Of course you already use Google to look up movie times, settle trivia disputes or stalk, er, "research" former flames on the Internet. But the world's most famous search engine can also help you save some dough. Here are five money-saving Google features you might not know about:
1. Google 411
I only learned about this one when my uncle -- who lives in Pakistan, no less -- emailed to tell me about it. Next time you need directory assistance, don't bother calling 411 and getting charged anywhere between $1 and $4 for a phone number (my mobile phone carrier charges $1.79 per call). Instead, dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) and access local business information for free. If you're calling from a cell phone, you can ask the service to send you a text message with more details and a map -- you just have to say "text message" or "map it." This video explains it all:
2. Google TipJar
Launched this past spring, TipJar is a site where users can submit and rank money-saving tips. The ranking feature allows the duds to sink to the bottom of the list. Some tips I found useful:
Sign up for a Gmail account and have voice and video chats for free with anyone in the world. You'll need to download a plugin and have a web cam and a microphone, of course, but the service itself is totally free. This video explains how it works:
Besides keeping track of appointments and birthdays, Google Calendar is perfect for reminding you about upcoming sales or coupon expiration dates. If Pottery Barn is having a sale next month on the dinnerware you've been coveting, just create a new event on the calendar with all the relevant information. You can set up free reminders via email or text letting you know about the details minutes, hours, days or weeks in advance.
You could save between 5% and 15% on your monthly electricity bill if you knew exactly where your energy usage came from and could identify inefficiencies. To that end, Google is testing PowerMeter, a secure Google gadget that shows consumers detailed information on their electricity consumption. The company has partnered with utilities in the United States, Canada, Germany and India to test this product. This service isn't available everywhere, but the folks at Google tell me they are working on developing more partnerships and also on an option that will allow anyone to purchase a device, connect it to their fusebox and sign up for PowerMeter even if their utility is not an official partner. You can get news and updates on the service here.