In today’s modern world, the holiday season is so fast-paced, it tends to arrive and then be over in a blink of an eye. Since it only happens once a year, we all strive to make each holiday season “one for the books,” and in that frantic process, we often spread ourselves thin. As I was growing up, my mom tried her very best to make the holidays a memorable time for our family. She decorated the house for every holiday, helped us perfect our dream Halloween costumes, cooked delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and sweets, and served us sparkling apple cider in small wine glasses to toast the New Year at midnight.
I never noticed it as a kid, but as an adult I finally understand how demanding this time of year must have been for my mother, frantically perfecting each holiday activity in hopes of creating lasting memories for her family as she battled holiday stress and burnout. As an adult, I have experienced my fair share of holiday burnout for the sake of making holiday memories, and I know I am not alone: Most of us tend to toe the line between festive and frantic all season long. With so much going on this time of year, self-care and preservation are often the last things on most minds.
Obviously, a planned and organized life is one way to cut back on holiday stress. Luckily, technology offers some great options to help get your holiday season on track. In thinking about how to organize my own busy season, I decided to take the motto from Apple’s iPhone 3 campaign, “There’s an app for that,” and dig up some applications, or “apps,” to help make this holiday season easier and just as fun and memorable as the previous one. I found plenty to choose from to help accomplish this goal, from managing your calendar and finding that perfect cookie recipe to online shopping and savings tools to manage your holiday gift budget! When it comes to apps that help you survive the holidays, the possibilities are endless.
Time-Saving Apps to Prevent Calendar Grrrrs
There are dynamic and efficient calendar/planner apps to help manage busy holiday to-do lists and schedules for every type of user. Calendar apps not only provide you with a digital calendar with multiple day, month, or year views and the option to color-code each entry, but also provide the option to set reminders and even link multiple calendars together or merge logistical info from an email account, such as flight information for trips.
Google Calendar, available for both Android and iOS devices, is the go-to calendar application for users because it does all the tasks previously mentioned in its one application. Google Calendar even has a habit-forming goals tool, a feature unique to the Google app, in which users can set certain tasks numerous times to be a part of an overall habit they want to create, such as drinking more water or limiting their social media checks to once a day (Google Time Planner Calendar; itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-calendar-time-planner/id909319292?mt=8).
While Google Calendar is a reliable option, there are other calendars that differ in functionality and design for users with unique usability tastes. For iOS device users, the Fantastical App is one of the highest-rated calendar apps available. Fantastical boasts two versions available; the latest version, Fantastical 2, offers the usual digital calendar features, such as color-coding entries, task reminders, and multiple calendar views, along with a few extra perks as well. A big fan favorite is the “natural language” feature. Computers understand language commands or, in this case, calendar entries, in a different way than the human brain understands language. There is often frustration when scheduling appointments in digital calendars because the user must adapt natural language to often clunky commands so computers can process them. This app under stands natural language better than any other calendar, so there is no need to rephrase anything when scheduling appointments; users type in an entry just like they would phrase it to a virtual assistant (Fantastical 2; flexibits.com/fantastical). This feature saves users tons of time and helps them stay organized with the tasks of the holiday season.
CloudCal calendar for Android displays user calendars in a unique way. “Magic circles” in each day space on the calendar offer users a different visualization of what time of day they are busiest. Each task or engagement that happens during the same day gets its own color-coded circle with the time it occurs on the inside. Each circle or task builds upon the other, offering multiple colors and circular shapes for each day’s events. CloudCal is compatible with Uber and Waze apps, so users can schedule an Uber ride to their Hanukkah parties or Waze directions to the nearest Christmas tree lot. The calendar’s look is also available for customization and offers a widget to set up notifications directly to an Android phone (CloudCal; pselis.com).
Digital planners have never been more useful or efficient than with these dynamic calendar applications!
A Feast of Apps
Food is a huge part of the holidays, and everyone loves sharing in the holiday feasts. However, very few love the prep process for said feasts. Fighting the crowds in grocery stores only to get home and realize that one key ingredient was missed on your shopping list, searching for new recipes that will meet everyone’s dietary needs, or tracking down a missing family recipe because it is written on a small scrap of notebook paper stuffed in a random book are just a few of the problems we deal with and stress over when preparing our holiday food menus. Thankfully, there are apps that can assist with some of these food quandaries.
Mobile recipe apps have transformed cooking in recent years. These apps provide a virtual recipe box where users digitally store their favorite recipes for later, browse user reviews of recipes, and take advantage of grocery list creation features for the latest holiday cooking venture. Some apps even offer recipes for specific diets, for example, paleo or vegan lifestyles. These apps will help make holiday cooking fun and pressure-free; the only question is, which of the many will fit your perfect holiday food prep needs?
