Canadians are cutting back this holiday season, according to a recent survey by CPA Canada – respondents said they plan to spend an average of $583 on gifts, down from $643 in 2018. But even with the best intentions, the little things – presents, decor, food and drink – can add up. Before you hit the stores or fill your online basket, here are a few tips for making a plan, sticking to it, and coming out in the black this December.
1. Plan ahead and set up a budget
It’s a lot harder to overspend when you’ve made a list and checked it twice. Start by creating a list or spreadsheet that accounts for all facets of your seasonal spending, from entertaining and travel to presents for friends, family, party hosts and the office Secret Santa exchange. Do your research on gifts and prepare a shopping list, mapping out the rough costs of each item to make sure it fits within your overall budget. With everything accounted for, you’ll have a more efficient shopping experience and feel good about what you’re buying.
2. Leverage money-saving apps and websites
With your budget set and your list in your pocket, consider utilizing money-saving apps and websites that aggregate promotions and/or coupon codes for thousands of major retailers. Websites such as Finder and RetailMeNot are searchable by store, product or category, listing all applicable coupons and promo codes. Honey, a browser extension, automatically finds coupon codes and applies them when you check out.
3. Don’t be swayed into overspending by “deals”
The holiday season is awash with tactics from retailers to push you to spend more under the guise of saving money – special edition gift sets, bundles, free shipping, flash sales, or “buy 3, get 1 free” specials, for example. But the bottom line is that these “deals” won’t save you money if you end up spending more than you originally planned. Sales and promotions are probably the most common derailed, but you have a defence: your pre-planned budget, shopping list, and a little mindfulness gleaned from this list.
4. If you have credit card debt, stick to cash
If you’re already carrying credit card debt, consider committing to using to cash this holiday season instead – paying interest fees diminishes the value of cash back and rewards points anyway. By putting your credit card in hibernation and using your debit card or cold, hard cash, you’ll avoid building up a bigger balance and owing more in interest. If you regularly carry a balance on your credit card, consider making a new year’s resolution to pay down debt by switching to a low interest credit card with a balance transfer option.
5. Use a rewards card strategically to earn cash back or points
As long as you pay off your credit card balance in full every month, using a cash back or travel credit card is a great way to squeeze value out of regular spending. If you pay for gifts using a rewards credit card, you’ll earn cash back or points on the money you’ve already accounted for in your budget. But beware the temptation to overspend — aimless and unplanned shopping is usually where extra purchases sneak in, so remember to stick to your pre-planned gift list.
6. Take advantage of your loyalty program’s e-store
Before going to the mall or directly to a retailer’s website, check if your credit card loyalty program has an e-store or online shopping portal. For example, if you have an Aeroplan credit card, you can earn bonus miles by shopping at popular merchants online through Aeroplan’s eStore, including Hudson’s Bay, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lululemon, Sephora and Amazon.ca. The same goes for Air Miles credit cards and the online Air Miles Shop.
E-stores tend to offer bonus points and exclusive deals you wouldn’t otherwise see if you shop directly from stores. If it’s something you plan to buy anyway, e-stores can offer additional savings.
7. If you have a travel credit card, don’t redeem your points for gift cards or merchandise
Travel credit cards provide the best value when using points to book flights, hotels and vacation packages. Most rewards programs also allow cardholders to redeem from a catalogue of gift cards and merchandise, but you’ll usually get worse value for your points when redeeming for non-travel rewards. If you have points in the bank, don’t spend them on holiday gifts – save up those valuable points for next time you go on vacation, along with the points racked up from budgeted holiday spending.
8. Take advantage of credit card bonuses
The holiday season is a great time to take advantage of credit card promotions that offer incentives and spending bonuses for new cardholders. For example, the SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express offers a welcome bonus of 5% on all eligible purchases for the first six months of card membership (up to $300). After the welcome rate ends, you’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases. If you’ve had the same card for a while, try comparing cash back and rewards credit cards to see if there’s a better one that fits your financial lifestyle.