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Confident Consumer: Apps aid holiday shopping

5:19 PM, Nov 21, 2012   |    comments
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By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY 

Jill Duffy puts almost everything on her phone. Gerri Detweiler prefers paper and her computer.

But what both women have in common is they choose the method they are most likely to use when it comes to planning for holiday shopping.

"The big thing about organization is, it doesn't matter what tools you use, as long as you like them and use them," says Duffy, Get Organized columnist for PCMag.com. "A looked-at list is a used list."

Duffy uses apps for almost everything that has to do with list-making, finances, shopping and organization around the holidays. Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com, prefers her tried-and-true spreadsheets and file folders, where all she has to do is reach in and find the receipt she needs. And it works for both of them.

No matter what your level of tech savvy, the key is to get a system in place far enough ahead of the holidays so you're a smart shopper who stays within whatever budget constraints you have.

Even the most low-tech shopper would have to be impressed with some of the utility packed into shopping apps these days. Eyeona, for example, not only saves your receipts, it tracks prices after your purchase to see if there are price drops. You can also create a list of products you might like to buy so you can be notified if the price goes down. Dan Butler, VP of retail operations at the National Retail Federation, says most retailers will refund the difference between the price paid and a sale price for a week to 10 days after the purchase but warns, "Not for the remaining life of the product."

Choose your tools:

* Budgeting. The first step is figuring out how much you plan to spend this season. Detweiler recommends FinancialRecovery.com's Money Minder Holiday Planner, because it factors in all of the decorating, travel and other expenses that often get overlooked. Duffy says Mint.com will tell you how much you need to save each week or month between now and the holidays to get you to your goal amount. And it will tell you how much you need to adjust if you go off track.

* Shopping lists. Sticking to lists can be hard enough at the grocery store, and the temptations can be great for those who truly love to shop once they hit the mall. So be realistic and include things you need or want for yourself if they fit into your budget. But then stay true to what's on paper or on your phone. Both Detweiller and Duffy like to use Evernote for lists. Duffy also likes the Awesome Note app for its list-making and calendar function, which lets you set deadlines for tasks. It could come in handy for purchases that need to be made ahead of free -- or at least affordable -- shipping deadlines.

* Deal finders. If you're looking for specific things such as, say, a TV or food processor for someone on your list, websites such as BradsDeals.com or Dealnews.com can take the stress out of searching for the lowest prices. And always do a quick search before checking out to see if the retailer is offering any coupon codes or printable or scannable coupons.

* Store apps or e-mail lists. If you have one or more favorite stores you patronize all year or at the holidays, consider downloading their apps. But don't fill your phone with more than you are likely to use. The key is to stay informed when there are special discounts for customers like you. That can be by having their app, being on their e-mail list or -- imagine this -- waiting for their sale circulars to show up in your home's mailbox. How retro.

* Receipts and return policies. If you don't want to stash them in an accordion folder, scan them onto your phone using one of the various receipt apps that are available. And use your favorite method of list storage to track stores' refund policies, especially if you're inclined to shop early. Shopping early can prevent bad last-minute-frenzy shopping mistakes. But ConsumerWorld.org's Edgar Dworsky, who does an annual holiday retail return policy survey, reminds that anyone shopping for gifts now had better make sure there's at least a 90-day return policy. Most stores don't put their extended return policies into effect until November, he says.

Detweiler just downloaded her first shopping app other than the one for her CVS rewards card. And Duffy reports she actually used a pen and paper recently -- to jot down some thoughts before an interview. But then she typed them up and e-mailed them.

HOLIDAY SHOPPING APPS

Seven apps to download before the holiday season:

* Mint: Budgeting and related financial tools

* Apple Passbook: Stores tickets, loyalty, gift and reward cards.

* AwesomeNote: Listmaking with calendar function that lets you set task deadlines.

* Redlaser: Barcode scanner will tell you if price is lower elsewhere.

* Eyeona: receipt storage and notification of price drops.

* BradsDeals or DealNews: Bargains and Black Friday updates.

* NeatCloud/NeatMobile: Scanning/uploading receipts and documents such as warranties.

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