There is no question that cooking channel behemoth The Food Network would have one of the highest rated/utilized mobile apps available. Part of the appeal is all of The Food Network’s TV chefs have their own section for featured recipes on the app. Users can easily search by TV show or cooking personality and retrieve a recipe they saw mere minutes or even weeks prior on the channel, eliminating the need to frantically scribble notes while watching the show. The holidays are a prime time programming-wise for The Food Network, so there will be plenty of holiday recipes and specials to try out from Food Network chef favorites (Food Network In the Kitchen app; play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.scripps.android.foodnetwork&hl=en_US). As always, the app features the usual recipe boxes, meal planners, grocery lists, and interactive videos/demos for recipes. This app is available for iOS and Android devices, so every mobile user has an option to utilize this dynamic holiday cooking companion.
Paprika offers a strong food app for Android and iOS devices. There is a third version available for iOS and MacOS devices only. Paprika’s strongest feature is user customization of recipes. The app provides detailed nutritional information that allows users to create whole menus and detailed grocery lists, and add notes to existing or original recipes. Paprika also sup ports wireless syncing with your other mobile devices. This way, you can use your phone to listen to that holiday cheer playlist and your iPad to track meal preparation (Paprika app; paprikaapp.com). Paprika is perfect for hosts to make sure all their holiday guests with special dietary needs can enjoy festive, home-cooked meals. Paprika’s save feature ensures users will find recipes in future holiday seasons as well. The application’s detailed grocery list planner will also ensure that users will never forget to pick up all ingredients.
In addition to serving delicious meals and treats, making sure liquor cabinets are fully stocked throughout the season is also crucial for hosts. No one likes running out of booze during the middle of a celebration! Well, good news: Home liquor delivery apps are on the rise in different areas of the country. In January 2017 in Los Angeles, the online food delivery app Postmates began offering liquor delivery in addition to its robust food delivery options. The app has an entire section devoted to spirits delivered to a user’s door in 25 minutes or less. Simply enter in a location, and Post mates displays liquor, wine, and beer lists available for purchase and organized by price tier (Postmates LA Alcohol Delivery; postmates.com). Gone are the days where frantic hosts have to fight the crowds on beer runs; with these apps, their holiday celebrations will never run dry, and they can safely imbibe in the festivities.
Gift ‘Apping’ and Tracking
Gift giving is one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of the holiday season. From fighting the big crowds at stores to making sure every single person you know receives the perfect gift, the whole process is almost guaranteed to sour your holiday cheer. Look to personal shopper/online shopping apps to find the best deals, organize shopping lists, and much more.
Available on iOS and Android platforms, Amazon’s shopping app has a solid rating of four stars. Offering the usability of its website, the Amazon shopping app allows users to browse items by lowest price and offers one-click purchasing as well as search by voice. It also works along with Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant (Amazon App; amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UT F8&docId=1000625601). Users look to the Amazon App to be comparable to its website, and this highly functional app is just as easy to use.
Retail apps are not limited to re-creating their online marketplaces for mobile users; there are other apps useful for saving money, tracking deals, and getting cash-back rewards for their credit cards. ShopSavvy tracks and searches for specific items offered at stores for the lowest price possible. Users find the best deals on their gifts and uncover the best ways to get the most cash back at the same time. By scanning an item’s barcode using ShopySavvy, users can immediately browse the lowest price being offered by retailers in stores throughout the country (ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner; itunes.apple.com/us/app/shopsavvy-barcode-scanner/id338828953?mt=8). Users can get notifications when a popular sale relevant to their profile pops up among their favored retailers. Here’s to getting the best deals this holiday season without ever leaving the comfort of your own home!
For users who still wish to brave the malls this holiday sea son, Shopkick is an amazing companion to bring along for any retail adventures. In addition to running its own sales and promotions in conjecture with brick-and-mortar stores, Shopkick gives users points, or “kicks,” every time they check themselves into certain stores that participate in the Shopkick platform; users also earn kicks when they scan items or purchase merchandise once inside the store. These points are then turned into redeemable user gift cards from stores that include Amazon, Target, and Walmart. Plan your mall/plaza visits around certain stores and sales to help make the most of your busy holiday shopping schedule (Shopkick app; shopkick.com/ how-it-works). These gift cards are great to use at the after-holiday sales as a reward for surviving another holiday season!
With all the shopping for food, beverages, decorations, and gifts, it’s no wonder my bank account is extremely stressful to manage during the holidays. And it always seems like there is some kind of last-minute expense popping up that wasn’t in my original budget planning. Wally is a popular app for tracking expenses and is perfect for the busy holiday season. Available for iPhone and Android, Wally makes tracking day-to-day spending easy and hassle-free. Users set budget goals and track them by easy receipt uploads and a useful spending tracking feature if the user’s location services are enabled. The more time a user spends on Wally tracking her budget, the better it helps the user achieve her expense-tracking goals. Since Wally can track all transactions without manual entry or up loads, this is perfect for the busy holiday season where people do not have the time to sit down and balance a checkbook. It also notifies the user when a financial goal is met or if an upcoming expense is due soon so there will be no surprises during those strapped-for-cash holiday months (Wally Personal Financial Management App; wally.me).