Holding onto money is no simple task. Between student loans, car payments, late-night pizza cravings, and of course your Netflix account, it may feel like your hard-earned dollars disappear. However, you may not know it, but you have a secret weapon when it comes to saving money, and it may be in your back pocket: your smartphone. Check out these FREE apps that save money, available with the iPhone and Android.

Nobody likes paying more for gas than they have to. GasBuddy helps you locate the least expensive gas station in your area, taking the guess-work out finding the least expensive pump.

This app helps find the lowest price on items you're thinking about buying. If you're at a store contemplating a purchase but aren't sure if you're getting the best deal, simply scan the item's barcode with your smartphone using the RedLaser. Once you've scanned the item, RedLaser will do the research and alert you if another store sells your item for cheaper.

Grocery IQ
If you always dread the checkout line at the supermarket but can't bring yourself to start clipping coupons, you need this app in your money-saving arsenal. Grocery IQ makes grocery shopping a lot less painful by saving you time and money. This app not only saves your virtual shopping list in its database, but it can even organize the list by aisle. Best of all, this app helps you make sure you're getting the best deals possible by comparing prices at grocery stores and finding you coupons for the items on your list.

Perfect for anyone who loves to shop online, this app helps to make sure you're paying less for your purchases. Downloading RetailMeNot gives you access to coupons from hundreds of retailers. This app also lets you save your favorite stores and will alert you with every new deal and discount. RetailMeNot isn't just for virtual shopping, however, and you can search for coupons redeemable in stores and show your phone at checkout to get a great deal.

Mail-in rebates on in-store purchases can be nothing more than a hassle. However, the Ibotta app changes all of that, helping consumers redeem their rebates in the easiest way possible – with their smartphones. This app uses shoppers' receipts to track what rebates are available, and gives the shopper a rebate after doing a simple task (taking a quiz, watch, a commercial, write a review, etc). Once a total of $5 in rewards has been earned, Ibotta deposits the rebate via PayPal.

Who says your smartphone is only good for sending Snapchats and playing Candy Crush? By downloading the right apps and using them during your daily purchases, you could reduce your spending and keep more money in your wallet. Take advantage of all of the money-saving tools your smartphone has to offer, and watch your savings grow.

Photo by Yukata Tsutano via cc.  

After the coldest winter in decades, my house was worse for wear. The frigid temperatures caused my flagstone front porch steps to crumble and my retaining wall to collapse. While a lot of homeowners would have paid for the renovations by adding them to their mortgage, I was able to pay without going into debt.

Establishing an emergency fund
When I woke up one morning and found two inches of water in my basement kitchen, I knew I was going to have to spend a pretty penny on home renovations. Fortunately, I already had an emergency fund with $15,000 set aside.

It's generally recommended you put aside enough emergency funds equal to three to six months' living expenses. Having that much money set aside may seem a little on the high side, but as a single first-time homebuyer I wanted to err on the side of caution. When I purchased my house in August 2012, I decided to stash $15,000 aside in a high-interest savings account for a rainy day. And boy, am I glad I did.

Dealing with contractors
My house repair bills started to pile up in January, smack-dab in the middle of winter. I had no idea how much a new front porch and retaining wall would cost, so I started phoning around for estimates. I phoned five contractors for estimates and received amounts ranging from $3,500 to $18,000 for the same job.

When selecting a contractor, take the time to meet them in person, ask for references and check for complaints online at the Better Business Bureau. Remember, the lowest estimate often isn't the best. You want to avoid fly-by-night contractors who will take your money and run.

Fast-tracking my savings
It was January, and the work couldn't start until early May when the weather was warmer. On top of a new retaining wall and front porch, I decided to get a sidewalk and new eavestroughs. That increased my renovation bill to nearly $25,000, leaving me $10,000 short. That gave me four months to sock away enough money to make up the difference.

I worked my fingers to the bone by working 20 hours extra a week for four months and managed to save an extra $6,000 – that left me $4,000 short. My parents were nice enough to lend me $2,000, and I was able to earn an extra $2,000 by working overtime and part-time during the weekends for two months while the renovations took place.

Repairs and maintenances are a part of homeownership
When you own a home, you should have money set aside for repairs and maintenance. You never know when your roof could start to leak or your chimney could come crashing down. Experts say you should be prepared to spend an average of 3% to 5% of the value of your home on maintenance and repairs each year. For example, if your home is valued at $425,000, you should set aside up to $21,250 each year.

