It’s that time of year when we’re all talking about budgets, overspending and holiday shopping. Last year, American households spent $616.1 billion on holiday shopping. This was great for the economy, but it wasn’t so great for our personal finances. According to an Equifax report, during the 2014 holiday season Americans drove their credit card debt to the highest level in five years.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. You can buy stuff – good stuff, even -without getting yourself into financial trouble. In fact, you can actually buy stuff while having your money work for you in the form of savings, rewards, and cash-back. Today I’m going to teach you six ways to maximize your holiday shopping for rewards.
Now, admittedly, I’m not a big shopper. I don’t tend to spend money on things because I’d rather spend my money on experiences. Even when it comes to holiday gifts I end up doing things like cooking my entire family breakfast on Christmas Day instead of buying them stuff (I’m really good at breakfast).
However, sometimes we do actually need to buy stuff. My old ass iPad broke and I needed to replace it. A couple of months ago I needed a good quality black purse and a couple of wristlets to hold my stuff when I leave the house. I got the new iPhone because my Android wouldn’t work with the necessary equipment to film personal finance videos for clients.
So the question then becomes, how can we maximize holiday shopping or those other instances where we do actually need to buy stuff? Below you’ll find some of my tips.
I was recently quoted in TIME (yes, that TIME!) about my favorite way to maximize holiday shopping. Throughout the year, I use Swagbucks for their search function, to fill out surveys and get points when I shop through their Shop & Earn portal. For example, at the time of writing this I get 15 points per every dollar I spend at Vitacost every time I have to buy vitamins or eco-friendly beauty products.
Come holiday shopping time I trade in those points for gift cards. I then use the gift cards to do any holiday shopping that needs to get done. This way I basically spend nothing.
Swagbucks has Google Chrome plugin that reminds you when you are on a site that’s available for Shop & Earn. You can also use it to search. All in all, it’s a very easy way to get gift cards you can later use to maximize holiday shopping.
Click here to sign up for Swagbucks through my referral code. (You can do me a solid and I’ll get a small referral commission if you sign up through my link.)
Maximize Those Credit Card Rewards
Free travel isn’t the only reward you can get from credit cards. Another popular option is cash-back. For example, some credit cards offer up to 6% cash-back on purchases like groceries. Many rewards cards also run promotions during the holiday season where you get extra points for your holiday shopping.
This also a good time of year to take out those rewards cards because they increase their sign-up bonuses during busy shopping seasons. For example, I recently got the Chase Sapphire Preferred because they increased their sign-up bonus to 50,000 points (plus an extra 5,000 for authorizing another user) when you spend $4,000 within the first three months. So what did I do? My new iPad – which I needed to buy anyway – went on my Chase Sapphire. I will be trading those points in later for free travel.
Of course, this method only works if you are responsible and are able to pay your balance off in full each month. If you start getting charged interest it will eat away (or even negate) your reward points. You won’t be able to maximize holiday shopping if you’re getting yourself into debt.
Furthermore, rewards programs aren’t all created equal. There are several cards and programs on the market and it can be overwhelming, so I recommend checking out MoneySavingPro.com’s reviews for travel rewards and cash-back.
Qapital is my secret weapon for shopping. They save your money in a way similar to Acorns, where they take your change and save it into an account of your choosing, but they also have other options for saving as well. Essentially, the change you save is money you won’t notice is missing.
Now, I’m very good about saving for emergencies, retirement, goals and investing. So, I personally use my Qapital account as my Fun Money Account. This means this money is assigned for purchases I want like a new iPad or a mani/pedi every once in a while. This helps me avoid getting into debt because I can pay the credit card balance off when I do happen to make purchases.
Plan for Purchases Ahead of Time
One of my keys to maximizing holiday shopping is to plan for things ahead of time. In other words, educate yourself on when there’s a good sale going on and save up the cash beforehand.
For instance, I needed a couple of good quality purses and I knew that Kate Spade has an occasional 75% sale online. I signed up for the email list so I would be notified of the sale and ended up getting two bags and two wristlets for the price of one luxury handbag. I’m set in the purse department for years to come.
(Side note – I’m a big believer in wallet and purse feng shui. I believe where we keep our money should be nice, beautiful and respectful. It’s an energetic thing.)
I also knew that Best Buy would mark down the iPad 2 by $100, bringing the price of a brand new iPad to $399. So, I compared the Best Buy Black Friday price with the price of a refurbished iPad 2. When I realized the Black Friday price for a new iPad was cheaper than buying refurbished, I went with the Black Friday sale.
The key to planning purchases ahead of time is to be intentional and patient. Know what it is you’re shopping for and wait for the good sale. You’ll also want to dig a bit deeper and compare prices online so that you make sure you’re getting the best deal.
It’s possible for you to avoid the mayhem of going into stores and still be able to maximize holiday shopping. You also avoid being tempted to buy more than you need. You can also use sites like Retail Me Not to check if there are any coupons available for your purchase.
Use Coupon Cactus for Cash-Back
Finally, you can activate cash-back sites like Coupon Cactus to get cash-back on your purchases. I’ve been using Coupon Cactus for years and have seen quite a bit of money in cash-back.
Click here to sign up for Coupon Cactus via my referral link (Do me a solid by signing up through my link and I’ll get a small commission.)
I’m a big fan of having your money work for you, and it’s no different when it comes to shopping. If you’re going to spend money, do it wisely by using some of these tips. When you’re able to maximize holiday shopping you not only get cool stuff, you can also cash in on savings and rewards.