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Credit Card Tips to Help Save Money on Your Holiday Shopping

The holidays are the absolute best time of year. During one amazing stretch from Halloween to New Year’s Eve, life is a blur of sugary confections, festive social gatherings, house decorating, and general mirthfulness.

Yup. I said mirthfulness. And I mean it. The holiday cheer gets to me, and I’m generally in a good mood this time of year. But you know what isn’t awesome? How much all of this costs. This is the headiest time of year when it comes to pulling out your wallet, running your credit card, and stretching your paycheck.

If it feels like you go just a little spend-crazy every year at this time, we can assure you that you are not alone. Indeed, the National Retail Federation (NRF) says we all do it, noting that in spite of less than ideal economic conditions, retail spending and overall spending during the 2022 holiday season were both incredibly robust. A report from the NRF notes that “retail sales during 2022’s November-December holiday season grew 5.3% over 2021 to $936.3 billion, falling short of the National Retail Federation’s forecast amid continuing inflation and high interest rates, NRF said today. While holiday growth was less than expected, sales for the year grew 7% over 2021 to $4.9 trillion, meeting NRF’s forecast of between 6% and 8% growth for the year.”

And now that online retail giant Amazon has instituted an annual mid-October sales event called Amazon Prime Big Deal days–which runs for 48 hours a full six weeks ahead of Black Friday–one could argue that the holiday shopping season has gotten both longer and more expensive.

So while we’re absolutely here for all that joy and celebration, we also know that most of you are looking for a few ways to save money in the midst of the seasonal spending frenzy. We’ve got you covered.

If you’re one of the millions who will kick off your holiday shopping season on the aforementioned Amazon Prime Big Deals Days, then you can start your preparation by digging our tips for how to optimize your savings during this big online shopping event.

Otherwise, read our tips for how to use your credit card (and maybe a few tips on how not to use your credit card) on your holiday shopping.

A Bit More On Holiday Shopping Season

Amazon Prime’s October shopping event may actually be part of a much broader trend (and probably a major contributor to said trend). Indeed, if it seems the holiday shopping season starts earlier and earlier every year, you aren’t imagining it.

Marketers do indeed begin the blitz of promoting, shelving, and turning over holiday stock just a bit earlier each year. Retail displays for Halloween begin popping up as summer winds down, Thanksgiving merchandise is here and gone before November really gets cranking, and the stores are playing Christmas music while you’re still shopping for stuffing and turkey.

But according to market research from Business Wire, consumers have widely embraced the earlier start to the shopping season. Some of this pattern may be attributable to the unpredictable nature of shopping that we all experienced during the pandemic. 

As the article from Business Wire notes, “More than half of Gen X and 50% of millennial shoppers are shopping earlier for Holiday deals in September and October. Despite the long-standing tradition of door-busting Holiday sales, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are least important to Baby Boomers. Less than 14% of shoppers across all demographics are waiting until the last minute to start holiday shopping – most likely scorned by supply chain issues of years past.”

The implication is that we are shopping earlier and more proactively, not just to avoid missing out on great deals, but to avoid missing out altogether on items that might suddenly be in short supply. In other words, you can expect that this year will only see a magnification of this trend toward earlier shopping.

It’s also a good way to pace your spending, as opposed to spending in one massive burst in the 30 days leading up to Christmas. On the one hand, we suggest simply embracing the joy of a prolonged holiday season. On the other hand, we also strongly advise finding ways to stretch your dollars further, rather than simply stretching them thinner. So naturally, the more time you give yourself to get this shopping done, the easier it will be on your monthly budget leading up to year’s end. 

But what else can you do to help your bottom line when it comes to holiday shopping. Well, believe it or not, using your credit card to make your holiday purchases can help you save money, reap great rewards, access unique membership discounts, earn cash back and receive both price and purchase protection, among other perks. Read on to find out how.

10 Credit Card Tips For Saving on Your Holiday Shopping List

In 2022, Americans entered the holiday shopping season grappling with skyrocketing inflation, rising consumer prices, and record high interest rates. In the midst of these trends, we somehow collectively spent nearly $1 trillion on holiday retail shopping. So how did we afford it?

Well, according to an article from Business Insider, credit cards played a major part. The article notes that “Some retailers have said consumers are holiday-shopping earlier than usual in search of deals. As the season progresses, many Americans’ spending will pile onto credit card balances already at a record $866 billion in the third quarter, 19% higher than the same period last year, according to credit reporting agency TransUnion.”

