You don’t have to blow your holiday budget hosting your family for a get-together. From choosing the right rewards card to handpicking the places you’ll shop, this guide will help you save.
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The holiday season is all about spending time with family and making memories. It can also mean spending money if you’re hosting relatives in your home.
Putting these money-saving tips to work can make the time together with family over the holidays more enjoyable, without it being a drain on your finances.
See related: How to navigate the 2021 holiday shopping season
1. Create a budget for holiday spending
As soon as family or friends announce their intentions to pay a holiday visit, it’s time to start thinking about your budget.
“If you have company coming over or staying for an extended period of time during the holidays, you may want to please everyone but don’t get carried away,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, personal finance expert at TopCashback. The goal should be to create a budget that doesn’t require you to spend beyond your means.
As you work out a budget that includes hosting family or friends for the holidays, make sure you cover all the bases. That includes:
- Food and drinks to have at home
- Dining out
- Gifts and decorations
- Holiday activities or entertainment
- Gas or local transportation
- Increased utility costs
Deacon Hayes, finance expert and founder of Well Kept Wallet, suggests being clear on how many people are coming and how long they’ll be staying with you. This can help with planning out gifts, activities and meals, which makes it easier to pinpoint how much money you need to budget for a family get-together.
Dine your way
Not only will budgeting alleviate some of the stress of holiday dinners but changing the meals themselves will also help. Rather than a massive meal with a dozen dishes that ultimately end up as leftovers, think about cutting down on the amount of food, making smaller portions and sticking to a planned menu. Don’t be against swapping out dishes if a particular ingredient goes on sale. And since leftovers are inevitable after a big meal, try using your leftovers to make something else. If you must buy your menu items full price, don’t underestimate the rewards you can get from buying groceries either.
Of course, eating out is also an excellent option. In fact, dining out may even turn out cheaper for those of you with large families. For those who like to eat in the comfort of their own home during the holidays, plenty of cards have benefits on delivery apps or meal kits.
In fact, when you use the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card you’ll earn unlimited 3% cash back on dining and grocery stores, with $0 annual fee. Another contender is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card that earns 3X points on restaurants, plus includes a free subscription to DashPass for one year (activate by 12/31/21).
Stay in or paint the town
With the focus on food and gifts during the holidays, what will you and the family do to spend time together? Don’t feel pressured to spend on this. Get creative by breaking out the board games and puzzles you already have at home to bond with family or throw a holiday movie night with microwave popcorn, smores and any streaming service. Your kids getting antsy during the holidays? Go on a drive to see some Christmas lights around the neighborhood.
If you really love popular entertainment, check out the Citi Premier® Card. With it, you can easily rack up ThankYou points, which can be redeemed with Citi Entertainment®, giving you access to presale tickets and exclusive experiences like concerts and sporting events.
2. Prepare early and for the worst
By now, you must have heard plenty of news about supply chain issues and delays in shipping and logistics. As such, retailers have expected delays in all goods in the U.S. for months now, and these expectations are fast becoming true. Bloomberg reported that some of the biggest retailers like Target and Walmart have put money toward easing the process, but these extra expenses may result in fewer discounts during the holiday season.
To avoid having your presents stuck in transit, try your best to shop as early as possible for your holiday needs, whether it be nonperishable ingredients for meals or gifts for your loved ones. Though you naturally plan presents around sales, you could do the same for holiday meals as well. Rather than a massive roast turkey, a nice roasted hen sounds equally delicious. You could also try shopping at small businesses, to both support the local community and switch up the kinds of gifts you usually give out.
3. Match holiday budget categories to the right rewards card
Saving money on holiday spending can be as simple as using your credit card for everyday items like groceries or gas when family is in town, says Gramuglia.
“If you’re showing family members local attractions or taking day trips, you’ll be driving around a lot,” she says. “Plus, everyone is going to be hungry, so saving money on groceries is essential.”
But don’t settle for using any cash back card when paying for meals, gas or holiday fun with the family. Pick and choose the cards that land on the nice list for paying you back the most rewards.
If you need cash back on groceries and gas, you might try:
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets, (on up to the first $6,000 in purchases each year), then 1%.
- Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards credit card: Earn 3% cash back in the category of your choice (including gas) and 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in combined spend on the 3% and 2% categories each quarter, then 1%.
Nermeen Ghneim, owner of personal finance blog Savvy Dollar, says while cash back cards are generally best for holiday spending, you shouldn’t count out cards that offer points or miles instead.
