Shop smarter, not harder on Black Friday

The Wunderlist app, shown on an iPhone, is a list manager that helps keep track of holiday shopping.
The Wunderlist app, shown on an iPhone, is a list manager that helps keep track of holiday shopping. (Becki Chiasson/Staff Photo , Carroll County Times)

Clipping coupons is a time-honored tradition, and there's a certain romance to pulling out the scissors, carefully cutting along the dotted lines and tucking the coupon away for easy access later.

But now that 56 percent of adults in the nation use a smartphone, according to a June 5 Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project survey, many people are turning toward technology to streamline the shopping process.


As recently as last year's holiday season, 27 percent of survey respondents used their phones to compare prices while out shopping, according to a Jan. 31 poll by the same group. And 28 percent of respondents checked out product reviews on their mobile devices, according to the same poll.

What stymies some shoppers is where to start. There's a host of smartphone apps out there, and not every app is worth downloading.

Luckily, there are some free options that will help whip a shopping list into shape, compare product prices and keep users in line with their budgets. The Times sifted through several popular apps and came up with a recommendation for each category.

Ultimately, we discovered that with handy access to a computer in one's pocket, there are plenty of ways to keep from overspending this Black Friday.

Make a list,

check it twice
One of the keys to shopping success is being organized, and having a shopping list is a good place to start. Most people scribble down items on stray pieces of paper - a Post-It, a napkin, whatever's handy - when they think of it. But before stepping out of the house on Black Friday, it's best to consolidate the disparate lists into one unified document.
Wunderlist is a great place to start. It's available on the web at http://www.wunderlist.com for any computer connected to the Internet, and there's a downloadable app version for iOS and Android devices, through the iTunes store and play.google.com, respectively.
Designed primarily to be a to-do list manager, Wunderlist also makes it easy to keep a shopping list. Each item on a list can be checked off on the fly, and multiple lists are available. Users also have the option to share lists with others, who can check items off in real time. The ability to add notes to individual items - for example, "Mom wants the one in blue" - and attach photos on the fly is an added bonus.
Wunderlist is free to use as much as desired but offers the option to upgrade for added features.


those prices
Surely you've done your research ahead of time. You're a savvy shopper; you've scoured the circulars and pored over prices.
But there's always that nagging thought at the back of your mind - "I could get this cheaper somewhere else."
The app RedLaser aims to quiet those nagging thoughts. Simply install the app on an iPhone, Windows Phone or Android device and scan the barcode of the product in question while at the store. RedLaser will display where else it's available - both locally and online - and for how much it's being sold for there. Users can also browse coupons and other deals from participating stores. One other handy utility RedLaser offers is the ability to store loyalty cards within the phone. Not all retailers can scan phone screens, but they can manually enter loyalty card information from a phone's display, preventing the user from having to carry around a metric ton of plastic.
RedLaser is free to use and download. It's available through redlaser.com/application, the iTunes store and play.google.com.

Avoid busting

the budget
For those who want to stave off the requisite post-holiday debt hangover, a budget, plain and simple, is needed. That's where Mint steps in.
Mint is a free service owned by Intuit - the brand behind Quicken, QuickBooks and TurboTax - and it provides read-only analyses of a user's income. That means that the user can't move money around within the program, and neither can Mint; it's simply a safe, effective tool at scrutinizing one's budget. The robust tools Mint offers automatically categorize every purchase made, allow the user to set a budget and adjusting it as needed; show trends based on spending habits, so it's easy to see where more money can be saved; and provide a goal-setting feature, so users may start saving up for a Christmas 2014 fund now. Additionally, Mint can send a text-message alert when an account balance gets below a certain amount - not a bad feature to have during the shopping frenzy of Black Friday.
Mint is a free service accessible through its website, http://www.mint.com, or through apps for pretty much any mobile device, downloaded via the iTunes store and play.google.com.