This is not an altogether positive trend. For many holiday shoppers, all that credit spending may be an indication that finances are tight. Many Americans are borrowing credit in order to fulfill their holiday shopping lists. This is not the ideal position from which to use a credit card for holiday shopping. It’s important that you, as the consumer, remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to credit card usage.

Credit Cards can be a great way to save money on holiday shopping if you know how to maximize your rewards, seize good offers, and back your purchases with certain protections. By contrast, using credit cards to spend money that you don’t have, or to buy items that you can’t really afford, is a way to damage your credit scores, sustain heavy interest charges and accumulate compounding credit card debt.

That’s why we’re offering the credit card tips below, to help you use credit cards responsibly while knocking out your holiday shopping list and maximizing both savings and rewards.

1. Choose Your Card Wisely

Before you simply pull a credit card out of your wallet and begin spending, make sure you’re using the best card for your holiday shopping expenses. There are a few factors to consider here. First and foremost, what kind of rewards or benefits do you get when you spend with this credit card? 

Many credit card issuers offer cashback, points toward rewards, and all kinds of discounts with participating retailers and brands. Some cards may even be tailor-made for holiday shopping, offering rewards for spending at select retail outlets or for spending on certain popular gift brands.

In other words, carefully review the perks that come with your credit card. If you’re not seeing the kinds of benefits you want, now may be a great time to check out some of the rewards cards out there in the market. But as you do, think about your holiday spending priorities. It’s possible to sign up for a rewards card with very specific benefits.

For instance, if you expect to spend much of the holiday season planning family dinners, throwing parties, and hosting small impromptu get-togethers, you’ll probably want to consider a rewards card with cash back for grocery spending. An article from CNBC advises getting “a grocery rewards card, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express which earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%).”

This generous rewards card is just one example of how choosing the right card ahead of time can save you money throughout the holiday shopping season. Other examples may be cards designed to reward in-store retail spending, online shopping, event attendance, travel, and more. 

2. Use Travel Rewards Cards If You’re Going Somewhere for the Holidays

Speaking of travel rewards, for many of us, holiday spending usually includes travel expenses. Whether you’re visiting relatives, using the time off to see someplace new, or just taking the family on a road trip to a nearby winter village, make sure you’re using a travel rewards card.

The best travel rewards credit card offers may allow you to earn miles or points for future trips every time you book a flight; provide discounts or rebates for staying at participating hotels; or offer cashback for spending on fuel and snacks at gas stations along your drive. Not only that, but you can actually use the benefits from your holiday travel to begin planning for your next big vacation.

As an article from credit rating agency Experian advises, “If you’re traveling during the holidays, booking flights and a hotel on a travel rewards card could help you build up points for a vacation next summer. If cash in hand is more up your alley, cash back cards can put some of your holiday cash back into your pocket.”

If you’re on the move this holiday season, be sure that you’re carrying a credit card offer that helps cut costs along your journey.

3. Know How to Maximize Cashback Offers

Naturally, one of the best arguments in favor of using a credit card for holiday shopping is the ability to get cash back on all of your purchases. As long as you pay your credit card bills on time, this is the most direct route to creating your own discounts while checking off the items on your holiday shopping list.

It’s also a good idea to read the fine print on your cash back offers. Some credit card offers will provide added cashback for purchases in specific categories. Indeed, this points to a more general tip. Always know how to make the most of the bonus categories included with your credit card offer.

And bear in mind that offers and promotions around these categories may come and go. Indeed, your credit card may be offering all types of special bonus category cashback rewards to celebrate the holiday season.

For instance, says an article from Lending Tree, “Many rewards cards offer 1% to 2% cash back, although some cards go as high as 5%, 6% or 8% for specific spending categories. If it’s a cash back card, you may be able to use those rewards to pay down your balance — getting a discount on what you charge. Of course, it’s critical to know which card will give you the best return and not go overboard on spending.”

Take a closer look at the bonus categories for cashback offers. Review your rewards program carefully and make sure you understand and take advantage of all the benefits to which you are entitled. You’ll note that some cards offer better rewards for specific spending categories as well as for spending during the holiday season. And if your credit card offer comes with rotating bonus categories, make sure you check back with your issuer regularly for promotions, especially as we approach the holidays.

