The holiday season starts earlier and earlier every year, but it never seems like you actually have more time, does it?
Plenty of smartphone and tablet apps can save you money, but many more can also save you time — and during the holiday season, time is money. Financial planners say that shoppers who devise a strategy are less likely to waste money and make budget-blowing, last-minute purchases. (Read More: How to Avoid Falling into the Christmas Debt Pit)
Streamlining your price comparisons, keeping tabs on your budget and staying up-to-date on sales are a few of the tasks that apps can take off your hands. It only takes a little time to get familiar with the apps, and the time savings will pay off in the long run.
We've pulled together a few apps that can help you get through your shopping and get to the part that really matters: enjoying your friends and family during the holidays.
Available for iPhone and Android
Online shopping during the holidays can turn the average household into a package-processing center. Consider Slice your handheld operations hub.
This free app tracks your online orders and sends push notifications when your purchases ship and arrive. You can view shipments by item or order, so you know which products will arrive together.
You can also access all of your receipts from one tab, and Slice will keep a record of what you bought for friends and family, making it easy to stick to your budget and to plan next year's purchases.
Slice will alert you to price drops on items you've ordered, so you don't have to set aside time to compare costs, and take advantage of price-matching guarantees. It also tracks your daily deal vouchers from Groupon, Living Social and other coupon services so you don't forget to use them during the hectic holidays. (Read More: Merry Christmas! Let's Make a Deal)
Slice works by syncing with your email accounts. That's no problem so long as all your shipment alerts go to one inbox. If not, you won't get a holistic view of your holiday shopping. The app works with Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, AOL or iCloud/MobileMe.
Available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone
Smartphones have taken cost comparisons to a new level, but RedLaser is one of the best apps to help you save both money and time.
If you're at the store, scan a barcode with RedLaser to compare prices at thousands of retailers. RedLaser will call up prices at nearby stores on a map. This little feature will help you decide whether the savings are worth the trip. Armchair shoppers can arrange to have purchases delivered or set aside at a local store.
If you're not set on a particular brand, RedLaser can suggest similar products. And if you need a little something extra to go with a gift, the app will offer accessory ideas, saving you time on research.
You can also create and share gift lists and wish lists, making it easy to tick off items.
Myibidder Sniper for eBay
Available for iPhone, Android
Winning an eBay auction without resorting to the Buy Now option can take commitment — and another commitment is the last thing you need during the holidays.
Myibidder Bid Sniper for eBay helps you avoid the bitter taste of defeat and unshackles you from your computer desk. Enter items you want to bid on, and Bid Sniper will automatically make last-second bids, up to a specified dollar amount. The developer doesn't guarantee that you'll win, but it does boost your odds of snagging the perfect piece of memorabilia and other hard-to-find gifts.
The Pro version, available for $4.99, includes group bidding, which allows you to bid on multiple auctions for the same item, so you have a better chance of winning. The app will stop bidding on items in the group once you've won the number of auctions you specified.
Bid Sniper is in its beta version and does not support real-time updates or push notifications yet.
Available for iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry, Nokia
Rather than fumble for worn-out loyalty cards on your key ring or in your wallet, reach for your smartphone and open CardStar.
The app lets you capture digital versions of your cards with your camera's phone. You can browse your cards by store name or category, or use the search function to jump right to a retailer.
This app edges out other loyalty card scanners with a few added features. It provides merchant information and store locations, and calls up the store's website with one touch — so you check for deals online, too. CardStar also delivers deals based on the cards you've uploaded.
Gift List Apps
There are so many gift list organizers, it's really a matter of finding the best one for you. Be sure to avoid the ones that the developer isn't updating, especially if you're going to pay.
Gift Plan for iPhones is certainly one of the most versatile and well-designed. The profile view is the hallmark of this app – store gift ideas, personal tastes and clothing sizes for your friends and family. Gift Plan also imports birthdays from your contacts list and Facebook.
The free version of Christmas Gift List Planner for Android devices lets you track how much you've spent and what's been purchased, mailed and wrapped for people on your list. The paid version unlocks additional features like a gift ideas list, password protection, and barcode scanning to add items.
Though technically a grocery list app, List Bliss is an excellent option for couples who want to split the shopping. It's one of the few apps that lets you sync lists between phones so you can see what your partner has purchased. List Bliss is available for both the iPhone and Android.
Available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, Nokia
The holidays are no time for strolling aimlessly through the mall. Crowded stores, pushy shoppers and the constant danger of holiday soundtrack overload all make it imperative to get in and out.
FastMall gives you turn-by-turn directions to help you do just that. Since you can download interactive maps, there's no need to hunt out a mobile connection. Apply filters to the maps to quickly find points of interest, or shake your phone to call up the nearest restroom.
The built-in audio recorder can help you recall where you parked, but it's also good for taking notes while you've got your hands full.
Even if you know your local mall like the back of your hand, FastMall can save you time by sending you notices about sales at your favorite stores and delivering deals to your handheld device. Coupon codes make redeeming those deals a snap.
It's easy to go into information overload on Black Friday. There are plenty of apps that will do the number crunching and store location to help you get rock bottom prices fast. (Read More: Black Thursday? Stores Encroach Deeper Into Thanksgiving)
In addition to streamlining the ad-perusing process, the Black Friday app by dealnews.com for the iPhone and Android compares sales with deals at other stores and online vendors. You can also store ads, get push notifications from your favorite stores and save items to a shopping list and check them off as you go.
TGIBlack Friday has similar functionality, but integrates with social media, so you can pool your resources with other savvy shoppers. You can send your list by email and share it on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus using your iPhone and Android device.
Zoomingo Local and Black Friday Deals, which is also available on iPhone and Android, aggregates the most popular Black Friday pins on Pinterest, uses GPS to find the best deals near you, and lets you "like" an item and monitor it to see when the price drops. The app is also optimized for tablet view.