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November 2012 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family / Columnists / Growing Up Online

Best apps for planning and enjoying the holidays

Appy holidays

The holidays are both the happiest time of year — and the busiest. For parents whose schedules are already bulging, it can be challenging to fit in extra shopping, special meals, and traditional events. Although it’s naive to think that a few apps will spare you all the stress associated with this time of year, a well-equipped smartphone can help you get at least some of the details under control.

In each of these categories, there are multiple contenders for Best App. The ones listed here are free. Most work on multiple platforms and all seem especially likely to be helpful to parents.

Making a list

If Santa had a Christmas Gift List Planner, he wouldn’t have to check twice. This app, designed by Iwuana, helps Android users keep all their lists in one place and can be found at Google Play. Better Christmas Gift List does something similar for iPhone users and is available through Apple’s App Store. Both apps let you make lists of recipients, gift ideas, and price ranges. These apps are great for keeping track of ideas as they occur to you, and they’ll also help you stay within your holiday budget.

Finding the best deal

Naturally, you want to get the most out of your holiday gift budget. Red Laser can help by giving you instant price info for local stores, as well as online vendors just by scanning the barcode on an item. There’s also a timesaving “Buy It” feature that lets you prepay for an item, so it’s ready for pick-up when you get to the store. Download at redlaser.com.

Blitzing Black Friday

If you are someone who likes to plunge into the sales the day after Thanksgiving, you need an app like TGIBlackFriday, which shows you ads for 50 major retailers as soon as they are available. The app, which was created by Dealcatcher, also lets you create a personal shopping list so you can compare prices on things you plan to buy. Free for both Android and iPhone at tgiblackfriday.com.

Zeroing in on the best tech gifts

Gadgets of one kind or another are among the most popular holiday gifts to receive — and among the most stressful to give. How do you know if you are choosing the must-have technology or the best features? The app, available at Decide.com, is certain to boost your confidence. In addition to ratings, the app alerts you to products that are about to become obsolete. The app requires a subscription, but you get one month free, and December is a great time to test drive the product’s ratings.

Zipping through grocery shopping

Ziplist lets you build and manage meal plans. In addition to the 400,000 recipes on the site, you can clip things you want to try from blogs and other sources. During the holidays, the best feature may be the shopping list generator, which tells you exactly what you’ll need to buy to make the cookies and other treats you want to serve. Free at ziplist.com

Doing it yourself

In many families, the best gifts are homemade. For inspiration, check out the free apps available from Michaels.com and Joann.com. (Go to the website, and put “app” in the search engine.) The apps make suggestions about kid-friendly projects and alert you to make-it-yourself sessions at the stores. Coupons — also available on the companies’ websites — defray the cost of supplies.

Sending great greetings

Sincerely.com has apps that allow you to convert photos into tangible cards and postcards for as little as 99 cents. The app interfaces with your contact list, making it easy to send personalized greetings to family, friends, and colleagues. If you snap pictures of kids opening gifts, you can also send thank you notes that really capture their excitement and gratitude.

Mellowing out with music

When your to-do list threatens to extinguish your holiday spirit, turn on Christmas radio. This app, available at Bluemedialab.com, gives you access to 40 stations that play nothing but holiday music in every possible style from religious to rock, jazz, to country. There’s even a station that claims to broadcast from the North Pole.

• • •

Of course, downloading and fooling with apps can be a distraction. That’s why it’s important to remember that the purpose of each of these programs is to streamline holiday chores. Used effectively, they will free up time for what really matters at the holidays — quality face time with children, family, and friends.

Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. She has written Growing Up Online for 10 years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. Other columns are available at www.growing-up-online.com.

Copyright 2012, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.

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