A few years ago, my husband and I let our holiday shopping spiral totally out of control. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, until the credit card bill arrived. We were absolutely shaken to see just how much we’d spent.
Considering that I’m a freelancer who needs to make her last quarterly tax payment of the year right after the holiday season (convenient timing, IRS), watching every penny during this time has become that much more important to us. So we’ve now put different measures and tactics into place to help us curtail our spending and avoid treating our wallets like a bottomless Santa bag.
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One thing that has majorly helped us? Setting a flat dollar amount that we plan to spend on each person on our list. We make it the same amount for everybody ($30, in our case) to keep things fair, even, and in check.
We also use our credit card points to help subsidize our gift giving each year. Since we use our credit card for almost all of our purchases (and, yes, we pay off the entire balance each month!), we rack up a pretty impressive amount of points.
We can use those points for everything from gift cards to items.
However, we typically choose to convert them to cash, the amount of which gets subtracted from our credit card bill. It’s a great way to soften the blow a little.
Aside from those practical strategies, we’ve also discovered a few apps that help you save money, as well as other digital solutions that help with smart holiday shopping. Here are a few that top our “nice” list.
Chances are, you bring your phone with you whenever you’re shopping. So why not use it to ensure that you’re getting the very best deal?
1. Honey Browser Extension
I’ll pretty much do anything to avoid the crazy crowds in the stores during the holiday season. (I’m definitely not one of those people out trampling innocent shoppers on Black Friday.) This means that I do quite a bit of my gift shopping online. It also means that I’ve spent countless hours hunting for valid coupon codes that will save me a few bucks.
But after discovering the Honey browser extension, I no longer need to do that. Honey automatically finds and applies the best promo codes whenever I’m shopping online. It’s an awesome way to save some money, with absolutely zero effort.
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Consider it your own army of elves, all working right on your phone. Using ShopSavvy, you just need to scan the bar code of whatever item you’re planning to purchase. Then the app will compare that item’s price with its price at other stores and help you find cash-back retailers. It even allows you to watch for price drops on that specific gift. Consider it your own army of elves — all working right in your phone.
3. Santa’s Bag
When it comes to shopping, I like to be as organized as possible, and Santa’s Bag helps me do just that. With this list-management app, you can create shopping lists and specific budgets for each person on your list, check off presents as you buy them, and then keep a watchful eye on just how much you’re spending.
The best part? Santa’s Bag will keep track of the gifts you buy year after year.
This way, you can save yourself from the embarrassment of buying that co-worker the same scented candle two holidays in a row.
4. Target Cartwheel/Circle
From presents and gift cards to wrapping paper and bows, whatever holiday shopping I don’t do online, I'll typically do at Target.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the app formerly known as Cartwheel has now been built into Target Circle and allows you to save money on the things you’re buying at Target. Simply download the Target app, scan the bar codes of the items you’re purchasing, and — if there’s an offer available in the app — add it. At the checkout, the cashier will scan the bar code that appears on your phone, and you’ll save some change! It’s easy and effective.
You can also save five percent on every order and get exclusive offers and free shipping with the Target Red Card.
This isn’t an app I’ve used too frequently myself, but it’s one I’ve heard great things about — there are plenty of users who rave about it.
Using Ibotta, you’ll get cash rebates for the purchases you make in more than 300 different stores and more than 500,000 locations. You just need to use the app to unlock the rebates, buy featured products, and then take pictures of your receipts to prove your purchases. Once you reach $10, Ibotta will send your balance directly to your PayPal account. Earning money while holiday shopping? It’s a Christmas miracle!
With Shopkick — which you can get for iPhone or Android — you score points whenever you visit partnered retailers, even if you don’t buy anything. It’s a reward and deals app rolled into one.
The app works using your location and records whenever you walk into a vendor’s store and awards you points appropriately. The app also alerts you to any discount deals when you visit a retailer — a major upgrade from apps that you have to constantly open up to check while you’re out walking around a mall in and out of stores with your friends.
You can also earn points by sharing on social media and taking surveys.
When you rack up enough points, you can exchange them for gift cards for certain retailers.
A visit to a retailer can earn you about 50 to 200 points. For reference, a $10 Target gift card is about 2,500 points, so the points can accumulate quickly.
Most couponing apps are based around deals that users upload themselves, but Yowza allows vendors to upload their own coupons and offers. They're location-driven, so you can search for coupons that are based around your area, which may yield more savings than nationally focused apps.
Yowza boasts more than 70,000 retailers, and you can save coupons and offers for future use.
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SnipSnap works as a coupon book that allows you to bookmark coupons and offers from your favorite retailers and sort them by expiration date. When you get to checkout, you simply pull up the offer on the app and show it to the cashier who scans it and inputs a code displayed under the coupon.
The app also has a “near me” function, which displays any offers near you. Since it tracks your location, it will remind you when you are near an offer that you saved so you don’t have to constantly check the app and risk forgetting when you intended to use one.
9. Grocery iQ
This app is especially helpful if you are having a holiday party and are trying to coordinate making dinner with your friends or roommates.
Grocery iQ allows you to create a shopping list, search for coupons for items on your list, add your store’s rewards card, and sync your lists with anyone you have added. Everyone can add to it, modify it, and check acquired items off a shared list so everybody is always on the same page.
The app also features a favorites list and past shopping history. Plus you can add items into your lists by scanning the bar code with your phone.
Spent is a cash-back app that allows you to link your credit and debit cards and not worry about amassing coupons as the cash-back flow begins when you spend at favorite vendors, such as Amazon and Uber. It works at many popular retailers both on- and offline, so it’s a must-have for anyone who does most of their shopping at major outlets.
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The Bottom Line on Apps That Help You Save Money
Employing even just one or two of these apps can make a huge difference to your holiday budget. Whether it’s on groceries or last-minute gifts, every little bit goes a long way toward a comfortable and happy holiday season.
Additional reporting by Kelly Meehan Brown.