Counting down to Christmas: 5 tools to help you plan, shop and get festive

Counting down to Christmas: 5 tools to help you plan, shop and get festive

Last night's episode of Saturday Night Live included some memorable skits, but the one that stuck with me was Mr. Senior. In character as a "common sense correspondent" for Weekend Update, Kenan Thompson hit the streets of New York to protest our rush to get festive. "No! Enough! It is the middle of November!" he said. Everyone was going "early Christmas crazy."

Regardless of how you feel about it, the season is upon us. Decorations are going up, mail slots are jammed with catalogues, and retailer gift guides are arriving by email. Holiday-themed apps and services are here too, and they have designs on upping your holiday cheer. Whether you fire them up now or file them away for a few more weeks, however, is up to you.

Christmas Tree Decorator. If you aren't ready to put your tree up just yet, decorate a virtual one with Christmas Tree Decorator on iTunes. For less than a buck you can hang lights and decorations to the sound of jingle bells, and watch as the app counts down the days 'til Christmas. Make your finished tree your iPhone home screen, or share it with a friend. Add some holiday music and adults and kids alike are sure to get their fix of holiday fun.

Keep track of all your holiday buys with a virtual Christmas List

Keep track of all your holiday buys with a virtual Christmas List

The Christmas List. It's novel, but keeping track of your holiday shopping on a six-foot paper scroll a la Naughty and Nice list isn't terribly practical. The Christmas List is an iOS app that lets you write your list, assign a budget to each recipient, and monitor what you spend. You can create categories like Family, Friends, and Co-Workers, and import profile photos for each person from the contacts on your phone (there are stock photo options, too). The tools displays the stores at which you purchased - or plan to purchase - your gifts, and tracks your overall progress, so you'll never arrive at a holiday party empty-handed again. Download the app on iTunes for $1.99.

RedLaser. Is that deal as good as it looks? If you're unsure try RedLaser, an app for iPhone, Windows, and Android devices that lets you scan bar codes on products of all kinds to track down the best deals. The app will show you current discounts, coupons, and the driving distance to stores in your area...handy if you're hoping to save money this year (and who isn't?).

This year, make your holiday invites paperless

This year, make your holiday invites paperless

Paperless Post. Planning a holiday party? Spare some trees without skimping on formality by sending your invite with Paperless Post. This Web site and app for your iPad helps you create all manner of invitations (the iPhone version lets you browse existing cards, but not create new ones). Like other digital invitation tools, you create an account and select your theme; there are many holiday options including Diwali, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah, or you can create a custom card using a photograph. Add a guest list and email addresses, and let the app tally RSVPs. It even links to a map to keep guests as organized as the party host.

PicPaperie. There are a dozen different ways to print your Instagram photos and turn them into gifts, but this year you could be using them to wrap your gifts instead. PicPaperie aims to transform your favorite pics into gift wrap. It's still fundraising, but hopes to launch this holiday season. You can donate to the cause online or sign up to get notification when the service is ready to go.

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