Rewards and discounts give her a head start on shopping!

Maximizing Credit & Gift Cards for Holiday Shopping

contributed by Heather

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I know credit cards combined with the holidays can be the death of some budgets. However, for those who are looking to stretch their holiday budget and are able to pay the full balance when the bill arrives, utilizing a no-fees rewards card can be one step towards the goal of a happy, budget-healthy holiday. By using a creative combination of strategies including both credit and gift cards, I hope to have my holiday shopping finished before I put up my tree and come in well under budget!

Why not make your money multitask? My daughters and nephews both wanted a certain electronic gadget under the tree. By purchasing a gift card ahead of time through a discount card site at a 3% discount off face value and using my regular credit card that was doing a 5% bonus reward on online purchases, I added to my rewards accounts. Then I used the gift card to make the purchase after I utilized my store loyalty card (more bonus points) and an online coupon code for 15% off. Because I ordered the items in the same purchase, I qualified for free shipping. They'll get what they want and I came in under budget.

It really wasn't that hard and didn't involve too much time for planning. I found out well in advance what the kids wanted and paid attention to which discounts were available through my regular credit card. It only took moments to search coupon codes, and by having my wish list in advance, I was able to wait until I had enough to get free shipping as well. Because we live in a rural area, that saved me both time and gas money. The time I spent finding, organizing, and entering codes was less than the time I would have spent driving to the physical store.

When I saw that one of the bonus deals on the website for my regular credit card was a 5% bonus for online purchases at the big box store where I buy kitty's food and litter, I called the credit card company to see if I could get the same discount in-store. I couldn't, but the credit card company counts all online purchases through that retailer in the same way. They don't differentiate between buying $100 worth of toilet paper online from ordering $100 worth of gift cards online. I started purchasing printable gift cards online for the places that I shop most frequently. The key is not to treat them as "gift cards." If I think of the cards as "gifts" or even as discounts, I may be more tempted to use them for wants versus needs. But, if I look at that $100 card as my budgeted amount per week for grocery/household items, it can be a budgeting tool that I just happened to get rewarded for. At a 3% discount from a gift card site or 5% though my credit card site when available, it's a small step for savings. Realistically, I know it doesn't even cover the tax on the items, but I can still use my coupons from coupon sites or use the discounted cards to purchase store brand items that don't often have coupons to stack my savings.

Just like the way it was important for me to get my head on straight and view the discounted cards as a budgeting tool, if I view my rewards as "found money," I'm going to blow them and have nothing to show for it. That's just human nature, and I am so human! These rewards have a place in the budget as well. If I know that a hard-to-shop-for person on my list wants a gift card for a particular retailer, I can redeem my points for that gift card and use the money I would have spent on that present towards a goal. Plus, I've crossed one more gift off my list.

Feeling crafty and determined to both save money and add a personal touch to your holiday gift giving? Check out gift card sites for discounted cards to use at your favorite fabric/hobby shop. Then use the cards to buy your gift-making supplies.

Although I just recently started purchasing discounted gift cards to use for everyday expenditures in anticipation of holiday spending, I'm hoping to continue this all year long and watch my rewards grow. Maybe by the following Christmas season, I will be able to do all my gift giving with "found money."

As always, when shopping online, use reputable sites and take necessary precautions to protect your identity, but there are a wealth of opportunities for savvy shoppers to maximize their holiday budgets through a little planning and creativity.

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