gas costs
Those looking to save money on gas, on the other hand, should download and install apps like GasBuddy or Nexit, both of which can sniff out the lowest prices on fuel, plus Nexit is also a handy navigation app to steer you to your destination on road trips.
Book a hotel room for less
Booking a hotel for a summer getaway? My two favorite apps, which I use together for all bookings, are Hotels.com and Pruvo.
Along with a “secret price” feature to give members lower prices, Hotels.com’s rewards program includes a “stay 10 nights and get the next one free” deal. You can’t beat it.
Pruvo, on the other hand, can help you find a better price on your hotel – after you’ve booked it. That is, use any app or site you like to book the hotel and then simply forward the email confirmation to [email protected]. If the hotel drops the rate on the room – a very common occurrence, according to Pruvo – you’ll be notified about how much you’ll save and instructed how to cancel the original reservation and re-book at the lower rate. The only catch is you need to have the ability to cancel your room to begin with.
Use online marketplaces, classifieds
Rather than paying retail prices, when was the last time you shopped online at a peer-to-peer marketplace or online classifieds site?
You might just be surprised at how much lower costs are, for both new items and “previously enjoyed” ones.
“On eBay, you have the ability to buy preowned and refurbished items that are often dramatically less expensive than new items,” says Bradford Shellhammer, VP of buyer experience at eBay. “In fact, in a recent study, 73% of people said that they bought preowned for that reason.”
Shellhammer says eBay offers certified refurbished products (with authenticity guaranteed), so that buyers “can be confident in the items that they’re buying, [plus] eBay also offers different shipping options including free local pickup to give buyers the best options for getting what they want, at the best possible overall price.”
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By participating in the circular economy, “consumers are able to also help the environment by reducing waste and extending the lifecycle of goods that would otherwise end up in landfills,” adds Shellhammer.
Online classifieds sites – such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist and NextDoor – are also ideal for buying goods for less as well as selling one’s unwanted items, to put cash in your pocket (and declutter your home in the process).
If you must buy at retail, consider “cash back” apps, coupon sites and browser extensions that can all help you keep more of your own money.
Reduce home energy costs
Did you peek through your fingers – like watching a horror movie – when you opened your last utility bill? It’s also scary.
Electricity and gas costs are spiking, but there are a few things you can do, ranging from unplugging devices when not in use (to reduce “vampire power”) to investing in smart plugs (to schedule timers and schedules on electricity use) to augmenting your home’s energy with solar panels.
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One of the smartest investments you can make is a Sense Home Energy Monitor ($299), a small device you connect to your home’s electrical panel (handled by an electrician), which then gives you real-time insights on how much power each one of your devices are consuming – from light bulbs and microwaves to cable boxes and large appliances.
“It can be difficult for homeowners to manage energy in their home because your monthly bill doesn’t give you a lot of information about how, when and where power is being used,” explains Mike Phillips, CEO and Co-Founder of Sense.
“For example, more than 20% of electricity used in your home is going to things you think are off,” adds Phillips. “Whether you call it vampire power or standby power, these devices are using electricity even when sitting there idle.”
Sense lets you see your spending month-to-date and what you’re trending towards, to avoid surprises, plus it’s compatible with many smart devices like Philips HUE lights and TP-Link smart plugs, to help you better control (and thus reduce) energy consumption.
The Sense app also lets you set alerts, such as being notified if you’ve left the hair straightener turned on for more than an hour, which could also be dangerous.
Repurpose old tech
Have some aging gadgets lying around? There are free apps that can turn it into a different and useful, household device.
The Presence app can turn an old iPhone, iPad or Android device into a Wi-Fi surveillance cam. Sign into Presence on your new phone and you can see what’s going on at home when you’re not there (including what your pets are up to).
With the Universal Remote or SURE app, your previous phone or tablet can serve as a universal remote for many smart TVs.
Apps like Alarm Clock for Me (for Apple devices) or Early Rise Alarm Clock (for Android) repurpose an old tablet into an alarm clock for your night table.
Finally, subscribing to video streaming services can really add up – be it Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ or Apple TV+, to name just a few – but consider free AVOD services, which stands for “ad-supported video on demand” content.
Some of the more popular options include Vudu, Tubi, Roku Channel and IMDb TV, as well as YouTube, Crackle and Popcornflix – each of them offering thousands of TV show episodes and movies for free – so long as you’re willing to sit through some commercials.
The library is open
Book lovers can also save a bundle. Rather than spending $10 to $15 on each ebook or paperback, or $25 on a hardcover, why not borrow books for free from your local library?
Apps like Libby by OverDrive make it a breeze. All you need is a library card and a device to read the content on.
“One of the best ideas for all readers is to get to know the digital services that are available from their local public library 24/7,” says Steve Potash, founder and CEO of OverDrive. “Libby, the library reading app, is the gateway to a free lifetime supply of the most popular ebooks and audiobooks for readers of all ages and interests.”
Follow Marc on Twitter @marc_saltzman for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out” podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Save money on gas and other bills with this tech