Homeownership isn't for everyone. If you're not prepared to put money aside in an emergency fund, you might be better suited for a condo or an apartment. With my first major renovation under my belt and my property virginity gone, today I truly feel like a homeowner!

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Time to buy a new car? It's exciting but daunting, isn't it? Likely, you won't be able to pay off that baby in cash – I know I couldn't, and my new ride was a slick 2003 Toyota Camry. So, like me, you're probably trying to decide whether you should lease or buy the car. For the record, I went with buying.

Both involve monthly payments. Think of leasing as rent – you don't own the car after you finish paying for it – and a loan is, well, a loan like any other (mortgage, student, etc). They both, however, have many differences that may push you to choose one or the other.

Monthly payments
When it comes to lower monthly payments, a lease does win. Because you are only making payments on the difference between the start value and residual value of the car rather than the entire price of the car, lease payments will be lower – sometimes up to 60%.

However, when you pay off a loan, your payments stop, and you carry on with your trusty steed. Oh, how glorious it is not to have a car payment anymore. When a lease has ended, you return the car, after which you need a new one, and the payments start all over again with no break in between.

Ownership and equity
When the term of your lease is up, you must give the car back to whomever you leased it from, or you can pay the rest of the amount and own the car, though it's usually more expensive than if you took out a loan upfront. When you loan your car, at the end of your term, you own it, and you now have equity in that vehicle – one of the main reasons I personally loaned my Camry.

Because you're paying for a shorter term when leasing, your car will likely still be under warranty, so you won't have to worry about maintenance costs. With a loan, you have only until the warranty lasts (three to 10 years) before being responsible for any maintenance and repairs. This is one aspect of a loan I'm not fond of, as I now own this 11-year-old gem with an expired warranty, so I'm loathing the day she needs repairs.

When you loan a car, because you're in the process of owning it, you won't have any limitation on your mileage. A lease agreement, however, often stipulates that only a certain amount of miles can be driven – usually 12,000 per year – and if you go over that mile limit, you could end up paying a hefty fine. If you have a lengthy commute, this is something to keep in mind.

Wear and tear
Again, when you finish paying a car loan, you own it, so any wear and tear will be yours – and yours to keep or fix up. With a lease agreement, your car is evaluated for wear and tear, and if an inspector sees any damage that is deemed to be "excessive," you will pay a fine. I was the victim of a hit-and-run, which left me with the one scrape on an otherwise well-maintained car. Excessive? I'd rather not take the chance, especially when it wasn't even my fault.

Keep in mind these five aspects of leasing versus loaning a car when it comes time to make a decision about how to finance your new (or used) Toyota Camry or BMW 740i. You'll be saddled with this decision for the next however many years, so make sure that choice is the right one.
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I think I'm a smart person. When I was younger, my dad would say, "You're a really smart kid, so I can't figure out why you would do something so dumb."

How often do we, smart people, find ourselves making dumb decisions, especially with money? Money management would be much simpler if money didn't get in the way. We all know we should save, we should plan for the future, we should spend carefully. Yet, these are the exact things we don't do.

Here're four reasons smart people make dumb spending decisions:

We let emotion dictate our decision-making. Ever had a bad day? Ever bought something to make yourself feel better? That's emotional spending. It feels good to spend money, and that feeling is what gets us in trouble.

Solution: Wait. Give yourself time, especially before major buying decisions. Even if you've saved for months for that new TV, don't buy it after a bad day. Chances are you'll spend more and make a more hurried decision if you let emotion guide you.

We don't know how we are targeted. If you think about the places you shop regularly, you can pinpoint ways they get you spend more money. They arrange their stores in ways to make you spend and water fruits and vegetables you have to pay for by weight. Don't even get me started on free samples!

Solution: Wait. Don't go to the store during peak hours. Wait until later in the evening, or go early in the morning. These non-peak times will allow you to avoid the unnecessary watering and sample choices. Shopping during slow hours will also help you avoid the herd mentality. The idea that "everyone is stocking up on orange juice. I must do the same."

We don't know what we need. The list of our needs is probably a bit more extensive than air, water, food, and shelter, but we still need to be careful to differentiate between our needs and our wants.

Solution: Wait. Take time to consider if the purchase you're holding is a genuine need, or just a very attractive want. Give it a score of 1-10 (1 being an entire chocolate cake, 10 being air). Focus on the highest numbers in your life first. Spend on the things you need, and then save for the things you want.