For example, the American Express® Gold Card offers 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining at restaurants and on the first $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1 point). If you’ve got a big trip planned in the new year, you could charge holiday dinners or grocery shopping to your card, then use them to book through AmexTravel.com.
See related: Best ways to spend American Express points
4. Take advantage of Q4 rotating category bonuses
If you have the Discover it® Cash Back or Chase Freedom Flex℠ cards in your wallet, double-check your cash back calendar to see which purchases qualify for a fourth-quarter bonus.
Here’s what Discover and Chase are offering bonuses for in the fourth quarter of 2021:
- Discover categories include Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com – enroll to earn 5% cash back on up to the first $1,500 in combined purchases (then 1%).
- Chase Freedom Flex categories include Walmart.com and PayPal – 5% cash back on up to the first $1,500 in combined purchases (activation required), then 1%.
If navigating bonus categories only adds to your holiday stress, consider a flat-rate cash back card instead.
“For example, you could use one like the Citi® Double Cash Card,” says Hayes, which offers 1% cash back as you charge purchases and 1% cash back as you pay them off.
This kind of flat-rate card can be good for charging things like holiday decorations or your utility bills and getting more than just 1% back on those purchases. Hayes says if you’re using cash back cards or any other type of credit card for holiday spending, plan to pay the balance in full or as quickly as possible to minimize interest charges.
5. Scrutinize retail store rewards cards closely
Retail store cards can be tempting to use for picking up holiday gifts when family is in town, but pay attention to the card terms.
A recent survey by CreditCards.com found nearly seven out of 10 people applied for retail credit cards on an impulse at checkout. While it is enticing to sign up for a credit card at your favorite retail store in order to claim a reward at checkout, it is important to keep in mind they usually come with higher APRs than non-retail cards. The average retail card APR is 24.35%, while the average non-retail card APR is 19.92%, potentially setting up shoppers for a painful bill if they carry a balance on their cards.
At the same time, a store credit card that offers generous cash back rewards can help you save on holiday expenses, as long as you pay your balance in full at the end of the month.
“I do a lot of shopping online, so the Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard® and the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature* card are my top earners,” says Ghneim. “Each earns 5% back on purchases.”
The catch is that these cards only earn that rewards rate at their respective brands. Whole Foods purchases made with the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa are, however, an exception – those also earn 5% cash back. Purchases made through Walmart.com must be for grocery pickup or delivery in order to qualify for 5% cash back, while purchases made in-store qualify for only 2% cash back.
Also, consider how you can redeem rewards earned with a store card.
Walmart and Amazon give you more redemption options, including gift cards and travel.
Other store-branded cards, however, may only allow you to redeem your rewards on future purchases. Not to mention, these cards can carry higher APRs compared to a traditional cash back rewards card.
6. Stack rewards to cash in on more holiday savings
There are several ways to add to your savings during the holidays, across virtually every spending category. Here are four more money-saving tips to try when family comes to town:
Stack savings on groceries
“Be sure to take advantage of digital coupons available in your grocery store app,” says Ghneim. “Stack that with cash back from grocery store apps like Ibotta and Fetch Rewards.”
If your grocery store has a loyalty rewards program that offers points toward purchases or exclusive discounts, sign up for that as well. And check to see if your preferred store accepts competitor coupons for additional savings.
Stack savings on entertainment
“Try seeing if you can score tickets for a show or event for cheaper with sites like Groupon,” says Gramuglia. Then use a card like the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card to earn 3% cash back on those purchases respectively.
Stack savings on shopping
Cash back sites like Rakuten and TopCashback can help increase cash back earnings when you shop in-store or online with a linked cash back rewards card.
“Be on the lookout for double and triple cash back from Rakuten to maximize your rewards,” says Ghneim.
You can also stack savings by taking advantage of card-linked offers, which are exclusive savings deals that are linked to your rewards card. If you have an American Express or Chase rewards credit card, check out the linked offers on tap at Amex Offers and Chase Offers.
Stack savings on dining
If you know you’ll be dining out with family, sign up for an app like Dosh, which lets you earn up to 10% cash back automatically when you pay with your linked card. Join restaurant loyalty programs to get rewards or coupons you can use to save on family meals during the holidays.
Even with the threat of supply chain shortages and the lure of Black Friday sales, don’t feel compelled to spend more than you need to when celebrating the holidays with your loved ones. And since you’ll be paying for food and gifts one way or another, you might as well use your credit cards to your advantage to maximize rewards. Above all, remember to stick to your set budget to avoid incurring debt so that you can embrace 2022 with a good handle on your finances.
*All information about the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card has been collected independently by CreditCards.com and has not been reviewed by the issuer.
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