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How your phone can save you money this holiday season
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FILE - Shoppers enter Best Buy on Black Friday in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. - photo by Amy Iverson
Its December, so it's time for silver bells, snowmen and shopping.

Have you started hitting the stores yet? Forty percent of Americans began checking gifts off their lists even before we all gobbled turkey two weeks ago. The American Research Group projects that U.S. shoppers will spend an average of $929 for gifts this holiday season. People who shop online plan to spend even more, saying theyll shell out more than $1,300.

But we are a nation of people who love good deals, with the majority of people saying theyll wait to buy until an item goes on sale.

There are ways to make sure were finding thoughtful gifts for those we love, while still getting the best deal, and leaving no one out. Of course, they involve your phone.

Im all about free, so these apps wont cost you a dime, but may save you a bundle.

Before you shop: As you start making your gift list, a couple of apps will help you be super organized and stay on budget. Santas Bag for iOS and Christmas Gift List for Android have every tool you need in a holiday shopping app. You can import gift recipients right from your contacts, set a budget for each person and then keep right on schedule with the Christmas countdown.

As you shop: Some shoppers like to actually change out of their pajamas, get in their car and drive to a brick-and-mortar store to buy gifts. Theres a bonus to holding a physical potential gift in your hands; you can use RedLaser. This app scans the barcode or QR code of a product and then finds the best deal for that item online or at a local store, so youll always pay the lowest price. Another cool feature of RedLaser is that when you open the app in a store, it will show you store maps and any available deals or coupons.

After you shop: This iOS app can help you get some of the money back that you spend on Christmas gifts. I shop mostly online and am always worried I am missing a promo code. I also get annoyed by the way companies profile their customers and charge different people different prices online. You didnt know they did that? They do. Paribus scans your email receipts from major retailers like Amazon and Target and then does price comparisons for you. If another store has the item cheaper, or if a promo code eluded you, Paribus will find out and go after that missed discount. If a store owes you a refund, the app makes the request for you and takes 25 percent off the top before putting the rest back on your credit card. You will need to give up some privacy for the service. Paribus wants access to your email you should have a specific email address used only for online shopping and your credit card for refund purposes. Ive signed up for this service and figure even if I just get back $5 per month, that is still $60 in my bank account after one year that I wouldnt have had otherwise. And it takes zero effort on my part.

As always, users should check reviews and ratings before downloading any app. The New York Times reports hackers have recently uploaded hundreds of fake shopping apps to the App Store. Some of them are harmless, but be careful of those that ask for credit card information. Cyberthieves could ruin a merry Christmas very quickly.
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