Don’t want to get sucked into the Amazon black hole? These (free!) tools will make holiday gift-buying so much easier.
Have you been sucked into the Amazon black hole more times than you can count? Futilely stalked store aisles looking for a last-minute gift?
Since we all have better ways to spend our time, here’s a way to make shopping pain-free and largely brainless using two popular—and free!—tools.
The first is Evernote, a Web, software and mobile app that helps you “remember everything”—Web clippings, typed notes, even snapshots of handwritten notes, all of which are easily searchable. The second is Mint, a beautiful and free money-management tool with killer Web and mobile apps.
You’ve likely heard of both of these. But have you used them to improve your holiday shopping experience?
Shopping vs. Buying
Evernote covers the shopping side. Create a notebook titled “Gifts,” and when you see a gift someone might like, clip the webpage or snap a picture with your phone. Then tag it “Mom gift idea” or “Dad gift idea.” If you have a conversation with your mom about something she likes or wants, fire up Evernote, type up a quick note that says something like “wrapping paper organizer,” tag it as a “mom gift idea” and file it away.
When it comes time to find gifts, you aren’t actually “shopping”; you’re buying. Just open your gifts notebook, search by tags, and then it’s just a matter of purchasing the ideas you’ve saved. No thinking, remembering or brainstorming—all you need is the Evernote app.
A side benefit of this method is that you can create a tag for yourself and save ideas for gifts that you want. So when your mom calls and asks what you want for Christmas, just fire up Evernote and read off what you’ve tagged. No more rolling the dice; now you get the gifts you want.
One of the best lessons I ever learned about shopping and spending was when I got engaged. Thankfully, I’d saved slowly but regularly for years just to pay for the ring. (Thanks for the advice, Ramit!). So when the time came to buy a ring, something that would have been a stressful financial decision, I felt like I was using someone else’s money! It was super-easy because the money was set aside, so spending it didn’t result in any additional financial pressure.
Buying holiday gifts can be just as easy. First task is to set a savings goal in Mint. To do that, log on to the website (you can’t do this on any of the mobile apps) and click on “Goals.” On the next page, click the “+ Add a goal” button and then click the piggy bank that says “Create a Custom Goal.”
Give your goal a title like “Holiday Gifts,” choose the “Gifts and Shopping” category and set the amount you want to save. (Setting the amount you want to save means you’re basically setting a gift-buying budget, too. You’re so responsible!) Hit “Next,” and Mint will walk you through the process of linking your goal with an existing savings account or setting up a new one. Select your end date and hit “Save.”
Note: By linking your bank account with your goal, Mint will automatically update your goal as it sees money deposited into that account. You can’t do this manually, so make sure you are saving where you told Mint you’d be putting the money.
Finally, have the savings account you linked to your Holiday Gifts goal automatically pull $20 each month (or whatever amount you choose) from your checking account, and that’s it.
Now, when rifling through your Evernote Gifts notebook, you can buy like you’re using Monopoly money! Your funds will all have been set aside, so there is no purchasing decision and no stress about spending money you don’t have. All that’s left is for you to enjoy some eggnog, some National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and relax!
The automatic savings part requires more lead time, so it’s probably too late for you to take full advantage of that this year (see below for why should set it up now anyway). But what you can do right now is set a Gift budget. You can do this through the website or any of the mobile or tablet apps—just be sure you categorize any gift-related transactions against your Gift budget.
Two Closing Points
- If you think it’s too late for you this year, set up your Evernote and Mint accounts now. Think of this blog post as note from the You of Christmas Future addressed to the You of Christmas Present. Get Evernote and Mint set up now so you don’t have to worry about it next year.
- What I described above requires no discipline whatsoever. You automate everything, so any decision-making (to save, budget or spend) is removed from the equation. If you ignore this advice and just rely on discipline, you’ll find yourself at the mall on December 23rd.
Tim Murphy is author of the new book The Mint Manual, a shortcut to mastering and saving money with Mint.com. Brazen readers get 25% off by entering “BRAZENMINT25” at checkout. (Offer good until 12/31/12.)