There’s probably no other time of year that’s so fun yet so stressful at the same time. For many, the stress comes down to money. According to a 2012 survey, 45 percent of those polled said the holiday season “brings so much financial pressure, they would prefer to skip it altogether.”
Unfortunately for many, this kind of financial pressure leads to holiday debt. Daily Finance reported that 57 percent of parents polled in a 2013 survey said they were “going to take on debt over the holidays in order to buy gifts for their kids.”
Before getting stressed out about holiday spending, check out these tools you can use to make the holidays a little easier on your wallet. Here are our favorite apps, sites, and other tools to avoid holiday debt and make this season easier on your mind and your money.
Manage your gift list with Santa’s Bag
I’ve got a bunch of people to shop for, and it’s hard to keep track of who I need to buy for and how much I have budgeted. The Santa’s Bag shopping app simplifies this for me! Another feature I love: this app tracks purchases from year to year so I don’t forget what I gave my parents last year.
And if you’re worried about others peeking at your list, the Santa’s Bag app is password protected.
Save for the holidays ahead of time with You Need a Budget
The easiest way to avoid holiday debt: save ahead of time. Just like you know student loan payments are due every month, it’s a sure thing that you’re going to have to lay out cash during the holidays. The way to do this is simple: estimate how much the holidays are going to cost you and divide that amount by 12. Put aside this amount of money each month leading up to the holidays.
I set aside $30 a month in a “rainy days” account using the You Need a Budget app that was reserved just for Christmas shopping. Once you’ve accounted for the money, automatically transfer it from your account. Set up a dedicated savings account (I use CapitalOne360, but any bank will do), and create an automatic transfer once a month or on your payday. Without even thinking about it, your money will be sitting in your account come December 2015.
Track the best travel deals and dates with CheapAir, Airfare Watchdog, and Hipmunk
Cheap Air shows a calendar of the “best bargains” and “highest fares” each day. Their advice says to take off on December 23 this year if you’re planning to travel for a week. Avoid flying on January 4th, which is “likely the most expensive day to fly back.”This chart shows the best times to fly too. Flying on Christmas and New Year’s Day might not be best for your holiday plans, but choosing these dates will likely save you money. Avoiding flying between December 20th and New Year’s will likely save you some cash, too.
For deals, I set up airfare alerts on Airfare Watchdog and Hipmunk. Both send me weekly updates with the lowest fares to the cities that I travel to. Be aware: you’ll likely want to book earlier than normal for the holidays.
Use Slice and Wanelo to find the best prices
Between Black Friday, Cyber Monday and, really, the entire shopping season, there are tons of deals out there. But how do you sift through them all? These shopping apps can help!
The Slice app meets a variety of your shopping needs. One of my favorite features is the price tracker, which automatically alerts you when prices drop. It’s also great for tracking last-minute shipments to make sure they’ll make it in time for your holiday celebration.
You can also check out the Wanelo app, which has an endless scroll of images. When you see something you like, click it and it takes you right to the online store to purchase.
Cash in on returns with eBay
When the holidays are over, you may be left with a few gifts you don’t really want. Instead of letting these gifts languish in storage until you decide to throw it out someday down the road, you can turn returns into cash or stuff you really want.
Don’t have the receipt? Try selling it online. eBay claims that over 100,000 unwanted Christmas gifts end up for sale on their site every year. If you’ve never sold anything on eBay, you might find it easier than you think. eBay lists special instructions for selling the Christmas stuff you don’t want.
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