If, by contrast, none of your credit card rewards programs offer meaningful benefits around holiday shopping, entertaining or travel, now is probably a good time to shop around for a few new options.

4. Get Cards with 0% APR Promotions

As we have advised here throughout, in a perfect world, you would use your credit cards to make a ton of holiday purchases, you would recoup all kinds of awesome discounts and rewards, and then you would pay your balance in full before you even have to think about your APR.

But of course, we know that this is not a perfect world. As we acknowledged from the outset, a great many Americans have simply been leveraged into using credit cards in order to make ends meet during the holidays, all in the face of mounting prices and rising interest rates.

So we recognize that it may take you a few months to pay off the debts you’ve accumulated during the holidays. If this is likely to be your situation, the best thing you can do is sign up for a new credit card offer rather then using a card already in your arsenal

That’s because signing up for a new offer can give you access to some amazing introductory promotional terms. Among them is the opportunity to enjoy a 0% APR for a limited time. As the article from Experian notes, “if your finances are a bit tight, you may consider a card with a 0% intro APR promotion. Some of these cards offer 12 months or more of no interest, allowing you to pay down your balance with no added charges. Just keep in mind that those payments will make it harder to save up for next year’s holiday season, so don’t go overboard.”

Indeed, this last sentiment could just as well apply to any of the other tips on our list. Responsible credit card usage, adherence to a budget, and diligent repayment are all necessary if you are to truly reap the financial rewards of credit card shopping.

Look for Offers With Signing Bonuses

As long as you’re in the market for a new card with a temporary 0% APR offer, you might consider looking for a rewards card with a signing bonus. That’s right. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to score a signing bonus.

You just have to have a good credit score. As an article from U.S.A. Today advises, “Many credit cards offer sign-up bonuses that can put a pile of cash in your pocket for meeting a certain spending requirement within a specific period of time. You may, for example, be eligible for an offer that rewards you with $200 for making $2,000 in purchases within three months of opening your card. The holidays are a great time to chase sign-up bonuses, since that’s when your spending might increase, so dig around and see what offers are out there.”

If you’re expecting a short term spike in your spending during the holidays–and who among us isn’t?–you’re probably in a good position to earn this signing bonus. That’s free money on top of the rewards you’ll be earning on individual purchases.

6. Avoid Store Card Offers

We’ve focused largely on the types of credit card offers you should be actively seeking out over the holiday season. But this is one category that financial experts advise against. Turns out that store credit card offers are not all they’re cracked up to be.

We know how tempting some of these offers are. You’re at the checkout counter and they tell you you’ll save money on today’s purchase by signing up for a credit card in seconds. But an article from Lending Tree warns that these offers aren’t always the best way to save a few dollars.

As the article explains, “Generally, it’s wise to avoid store credit cards…If you’re 1,000% sure that you can pay them off at the end of the month, they can be useful because of the discounts and perks. However, steer clear of these cards if you’re likely to carry a balance. They tend to have higher interest rates than regular credit cards, and that’s something in today’s sky-high-interest-rate world.”

This points to a more general recommendation when using existing credit cards or looking for new offers. Stay away from credit cards that carry a higher APR. Of course, interest rates are pretty high across the economic landscape today. The average credit card APR on a new offer is about 24% at the time of writing. However, applicants with excellent credit scores may be able to sign up for credit card offers with APRs as low as 21%.

If you come across a credit card offer with an APR that is considerably higher than 24%, we suggest moving on to a better deal. With all of that said, you should always do your best to pay your credit card bill in full to avoid any interest charges at all. Regardless of your APR, it should always be your goal to pay your balance down to zero every month. If this is not possible, it is at least advisable to pay more than your monthly minimum payment.

Naturally, the more you end up spending on interest charges, the less beneficial all those perks become in the end.

7. Shop Online for Extra Rewards

In fact, instead of signing up for those in-store credit card offers, see if your existing credit cards offer any added benefits or bonuses for making online purchases with participating stores and sites. Indeed, you can actually multiply your savings when you use a rewards credit card to shop online.

That’s not just because you can find more competitive pricing online, though this is also a factor. According to an article from NerdWallet, this is also a great way to double down on the consumer rewards you’ll earn when spending on holiday purchases.