We have no idea what we're doing. When was the last time you developed a spending plan? Do you sit down before you take a vacation and give yourself a spending limit? Do you do the same before you go to the grocery store? It sounds elementary and boring, but I'd rather be the boring guy retiring in Aspen than the spontaneous guy moving back in with my parents.

Solution: Wait. Did you think there was going to be another solution? Take the time to plan out your decisions. Write out your goals/intentions, and then stick to them. Don't be influenced by keeping up with trends.

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Capitalism is a great when you know what you're doing. Unfortunately, most of us simply don't. Everywhere I look, I see people throwing their hard-earned money away on frivolous items they could be getting for free (or dirt cheap). If you hate billionaires and CEO's, stop lining their pockets by wasting your money on these ridiculous purchases.

Humans need water to survive. What we don't need is sugar water. However, any store you walk into has shelves lined with the stuff, even farmer's markets and health food stores. Anyone who's ever put an apple or orange through a juicer knows it comes out looking and tasting nothing like the stuff you buy in stores. Even "natural" juice is as bad as soda, except you get an overly inflated sense of health. Investing in a durable, refillable water bottle will go further than buying soda or even bottled water.

Restaurants make the majority of their profits selling drinks because they have the highest markup. The healthiest options are unsweetened tea or water, and a cup of tea will set you back more than it would cost you to make a gallon at home. If you must eat out, drink water – it's free.

Why buy an album? There are too many free music streaming sites available to waste money buying music on iTunes or Google Play. Try Pandora and Grooveshark instead.

There are very few apps worth purchasing, and even fewer in-app purchases are worth the money. For every amazing paid app on the market, there are a handful of free competitors that work almost as well. Apple and Google have made purchasing apps through their stores easy, but you're wasting your hard-earned money on something you don't need.

Cover Charges
I can't tell you the last time I paid to get into anything, and I'm as much of an A-list celebrity as you are. There are a few ways to get free admission (and a few more, if you were lucky enough to be a cute girl).

Always show up early. Sometimes this will get you grandfathered into the club or event before they start charging a cover. At the very least, you'll be able to mingle with the hired help, and you may score free passes.

Cable used to be the pinnacle of home entertainment, but if you have a smartphone, computer, and video game console, there's really no need to pay for cable anymore. The antiquated pricing system drains your wallet while providing little you can't get for free through Hulu, SopCast, and YouTube. If you're a sports fan and have to catch the playoffs, there's a bar playing the game free somewhere nearby.

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As someone living on a tight post-college budget, I'd like to think that I'm good at stopping myself from spending when I shouldn't. However, there are days when my resolve is weak and I rationalize buying an overpriced coffee drink or a pair of boots very similar to ones I already own (because I need to have different colors). Usually my rationalization holds up just long enough for me to make an unnecessary purchase, at which point it evaporates and I'm left questioning my spending habits.

I know I'm not the only person who makes these excuses, so I thought I'd compile five that I frequently hear, along with tips to avoid them.

It's on sale. There's a certain satisfaction that comes with snagging a great Groupon deal or getting a discount on a product that you were planning to buy anyway. However, it's important to do the math—sales don't always save us as much money as we think. It's also essential to read the fine print—if you have to redeem that Groupon discount at a store that's 30 miles away, you'll end up wasting time and gas money.

I don't have time to cook. If you're stressed after work, you're less likely to have the willpower to make dinner and more likely to rationalize eating out. Avoid falling into this trap by cooking a large meal (or several meals, for variety) on Sunday and freezing it for the week. You can also prepare your lunch the night before to avoid buying lunch because you were rushed in the morning.
I had a rough day; I deserve something nice. Again, stress is going to lower your resolve and make it easier to rationalize buying something that you don't need. Instead of practicing retail therapy, look for a less expensive (or free) activity that helps you relax, like going for a run or volunteering at an animal shelter.

I'll probably be getting a raise/higher paying job soon. Most recent college graduates start out with an average starting salary of $45,327 (which actually sounds pretty good to me) and aspire to move to a higher paying position after gaining experience. While aspiring to upward mobility is great, avoid thinking things like, "Once I buy a fancy new wardrobe I'll get promoted" or "I can afford higher rent this year because I should be getting a better job soon." If you're having trouble living within your current means, write out a monthly budget and take a harsh look at where your money is actually going.

All my friends are splurging. Don't fall into a group mentality: you don't necessarily know your friends' financial situation, and just because everyone else in your group is splurging on appetizers and drinks doesn't mean it's a good idea for you to do the same. Try to avoid costly situations if they're too much of a temptation, and consider recruiting a thrifty friend to help you stay within the spending limits you've set for yourself.

