It’s that time of year again when everyone starts heading over to the mall or going online in hopes of finding the perfect gifts for their family and friends.
If you’re planning on doing some holiday shopping soon, especially if it’s with a credit card, then here are seven great tips that will keep you save as well as help you make the most of your purchases.
1- Be Strategic About Rewards Points
Anytime you know you’re about to make some large purchases, it’s always a good idea to see how you can take advantage of your credit cards so that you can earn the maximum amount of rewards possible.
First off, there are introductory bonuses to take advantage of. Most major credit card companies offer some pretty incredible welcome packages to new customers. I’ve easily earned anywhere from $500 to $800 of points for meeting some minimum spending amount (which is pretty easy to do around the holidays).
Additionally, many cards with revolving rewards categories will make it so that purchases from places like Amazon or Walmart.com qualify for 5 percent cash back. Considering nearly anything can be bought through one of those two sites, you can easily rack up points with every gift that you purchase.
2- Cash in Your Rewards Points
If you’ve already earned a large number of rewards points, then now is the time to cash them in!
Nearly every credit card rewards program will let you redeem your points in exchange for gift cards. So if you were already planning on giving some gift cards out this year, this means you can effectively get them for free!
This is a strategy that I’ve used for years with my credit cards. We’ll make purchases all year long only to redeem them at Christmas time for free presents. What’s even better is that usually the gift cards can be redeemed for less than the cash value of your points. Bonus!
3- Double Down with Rewards Portals
Making purchases with rewards credit cards isn’t the only way to earn points or cash back. If you plan on doing your shopping online, you can actually double-down by using a shopping portal.
Sites like Rakuten (formerly Ebates) or Mr. Rebates are shopping portals where you use their affiliate links to make purchases to well-known stores online. In exchange, they will pay you anywhere between 1 to 10 percent of your purchase simply for using them.
Not only is that a simple way to earn some cash back, but if you’re also making that purchase with a credit card that also earns rewards, then that’s twice the rewards on every purchase.
4- Look for Coupon Codes
If there’s one simple way to save a few bucks when you’re buying something online, it’s finding a promo code before you check out.
With little more than 5 minutes of research, I’m almost always sure to find an active promo code that I can use to score anywhere from 5 to 25 percent off my purchase. Especially if I’m buying something somewhat expensive, that little bit of research can pay off in a big way.
5- Don’t Fall for Scams
How many times have you been on Facebook and seen name brand clothes for incredibly cheap or gone on eBay and found something that should cost hundreds of dollars listed for only tens of dollars? Should you enter your credit card information and take advantage of that dynamite deal as quickly as possible?
The answer: Definitely no!
Unfortunately, the internet is full of fake websites that are designed to look just as sleek and professional as the real thing. But what you’re ordering may not be what it appears. More than likely, these rouge sites are fakes selling knock-off versions of the original products.
What’s worse is that these sites may only be designed to trick you into entering your personal information. You should never enter your credit card info into a site that you don’t recognize or regularly use. Whenever possible, use an intermediate payment system like PayPal instead.
Even with sites like eBay, Amazon, and Walmart.com, you still have to be careful. Though these are legitimate retailers, because they allow millions of third-party partners to sell products, it’s entirely possible you might still be scammed into buying a false or low-quality product.
As the old saying goes: If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.
6- Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Everyone is guilty of jumping on public Wi-Fi wherever it’s available. After all, that’s what it’s there for. However, if you do this holiday season, proceed with caution.
Remember that public Wi-Fi is easy-picking for hackers to steal any information that gets transmitted across its lines. That means every message, email, or keystroke you type could be stolen by thieves.
Therefore, when you’re out shopping, refrain from using public Wi-Fi if you can help it. If you do, try to verify if it’s legitimate or not by asking a shop owner or trying to find the domain owner, and definitely don’t make any purchases with your credit card or login to your financial accounts from your phone.
7- Stick to Your Budget
No matter what you buy this holiday season, whether it’s with your credit card or cash, be sure to do it with purpose. Just because it’s the season-of-giving doesn’t mean you can blow your budget. After all, someone has to pay that credit card bill when it comes due, and that someone is going to be you!
The best way to do this is to make a list ahead of time and plan out your purchases. Write down the name of everyone you plan to give a gift to this year and put a dollar amount next to their name. Add it up and if the total amount exceeds what you had budgeted, then go back to the drawing board and start making cuts.
The Bottom Line
Everyone knows that with the holidays comes spending. But if you’re smart about using the right credit cards, cashing in your points, and looking for promo codes, then you’ll find quite a bit of savings. In fact, you might even get a few presents for free.
Of course, be smart about how you shop. Don’t fall for scams or accidentally get your identity stolen over unsecured Wi-Fi. Above all, stick to your budget and don’t get yourself into debt, and it will be the best gift you can give yourself for years to come.
Contributor’s opinions are their own. Always do your own due diligence before investing.