Help Desk

Tech-savvy ways to cut expenses

Help Desk

:( Help!

I rarely use Facebook and have never online-dated. The biggest problem in my life is affordability. Soon, I'll no longer be able to afford to live in the city I fell in love with 20 years ago. As far as I can see, your column is for the new people, the tech-boom types who are driving up the cost of living and driving out me and my friends. Got any advice for us "old" Austinites, technology boy?

– Can't Afford To Live Among Digital Yuppies

We feel you, CATLADY. We, too, have noticed a "pod people" phenomenon, where old, familiar faces are steadily replaced around town by newer, fresher, more expensive faces, many of them looking down at their phones. Maybe we're optimists, but we think these new people do have something to offer the city.

At the same time, as a column in a venerable print weekly, we very much aim to serve the old-school Austin as well. That's why, at CATLADY's prompting, we're focusing our next three columns on the affordability crisis. This week: tech-savvy ways to cut expenses.

The techie influx has certainly made Austin pricier. But that same app-driven economy can also help us live more cheaply. One big benefit of living in a plugged-in city is that services that aim to "disrupt" and cut consumer costs can easily reach critical mass here. Take discount aggregators like Groupon, LivingSocial, and ScoutMob. Most coupons you'll find on those apps are for luxuries like spa days and fancy restaurants, true. But a recent scan of deals on an average Tuesday night in June showed a number of solid savings, like 50% off at beloved (and already affordable) Eastside Tex-Mex joint Las Cazuelas.

Along more homegrown lines, local blog lists deals at grocery stores around town, aimed at shoppers who want to eat healthy for less. If you're looking for free activities or drink deals in the palm of your hand, we humbly suggest the Chronicle's Calendar app and GoTime Happy Hour app.

Aside from food, your biggest budget items are likely housing and transportation. No question, the housing market is disastrous right now for those in need. Personal technology can't solve that problem, except perhaps via Airbnb. (We'll discuss that in the next column, among other "sharing economy" income opportunities.) Transportation, however, is a budget category where thinking futuristically could save you real dough.

The recent arrivals of Uber and Lyft (and, soon, the discount shared-ride service UberPool) have revolutionized the transit landscape in Austin. Combine the flexibility of Uber/Lyft with impressive mobile app-driven improvements in Cap Metro's user experience, Car2Go, and a growing bike-share program, and Austin could, accidentally, be turning into a city where car payments, insurance, and gas are optional expenses. That's something old-school transit advocates have repeatedly failed at, but the much-reviled techies are making headway.

Austin, a car-optional city? Maybe we're optimists – but maybe that's our first advice to you in staring down our city's uncertain affordability future, CATLADY. Change is scary, but a little optimism never hurt. :) HD

Have a favorite app, website, or device that helps you keep costs down? Post in the comments section or email We may include your tips in a future column.

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