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Plan Well, Retire Well

Saving and investing your money

Oh no! Just how much did I spend?

Have you ever started wrapping your holiday presents and realized that you bought two presents for one sister and none for your other sister? Or, how about the time you bought the same book (or CD or game) for your niece two years in a row? And, by the end of the holiday season do you really know how much you've spent OR is it all a holiday blur?

The days seem to fly by during the holiday season and being organized is a major challenge. Over the years I've tried a variety of ways to keep track of my holiday gift shopping -- often on a small pad of paper that tends to be misplaced at crucial moments. Last year I tried a holiday shopping app on my cell phone and found that there were several things that I liked about using a shopping list app:

  • I could find it when I needed it – for example, when I was shopping;
  • I could set-up a budgeted amount per person and quickly see how much money I had left to spend on each person;
  • I could see a "grand total" of all I had spent on gifts. This was very helpful whenever I became tempted to buy "just one more thing" for someone or a special item for myself.

When I began my holiday shopping this year, I opened up my shopping list app and realized that it lacked a significant feature – at least for me. The app I had been using was only good for one holiday season. I couldn't easily add in a second year of shopping, unless I cleared all the information. And, if I cleared everything, someone was going to get the same gift two years in a row!

Well, that made me think, "What do I really want from a holiday shopping app?" In the process of exploring this, I tried out several holiday shopping list apps and realized that there are key features that are important to me.

  • It must be easy to enter and modify information.
  • I want to be able to set a budgeted gift amount for each person as well as a total amount for my holiday shopping. An extra bonus is if the app adds up this total for me as I enter individual amounts.
  • The app needs to keep a running total of how much I've spent for each person, as well as the total spent on all gifts.
  • I want a strong signal when I've spent enough on a person's gift. This is especially useful when you're buying multiple gifts for one person.
  • The app needs to have some method for keeping data from one year to the next.

I'm happy to report that for 99 cents I was able to find a smart phone app that would do all of these things for me!

While many of the holiday shopping apps have much in common, they do vary. Other functions that you might like to have include the ability to:

  • Categorize people such as family, friends, colleagues, etc.
  • Connect to your phone contact list to add details and pictures about people.
  • Track your progress with the gift; for example, shopping, purchased, wrapped, and mailed
  • Lock your list with a password. Could be useful with curious kids!

Tools like phone apps can be useful to keep us on track with our finances. What would you want in a holiday shopping app? If past experience tells you that you may end up unclear about just how much you spent in December, now is a good time to find a tool that helps you plan and track your spending. Happy Shopping!


Note: I'm not listing any particular app because there are many that are very similar and availability may depend on your smart phone or tablet. To find a shopping app, try searching using key words such as holiday shopping list or gift list.

If you are using apps to manage your finances, I'd love to learn about it. Please leave a comment below. Thanks! Kathy

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Great article. Can you share specific app you found that had all the features you listed?
by Judy Taylor on Tuesday 12/4/2012

Hi, I have been using an app on my iPhone called "Better Christmas List." However, I am not endorsing this product; it is one of many excellent apps that can help monitor spending during the holidays.My suggestion is to go to the store appropriate for your phone or tablet, and search for "Christmas holiday list" or something like that. I do like the feature that allows you to archive data from one year to the next -- you might want to check to see if the app allows this or not.Thank you for your comment!
by Kathy Sweedler on Monday 12/10/2012