iStock_000053960332_SmallI understand; this time of year is sentimental (and prices on everything from holiday decorations to food to gifts reflect that). But it’s just not worth it to derail your budget in the very last month of the year when you’ve been so good leading up to it. Here are a few ways to shop and gift smarter this year without looking like a Grinch:

  1. Play favorites: On many apps — most notably Foursquare — it pays to keep track of your favorite places and brands. If you’ve checked in several times at a particular store within the last few months, or you’ve explicitly “liked” them on Foursquare, anytime they push out a money-saving special, or any other information on events, new inventory, etc., it will appear in your “friends” tab when you’re near that place so you’ll never miss a great sale at one of your favorite spots.
  2. Get motivated: The holiday crunch is no excuse for getting out of shape but gym memberships are expensive! Try one of these workout apps to keep your adrenaline, and your mood, up. RunKeeper tracks your route and lets you post your successes onto social media sites, and iMuscle will give you a breakdown of exercises for each body part — and even show you how to do them! Nike Training Club, Fitocracy, and My Fitness Pal are all worth a search, and many of them offer free versions.
  3. Get better rates: It’s that time of year again: time to call all of your bill collector friends to ask for a better rate! Do a yearly housekeeping call to all of your major bill-generators: your cable, phone, and internet companies, and see if there might be a better deal available. The worst thing they can say is “no,” and you might be looking at a few dollars off per month just for raising the issue.
  4.  Master the mall: Save time — and your sanity — with FastMall. The app features maps of tons of malls all over the country, so you can strategize your shopping route before you even leave home. Especially useful for battling holiday shopping crowds, you can either browse the mall’s directory or search for a specific store and then plan accordingly. Bonus: FastMall can help you find parking close to the end of your route for an easy exit.
  5. Spread your savings: Don’t flood your inbox with daily deal sites! Join, a new social shopping website that brings you all the best deals and offers on the Internet in one place and pays you cash back on every purchase. The site pays you even more when you share these great deals and offers with your friends and family. Every time you buy something through Spreadsave, the site gives you a percentage of that purchase as cash back. If a friend signs up through you, Spreadsave gives you a percentage of their purchases too. If you share their deals and offers through your social networks, you’ll earn cash back on any of those purchases as well. So, not only do you and your friends save money on purchases you were already going to make, you get even more back. That extra cash can go towards other holiday gifts or directly into your savings account.
  6. Pay ’em down: Get that debt under control before you start holiday shopping. Pay down the highest interest rate expense you have first, which is most likely your credit card. These high rates will get you in the long term; get them under control before moving on to lesser expenditures. Don’t be scared to call your credit card provider and see what changes to your interest have been made in the New Year. Companies want to keep their best customers and many are cutting down interest costs for a portion of the year. If you’re not happy with your card don’t be scared to shop around for one that works best for you.
  7. Take an entertainment time-out: If you’re like me, you are probably going to see enough holiday movies, concerts, and recitals to last until next year, not to mention the dinner and bar tabs. In order to raise some cash to pay off your cards, put a moratorium on going out to dinner and movies, at least through January. Take advantage of the downtime to enjoy all of the gifts you were given: curl up with a new book, or play outside in that cozy new jacket.
  8. Get cash fast: Need cash fast but you’re nowhere near your bank’s ATM? AllPoint can quickly find a surcharge-free ATM in a nearby location so you don’t have to suffer that extra $2 transaction fee (or waste valuable gas money driving around in circles looking for an ATM). Cash can be a good way to save as well. Withdraw a set amount of “fun money” each month (try to stick to 10-15% of your monthly paycheck). You have permission to use this cash however you want, but once it’s gone…you’re cut off!
  9. Compare and contrast: BarcodeHero (free from the app store) is a shopping app, Facebook feed, and Foursquare all rolled into one. Scan anything while you’re out holiday shopping, and your world is turned into one giant shopping list broken down into what you’re buying, what you want/need, and what you recommend. The best feature by far is the recommendations: if you scan something that has been scanned before, the app pulls up what other people have said about that product. And who doesn’t trust the advice of friends, who have also seen the product in person, over random reviews on the internet?
  10. Hit the sales: It might sound counterintuitive to go shopping after the holidays, but the only discounts deeper than those before the holidays are those directly after. Score some gifts for next year — plus wrapping paper, holiday cards, and ornaments — at 60-75% off. This time next year you’ll be glad you did! Remember: just because it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s cheap.