According to NerdWallet, a Deloitte study reveals that “63% of holiday shoppers plan to make most of their purchases online. If you’re one of them, shopping portals (also called bonus malls) can be an easy way to rake in additional miles, points or cash back on top of the regular rewards your credit card earns. A shopping portal is a website that provides an incentive of cash back, points or miles if you click through its links to shop on a retailer’s site. The portal receives commissions from retailers, including many major brands, and then shares a portion with you when you buy through its link.”

Using a credit card with generous cash back or points rewards in conjunction with one of these shopping portals can truly maximize spending perks, and consequently, reduce what you’re spending on things like gifts, entertainment, travel, and lodging during the holiday season.

8. Get Price and Purchase Protection

Credit cards carry a few additional perks beyond rewards and cashback, some of which are particularly valuable during the holiday season. Your credit card offer may come with certain protections which can both help you save money on your holiday shopping and back your purchases with a few basic assurances.

Some credit cards offer something called price protection. This means that your credit card company will actually refund the difference if you find an item for a lower price than you already paid. With flash sales, holiday clearance events, and other last minute promotions constantly popping up this time of year, using a credit card with price protection to do your holiday shopping can be a great line of defense against overpaying.

Even more important is purchase protection. Using your credit card to make certain purchases can provide protection against damaged or stolen goods, as well as incidents of vendor fraud or non-delivery.

As an article from Lending Tree explains, “Purchase protection is a common credit card benefit that allows consumers to file a claim with their issuer to receive replacement, repair or reimbursement for any eligible stolen or damaged items. Major credit card networks, such as Mastercard and Visa, have different policies for purchase protection. Consumers should understand their network’s policy to ensure that their products are covered in the case of an incident — especially when purchasing expensive electronics or furniture.”

As you seek out those big ticket gift items for friends and family, consider using a credit card with purchase protection. It may be worth the peace of mind.

9. Use Credit Cards to Buy Gift Cards

Planning on giving a few gift cards out this holiday season? This is a brilliant opportunity to use a credit card with a generous cashback offer on in-store purchases. Indeed, it’s like getting a discount on buying money.

As the article from Nerdwallet explains, “If you buy that gift card from the clothing retailer, you’ll probably earn only the standard base rate of credit card rewards on that purchase. But if you can find a gift card for that same clothing store on the big gift card rack at the grocery store, you can buy it there and earn more rewards. Many popular credit cards offer bonus rewards at grocery stores — some cards offer 3%, 4% or even up to 6% back. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, earns 6% back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 a year in spending.”

This one doesn’t require a ton of explanation. If you buy a $50 gift card with a 6% cashback offer, it’s basically like trading $47 for a crisp $50 bill. Not sure what to get for the last few people on your shopping list? Everybody loves a gift card, and at that discount, you should too!

10. Understand Your Options for Redeeming Rewards

Ok. So now that you’ve earned all these great rewards, what should you do with them? Well, that answer may actually vary depending on the kind of credit card offer you have. The best redemption value may differ, for instance, for credit cards using a points based rewards system versus those that use a cashback system.

Redemption options can run that gamut from gift cards, statement credits, frequent flyer miles, and more. Make sure you do the math to determine which option makes the most sense for your situation. 

For instance, warns the article from CNBC, “Statement credit redemptions can be a good choice since it can reduce the overall cost of your bill. Just remember that when you redeem your rewards or cash back for a statement credit, you’re still required to make the minimum payment. Beware that statement credit redemptions are the best choice for cash-back credit cards but not necessarily rewards credit cards. You’ll typically only get a 70% value with rewards card points or miles that are redeemed for statement credits versus cash-back cards, which offer a 100% value.”

Review the terms for redeeming your rewards before you decide the best way to use your credit card benefits. Your goal should always be to maximize both the savings on your purchase and the value of using your credit card.


Of course, every single one of the tips provided above comes with the same disclaimer. Responsible credit card usage is critical. Accumulating credit card debt, failing to pay your balance down in full each month, or even worse, failing to meet your basic monthly payments, can all have the impact of lowering your credit scores, offsetting your credit utilization ratio, compounding your debt through interest charges, and ultimately eclipsing the value of any rewards you might have earned by using the credit card in the first place.

In other words, responsible credit card spending is key to seizing the benefits of credit card use for holiday shopping. With that in mind, we invite you to check out our tips for 10 ways families can save money by using credit cards effectively.