As a holiday host, you’re not only in charge of gift-wrapping a memorable experience, but you’re likely on the hook for store-bought presents, too. The costs add up quickly.
This holiday season, consumers plan to spend a total of $1,007 on average for items such as decorations, candy, gifts and other purchases, according to the National Retail Federation.
If you’ve bravely signed up for hosting duties, nothing says you can’t also help yourself at the same time by putting some money back in your pocket. Credit card rewards can offset some of the costs of holiday purchases or help pay for a vacation in the new year.
Here’s how to show yourself a little love this season even as you’re busy accommodating others.
1. Make a list or goal, check it twice
Visualize what you’re working toward as you shop.
For example, Brett Martin — a mother of three who runs the lifestyle blog ThisMamaLoves — has a tradition of hosting her family between Christmas and the new year to accommodate different schedules. But she keeps another goal in mind as she makes purchases throughout the year: funding a future vacation.
Martin puts all expenses on her rewards credit cards to earn cash back that she can use toward that trip, taking care to pay off her balances every month. This time of year, she says, can go a long way toward that goal.
“I think stockings are probably the biggest expense that we have because that’s my favorite part,” Martin says.
This holiday season, she will earn 5 points per dollar spent on supermarket purchases with her hotel credit card and 5% cash back on Amazon.com purchases with her rotating-bonus-category credit card.
Allan Liwanag, blogger at The Practical Saver, will host a New Year’s celebration this year. He also has a large family to buy presents for and says he starts planning from the beginning of the year, which includes budgeting as well as researching cards and collecting bonuses.
“I basically take my time to match a card for a would-be expense and get the best out of it,” he says.
2. Unwrap opportunities for earning
Find ways to maximize what you’re getting back as a host:
Get a side of rewards with your holiday feast
If food will be a major expense, using a tiered credit card that offers elevated rewards at the grocery store can save you money on your holiday spread.
For Liwanag’s New Year’s celebration, he’ll serve Japanese food. He plans to use his rewards credit card to earn 3% cash back on the ingredients. He also uses the Checkout 51 app to earn cash back on his grocery bill. “We always look into using mobile apps that will reimburse us some cash,” he says.
Deck the halls and pad your points
Purchasing tons of wrapping paper and decorations? Rotating-bonus-category cards could be the ticket. The Chase Freedom® earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (1% back on all else). And in Q4 2018, those bonus categories include wholesale clubs, department stores and purchases via Chase Pay. That could be ideal if you buy holiday decorations at, say, Costco or Macy’s.
If you’re too busy with hosting duties to fuss with bonus categories, consider using a flat-rate cash-back card that earns 1.5% back or more on every purchase.
Rake in rewards while running errands
Whether you’re constantly picking up loved ones from the airport or driving from store to store, a credit card that earns a rate of 3% back or higher on gas can offer value all year long. Some cards also earn high rewards rates on rideshare services.
You can even stack certain gas rewards for more value. “I also use my fuel rewards with Shell,” Liwanag says. “I get a discount of 5 cents per gallon.”
Double-dip when possible
Speaking of stacking rewards, a holiday-friendly credit card paired with a loyalty program or online shopping portal like Ebates can deliver even more value on your purchases.
Martin already looks to Amazon.com for savings because her rewards credit card offers 5% cash back on those purchases this quarter. But she also taps online portals that offer additional rewards.
“I’ll do Ebates, especially with my rewards cards,” because it allows her to earn rewards both with the card and via the shopping portal.
3. Keep your eye on the savings
Rewards provide savings only when you spend within your means on items you’re already planning to buy. So if you find your holiday budget getting away from you, improvise.
Perhaps that means hosting a potluck or opting for do-it-yourself gifts and decorations. You can still earn points on the ingredients or materials without overspending.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to stop yourself from splurging on a family gathering, consider applying for a card with a 0% introductory APR period, which can give you time to pay off your purchases interest-free.