Holiday shopping in summer: Use your cards to rack up savings

Start early and benefit from summer deals and rewards card bonuses

Rebecca Lake
Personal Finance Writer
Making complex credit topics simple

Credit card tips for holiday shopping in the summer months

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When the dog days of summer set in, the holiday season may be the last thing on your mind. But it’s not too early to begin making your holiday shopping list and checking it twice.

In 2017, 12 percent of shoppers got a head start on the holidays in summer, according to a RetailMeNot survey. Retailers have taken notice and the holiday sales seem to roll out earlier and earlier each year.

Being the early bird could pay off if you’re using your cash back or rewards credit card to stock up on gifts for the holiday season.

Here’s how to leverage your credit card to take advantage of summer sales for the holidays, in between lounging around the pool and planning a family vacation.

See related: 7 easy ways to protect your credit while holiday shopping

Tips for shopping holiday gifts in the summer months

Mark your calendar for specific sales

You may know exactly what you want to buy for the people on your list, but some things prove to be better bargains in summer than others.

When planning your holiday shopping, it helps to know what the hottest sale items are for each month – and what you’re better off waiting to buy.

Here’s a quick glance at the best deals for summer.

What to buy in the summer months

Specific items on sale during the summer months:  

June

What to buy
  • Gardening tools and supplies.
  • Lingerie.
  • Tools.
  • Pots and pans.
  • Household items.
  • Small appliances.

July

What to buy
  • Clothing.
  • Jewelry and watches.
  • Outdoor apparel, camping and sporting equipment.
  • Amazon Prime Day deals.
  • Personal electronics.
  • Kindle and Alexa devices.

August

What to buy
  • Laptops.
  • Shoes and summer clothing.
  • School supplies.
  • Flat-screen TVs and small electronics.
  • Wine.
  • Lawnmowers.

Items you should wait and buy after summer

  • You might want to wait until the second week of September to shop for grills, as these usually get marked down after Labor Day.
  • If you're planning to surprise your loved ones with iPads, iPhones or other smartphones and tablets this holiday season, wait for Black Friday deals.
  • Fall clothing usually starts going on sale around late September or early October.

Shop winter holidays around summer holidays

“In June, many retailers are celebrating fathers, and this is a great time to shop for two holidays at once by taking advantage of seasonal deals,” says Anthony Copeman, certified financial education instructor and founder of personal finance blog Financial Lituation.

  • You can find sales featuring tools and gardening supplies at home improvement stores in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day, with some sales carrying through to the end of the month. 
  • As you move into July, you can find savings on jewelry, furniture and camping equipment.
  • You can also save big starting in mid-July on quality patio furniture, says Brad Schweig, vice president of operations for Sunnyland Outdoor Furniture in Dallas.

Patio furniture may not be the typical holiday gift item but, says Schweig, midsummer is when retailers begin marking down last year’s collections to make way for new designs. The same goes for seasonal clothing.

And while not a holiday in itself – yet – another important summer shopping date you need to add to your calendar is Amazon Prime Day.

Prime Day is prime time for holiday shopping

Amazon Prime Day is a one-day global sales event that this year will start July 16 at 3 p.m. ET. This event is open exclusively to Amazon Prime members.

“Amazon Prime Day can be beneficial to Prime members, especially when it comes to buying electronics,” says Copeman.

  • Amazon products, including Kindles and Alexa devices, typically feature heavily in Prime Day promotions. You can also find deals on thousands of other items.
  • Some of these sales extend throughout the entire Prime Day promotion, while “Lightning Deals” are only available for a short time on the site.

Amazon prime – which has recently increased its annual cost to $119 from $99 – includes additional perks such as access to Amazon Prime streaming services and free two-day shipping as part of its regular membership, which means even more savings on holiday purchases.

When you shop Prime Day with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, you earn unlimited 5 percent back on Amazon purchases in addition to any discounts offered during that shopping event.

Take advantage of your card's rotating categories

If you have a card that offers rotating categories every quarter, such as Discover it Cash Back or Chase Freedom, coordinate your holiday spending with each card’s cash back calendar to get the maximum benefit from those rewards. 

Both cards offer 5 percent cash back bonus on purchases made in selected categories – up to $,1500 in purchases every quarter, and you need to activate or enroll in the bonus categories every quarter.

  • Restaurant purchases are Discover’s rotating category from July to September. 
  • Chase Freedom's rotating categories for this summer include gas station, Lyft and Walgreens purchases.
  • This means you could stock up on stocking-stuffer gift cards from your loved ones’ favorite restaurants and stores during the summer months.
"Too often, people focus on points and forget about price."

Maximize savings by using shopping portals

Your card’s online shopping portal could also be a great place to find holiday shopping deals if you’re using a card that offers flat-rate rewards on purchases.

  • The Citi Double Cash card for instance, offers 1 percent unlimited cash back on purchases and another 1 percent back when you pay off those purchases, but you can snag additional cash back deals through the Citi Bonus Cash Center.
  • The portal offers up to 10 percent cash back on purchases – 5 percent on average – made at partner merchants. Deals are updated throughout the year and some of the current promotions include 2 percent back at Home Depot, 2 percent back on Apple purchases and 5 percent back at The Sharper Image.
  • Other card-issuer shopping portals where you can look for summer deals include Discover Deals and Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Airline loyalty programs also have their own shopping portals, including American Airlines, United and Southwest. 

Turn card benefits into holiday savings

Your choice of card can also help you save in another way.

Janice Lintz, a consumer education expert and Forbes contributor, uses the Citi Prestige card for holiday shopping to take advantage of Price Rewind, a service that looks for a lower price on the purchases you make. It they find one, they pay you the difference.

 

Video: 4 ways to save money with online holiday shoppping

“Too often, people focus on points and forget about price,” says Lintz.

While the Prestige card offers only 1 point on shopping purchases, Lintz says that the money she saves by being able to rewind the price makes up for it (other Citi cards that offer Price Rewind include Costco Anywhere Visa. Double Cash and Prestige).

She recently made a purchase at a Bloomingdale’s store and found the same item advertised for less online after the fact. She submitted the purchase to Citi Rewind and received $20 back on the purchase. “No other card would offer me anything close to this price,” says Lintz.

The program gives you 60 days to request a price rewind, so if you’re shopping for the holidays early in the summer, be sure to hang on to your receipts and register them with the program. “If you purchase items before they go on sale, you can still get the benefit of the sale by rewinding the price,” says Lintz.

Tip

Tip: Whether you use a rewards card with rotating bonus categories or earn a single rewards rate on holiday shopping, set your spending limit before hitting the stores or loading up a shopping app. If you overspend and carry a balance after your shopping spree, you'll be canceling out any value on the rewards you earned. The average APR for rewards cards currently stands at 16.81 percent and at 16.99 percent for cash back cards.

“Planning out your purchases means creating a spending plan with your cash before creating one with your credit card,” says Copeman. “You want to budget for the purchase before you swipe your card.”

The bottom line, says Lintz? “No one who loves you wants you to go into debt for them.”

See related: Citi Double Cash vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited, How to get double cash back at Costco


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Updated: 10-23-2018