13 free apps you need for the holiday-shopping season

By Consumer ReportsConsumer Reports

This coming Thanksgiving weekend, 140 million people will be doing their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. You could get lost in the sea of circulars, blinded by advertised discounts, and stressed over budget plans. To help streamline the bargain-hunting process, we found some free apps to add to your gift-planning arsenal.

Gift-list generators

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(Most apps in the "gift" category are Christmas-themed, but that doesn't mean you can't use them for any holiday or occasion.)

Santa’s Bag – Christmas Gift List simplifies the process of managing your gift recipients, shopping, and budget lists. Quickly create gift profiles by selecting recipients from your phone's contacts or Facebook profile. You can save each recipient's favorite store and clothing size. And if simply checking an item off your to-do list isn’t specific enough, you can track the status of each gift: what you've bought, wrapped, and given. To ensure your gifts stay a surprise, you can password-protect the app. For iOS.

Christmas Gift List also lets you track gift ideas and budgets while password-protecting your plans. Add gift recipients, and set a budget per person or gift. If you’re giving abroad, this app supports multiple currencies. This app proves that by letting you share your lists via email, social media or Evernote. And at the end of the year you can archive your gift lists and start fresh. For Android.

For more tips and lots of deals, visit our guide to holiday shopping.

Shopping assistants and discount aggregators

Groupon is the digital-deal site you already know and love; this is the app version. For the gift-giving season, you can easily sort through deals under $50, for him or for her, or by recent promotion. In fact, Groupon’s offering 50 percent off your favorite magazine for a limited time. For iOS and Android.

ShopAdvisor tracks the price trend of products so you don't have to. You can add that Nintendo 3DS game console your niece wants to your WatchList, and get an alert when the price drops down to what you’re willing to pay. In the interim, you can compare prices across retailers, and see what the average consumer ratings are. For iOS and Android.

Coupon App by Shopular and Black Friday Coupons Shopular let you leave the paper circulars at home and bookmark the deals from your favorite retailers right on your phone. Not sure if that cologne set is still on sale at Macy’s (which, by the way has one of the best loyalty-card programs)? No problem! With the wonders of geo-locating, this app pushes relevant deals to your smart phone as soon as you walk into the store. With more than 140 retailers participating, you’re sure to snag a deal or two. It even has a special section just for Black Friday circulars. For iOS and Android, respectively.

Smoopa Shopping is a price-checker app that puts you in control—and actually makes the process fun. It leverages the power of real-time aggregation by having the app users submit prices of items they’ve just purchased in store. You can also follow other user feeds and build collections of your favorite items. Just virtually scan a barcode or search for an item, pin it to a collection, and post the price you paid. But if building collections isn’t your thing, you can still benefit: If a store has the best deal on a product, a green button appears. If it doesn’t, Smoopa will give you a yellow button and show you where to score a better deal. For iOS and Android.

RedLaser is a mash-up of Smoopa and Shopular. Created by eBay, this app lets you browse online circulars and coupons, compare deals across retailers, search by the nearest stores with the best prices, and even store loyalty cards all in one app. You can also create and share shopping, gift and wish lists with your friends and family. For iOS and Android.

App safety tips

  • To protect your phone against apps that may not be as private or safe as you'd wish, check our story on mobile security apps.
  • How app-savvy are you? Take our quiz, "Would you download this app?" to find out.
  • Regularly check for updates for your apps—and your mobile OS.

Parking-spot locators

Find my car! Free and MyCar Locator Free are two of our favorite parking apps for college students, but the same benefits apply. These apps quickly record when and where you've parked, and store it in your smart phone for later. So when you leave the mall in a fog after that annual last-minute shopping marathon, you can avoid wandering aimlessly through the vast parking lot, because these apps give you walking directions to find your vehicle again (aided by Google Maps). Find my car! Free also has a timer to remind you when your metered parking is going to expire. For iOS and Android, respectively.

Finance helpers

Discount Calculator (by ChuChu Train Productions) and Discount Calculator (by InfoLife, LLC.) are the apps you’ll be grateful for during your in-store shopping spree. Instead of guesstimating how much that Ninja Master Prep blender will cost you—plus tax, but after taking that extra 10 percent off at check-out—these calculators will do the math for you. Create a shopping list and input all of the prices to learn the exact dollar amount you’ll be spending. For iOS and Android, respectively.

Mobile Banking apps come in handy when you need to instantly access your accounts. Available from most major banks (including Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, and Wells Fargo), they allow you to transfer funds, deposit checks and pay bills with the tap of a finger. So you can stress less with making it to the bank before closing when you’re stuck in the that traffic jam during the holidays retailers call a return line. For iOS and Android.

—Kaitlyn Wells

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