ipad laying on desk with app store displayed on screen

Tech Shopping on a Budget

Inflation has hit the technology market—including the software department. Even inexpensive apps can make an ugly dent in your budget if you download a screenful of them.

The good news is, many great apps are available at little or no cost. Just put a little thought into your choices.

From the BridgingApps Team: Our Favorite Free and Low-Cost Apps

(Note: Our App Search Tool has a “sort by price” option—but read all the information provided. The download price doesn’t always match the long-term price.)

Cristen Reat, Co-Founder and Program Director: My top picks are:

  • myNoise –I love this because of its customizable noise-cancelling and sounds features. I use myNoise nearly every day I’m in my Easter Seals Greater Houston office, since I’m next to one of the clinic’s consulting rooms and it can get quite loud!
  • MyChart – I use this free app at least weekly to communicate with my health team, which is spread over three medical institutions.
  • Doodle Buddy – The free version is a fun app for making sketches and illustrations.
  • Pandora – My son Vincent has autism, and his music preferences are varied and demanding. There’s a paid no-ads version of the Pandora streaming service, but the free version suits our family. We can create our own favorite stations, in a variety of music styles.
  • ScannerPro – I use the free version of this scanning app at least weekly. When I need to fax something, I just scan it and pay about 99 cents for transmission.
  • Choiceworks Calendar – Costs $9.99, but I love it because it is so visual and customizable. Works great on iPads.

Katherine Swarts, Digital Content Writer: I like apps that are free and have well-established reputations. My regulars, several of which came with my iPhone, include:

Amy Fuchs, Program Manager: Everyone can use a little help relaxing, and among my favorite apps to share is Plum Village: Zen Meditation. It is totally free and made for newbie and experienced users alike. It is also on our “Digital Tools for Personal Wellness and Self-Care” YouTube series (see Plum Village video link).

Andi Fry, BridgingApps Coordinator for Montgomery County Outreach: I use coupon apps—Groupon and HEB—and flight travel apps. Airline apps are the cheapest flight trackers.

Walter Prescher, Digital Navigator: My two favorite apps both can be used free, though they have subscription options to unlock additional features. 

  • Structured posts your daily schedule in easy-to-follow visual format.
  • Strava is great for tracking fitness—and for connecting with friends to get fitness support and accountability.

Ale Gonzalez, Digital Navigator:

  • For clients with visual impairments, I recommend Seeing AI and Be My Eyes, both of which are free. Seeing AI scans and reads documents, product labels, even colors. Be My Eyes is a video-chat service where sighted volunteers can view and describe a caller’s surroundings.
  • I personally love the Strong app because tracking my workout allows me to see progress and keep motivated. It has a free version with a few workout templates, but the premium version is just $30 per year.

Tara Rocha, Digital Learning Specialist: I really like the Greenlight app for teaching my kids money management. For $4.99 a month you can have up to five kids on your plan and give them “greenlights” on spending money. It’s easy to transfer funds from your “Parent Wallet” to the “spend” and “savings” functions, and you can designate money for specific purposes. As a fantastic way to help family members learn budgeting, it’s well worth the small monthly cost. 

Other popular apps that are free to download as of summer 2023:

Tips for Saving Money When Shopping for Apps

  • Be clear on exactly what you want from each app. The premium versions may be all bells and whistles to you.
  • Always give apps a free trial before paying. If you stop regularly using an app (or its premium-only features) within a week or so, it’s probably not worth your money right now.
  • Save a little extra by using all your free trial days, even after you decide you’re in for the long term. (App providers can be generous with trial periods: Greenlight, mentioned above, offers a full 30 days.)
  • If the app will be used by someone with distractibility challenges, do consider an ad-free version—but do still try the no-cost version. Not all free versions are ad-heavy.
  • If you’re using an auto-pay subscription system, set a “payment almost due” reminder and take time to consider, before the renewal goes through, whether you still need the app. Automatic renewals of no-longer-used services are a silent drain on many budgets.

Finally, if you have a downloaded app you no longer want to pay for, you don’t have to delete it when your subscription expires. You’ll lose access to updates and customer service, but the app itself may remain usable. Go ahead and keep it as long as it serves your needs: just leave an eye open to affordable, more up-to-date alternatives.

Leave a Reply