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You've finally gotten your new business off the ground, and now you're tasked with finding the right group of smart, eager individuals to help your venture succeed. You'll want to hire people who are clever, innovative, and unquestionably competent. There's just one problem: You’ve got limited funds.

It's true that for many prospective employees, the decision to take a job boils down to money. And it’s often the case that the higher the salary, the more enticing the gig. But before you resign yourself to a group of mediocre hires, consider the following strategies for attracting top-tier employees, even if you can't shell out the most competitive salary right off the bat.

Offer a flexible schedule.
Depending on the nature of your business, it may not be necessary to have all of your employees reporting to an office during set hours on a daily basis. If you've got room for flexibility, make it clear during the interview process. Offer potential employees the option of working from home or condensing the work week into four extended days to allow for frequent long weekends. Those with longer commutes will relish the idea of sleeping later and avoiding traffic. Travel aficionados will jump at the option for more weekend road trips. And seasoned professionals with families will appreciate the work-life balance.

Be generous with vacation time.
You may not be able to pony up a huge salary, but you can compensate by offering employees a generous vacation package. Many companies give new hires a mere three weeks of paid time off, which often overlaps with sick leave. Over the course of an entire year, that's not a ton of time. Four weeks of vacation, coupled with a generous policy for sick and personal time, just sounds exponentially better.

Talk up the opportunities.
Does your business employ the latest technology? Does it offer employees the chance to work independently, run with their ideas, and learn? Nobody wants to be bored on the job, so go out of your way to make each role sound engaging and laden with opportunities for advancement.

Beef up the title.
Some people have trouble moving up in larger companies and get stuck in the same role for years on end. You can snag some of these knowledgeable, experienced employees by offering an instant promotion on paper.

Share the (eventual) wealth.
It may take some time for your business to be remarkably profitable, but plenty of prospective employees will jump at the chance to snag a share of the eventual reward. And as an added bonus, you'll be motivating your new hires to work even harder if their actions are directly linked to extra money.

Of course, there are always going to be those people who are motivated by dollars alone. But if you're willing to get creative, you can construct a total compensation package that's appealing to quality professionals of all levels.

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I love my debit card – everything about it. Between the comfort it provides me to its ability of keeping my spending in check, there is nothing not to love. As I entered the real world, however, I was confronted with both a devastating and terrifying truth: I needed to get a credit card. Even though I knew this day would come, I still had many suspicious about this new, unknown card.

Fear of fees
Spending money that isn't yours and that you may not even have is all part of the credit card game. However, due to my lack of awareness, I had no idea what the rules would be or how much they would cost. Between APR, balance transfers, transaction fees and late fees, it was hard not to get anxious and confused. However, it turns out that best way for me to conquer this fear was to do my research to understand credit card fees and how to avoid the traps.

Fear of liking It
One of my biggest anxieties was that I would actually like my credit card. The thought of credit becoming my card of choice or beginning a life of debt was nothing less than unsettling. The only way I was able to cope was the comfort of knowing my first credit card would most likely have a small credit limit, helping me control my spending. Also, the ability to use online banking 24/7 to track my spending helped make credit card debt seem less likely.

Fear of choosing the wrong card
As I knew very little about credit cards, I was concerned that I would end up choosing the wrong one. After copious research, I determined some personal guidelines to pick the best card. I decided the only cards I would apply for would have no annual fees, an APR in the low double digits, and free access to my FICO score, since establishing good credit was my main reason for a credit card. Every other mileage point, cash back reward, and waived balance transfer fee was just an added bonus.

Fear of rejection
Out of all of my fears about credit cards, this was the most personal. What if, after all my anxiety and careful research, I got rejected? This fear, while initially personally stressful, turned out to be ultimately irrational. After shopping around, I learned that, though I didn't have any credit history, someone would want me. One of the easiest ways for me to get approved was through my bank, since they had a record of my responsible spending, proof that I would make a good candidate. I also looked into secured credit cards, where you give a bank a monetary deposit as collateral, which ends up being your monthly limit, in the event that you are unable to pay your bill.

While I still feel that a credit card is nothing more than a necessary evil, I have learned to accept my fate. I have even come to realize some of the benefits that come along with having a credit card, like heightened fraud protection, credit history (if you can maintain it), and even some occasional perks. Though there will always be a place in my heart for my debit card alone, there is now a space for a credit card, too, but only in my wallet.

