It can be tricky to stay on top of things during the holidays at the best of times, and this year's season seems tougher than ever given the heated political climate and tense social situation. We are all expected to somehow get through our normal work days, while also keeping up with our traditions. Year-end celebrations are supposed to be fun, but it if you're not organized, the extra stress can make this time of year feel anything but. Don't worry, however; I've got some tips that can help you manage your annual responsibilities more productively so you can focus on the important business of celebrating with your loved ones.
As organized as I am, I could not get through that stretch between late November and January 1 without help. Here are some of the apps and online services I'm using to meet all my holiday obligations without sacrificing a ton of time and energy.
Postable.com has become my go-to source for greeting cards. It has a great selection, fair prices, and an easy-to-use interface. It even handles shipping and postage for you. Earlier this week, I logged on, created a simple and affordable postcard-style greeting card with a family photo, and chose the option to let Postable buy the stamps and put the cards in the mail for me. What a relief to have that chore done so fast.
At least half of my gift shopping happens online. Sometimes I have packages mailed to me, and sometimes I have them sent directly to friends and family. Slice is a free app that tracks all your packages for you in one place. You connect it to your email accounts, and it automatically pulls tracking numbers from online shopping receipts. It sends you updates as packages move toward their destination. What I really like about Slice is the consolidation of information. This makes it really easy for me to see exactly when my packages are delivered and to spot if one out of many has gone missing.
Mint is my favorite personal finance app for keeping tabs on my spending. It has a great one-time budgeting tool you can use to help manage your holiday-related spending. Create budgets for gifts, parties you host, travel—whatever expenses you have during the holidays.
WalletHub is a set-it-and-forget-it service that watches for potential fraud related to your credit. At a time of year when I'm stressed and shopping online a lot, sometimes at sites I've never used before, I feel much better knowing there's a tool keeping an eye out for fishy activity. WalletHub lets you know if someone tries to open an account in your name, which means you can catch the activity quickly and intervene before it gets out of control.
WalletHub also has a special holiday tool that estimates a maximum budget based on your age, income, monthly expenses, and savings. It won't give you fine control and insight into your spending toward that budget as Mint does, but it could be a helpful way to get a general sense of what you can and cannot afford.
If you are traveling around the holidays, get TripIt. This app finds travel confirmations in your email and puts the key information into an easy-to-read itinerary for you. That means you see your flight times, hotel contact information and check-in/check-out dates, times and dates for dinner reservations, and even tickets to events, all in one place. TripIt strips out the fine print and organizes your travel information in chronological order. Push notifications keep you aware of where you need to be next.
Another service that I find indispensable around the holidays is the USPS website for shipping packages that I'm sending myself (as opposed to packages I order from online retailers). I use a kitchen scale to weigh my packages and a standard tape measure to find the size of the boxes I use, which you need to enter into the site to get the right postage. You'll also need the ZIP code of the addressee, a printer, and some tape. But it sure beats going to the post office during the holidays.
Sometimes a fancy app built for a special purpose just can't replace a simple spreadsheet. During the holidays, I still use very basic spreadsheets to make lists of things I need to buy or have bought and how much I've spent: food and drinks for a party, gifts, travel expenses. The only high-tech aspect of my spreadsheets is that I save them to a cloud storage account. I typically use Google Sheets but Microsoft Office's Excel works just fine, too. This way, I can see and edit my spreadsheets on my phone or tablet no matter where I am.