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Scenario: You've been invited to a very important dinner party. This dinner party has all kinds of networking connections, and since you hate your current job, your motivation to succeed is high. You might be an introvert, you might be an extrovert, but it doesn't matter. You must talk to other party attendees and make valuable connections. But before that, you must put on your nicest outfit. After all, attending a dinner party in your pajamas is not exactly kosher.

Before you step out, dress up.

The same idea applies to building a Twitter following before launching your new business. "Listen to social media conversations" is a top suggestion when building a brand on social media, and it is an absolute must these days. While determining your social marketing strategy, you'll eventually need to decide which social media tools you'll use to reach the widest possible audience from your target markets. Twitter is a great place to begin, with people from all demographics, and projected increases in Twitter users.

Now that you've secured your Twitter handle, start following people, and start listening. Some people will even give you a "pity follow-back" if you're new, and that's fine. Look up businesses/services similar to yours, and follow movers and shakers in your industry. Follow the local news if you want. Follow your grandparents.

The next step is to determine the existing hashtags that fit with your business/product/service, and monitor those hashtags. Follow anyone tweeting that hashtag you find interesting. Retweet, favorite, respond (appropriately of course), and get your name out there. Hootsuite is a good tool for monitoring certain hashtags if you'd like to stay as current as possible. Simply set up the hashtag as a new feed, and you'll receive regular updates via the dashboard.

Even if you only have 20¬to 30 followers at this point, don't fret. The more you participate in Twitter conversations, the more you will notice how many followers you get during a given time frame. At this point, if you're ready, you can announce the launch of your new venture!

The next step is determining when to chime in. Try using Buffer. This tool is designed to determine the best times for your tweets to be posted. Simply sign into the website using your Twitter information, and begin loading up your queue with content, which can be posted right away or buffered for later. Don't forget your hashtags and @mentions!

You've worked hard to get to where you are, but don't let it go to your head. Thank all your followers. It takes all of two seconds.

 Photo by via mkhmarketing via cc.

The road to self-employment and self-sufficiency isn't always paved in gold. In fact, it is often windy, dusty, and full of pot holes. When I decided to transition from my six years in the medical field to starting my own freelance company, I hit the pavement with the determination of a racecar driver. I had goals in sight, the knowledge to make it happen, and the drive you only find when you are achieving something you love. But as I kicked into high gear, I ran into five speed bumps that threatened my commitment, resolve, and overall sanity in my quest to shake the nine-to-five monkey from my back and bask in the freedom of making my own schedule and doing work I'm passionate about.

The "Am I Crazy?" Syndrome
Unfortunately this speed bump is around every corner and it will never go away. Starting your own company is a risk. I had a steady job. I worked hard to get to my position. I had full benefits. Why would I give up this American dream? I must be crazy, right? Probably. And I still ask myself this question all the time. It is an important one. This bump slows your speed just enough to make sure you are in it for the right reasons.

Putting your butt in the chair
Like many people, I started my business while still working 40 hours a week at my day job. Nothing slows your pace more than being tired, overworked, and a beautiful day looming outside your window. News flash: There will never be enough hours in the day, and there will always be something more enticing than work. Set a schedule and stick to it. Set up a comfortable work space if you are working from home. Organize your space in way that inspires and motivates you.

All about the Benjamins
Passion and freedom are fantastic, but at the end of the day we all work to make money. I was lucky that my company required very little start-up funds, but it still took some finesse and prioritizing to avoid draining the bank account. Realistically, this speed bump can send you airborne, flying off a cliff to a fiery demise. Choose how to spend your money carefully. Start with the small but important stuff.

Who's coming with me?
Telling your boss to shove it can be an incredibly satisfying feeling, but knowing when to break those ties is important. Embrace this speed bump. Chances are you will need these people at some point, or you can at least utilize them later. Timing is everything in this case. Before burning those bridges, make sure you're ready to make it on your lonely island.

Pick me, pick me
This isn't so much a bump as it is a mountain. You don't know self-doubt until you make that leap to self-employed. Explaining what I was embarking on to the people closest to me was one of the hardest hurdles I encountered. Overcoming the fear of being criticized, and not taken seriously can be soul-crushing. Finding your confidence is key. Believe it and others will too.

These are just a few of the many bumps in the road you will find when starting your own business, and what looks unsurpassable to me may look like a crack in the sidewalk to you. Prepare for everything, and adapt to anything. The road will take you where you want to go. It just may take some time to get there.

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