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 or hometown.
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: Best rewards credit cards
5 money-saving tips when hosting family for the holidays
- Create a budget for holiday spending
- Match holiday budget categories to the right rewards card
- Take advantage of Q4 rotating category bonuses
- Scrutinize retail store rewards cards closely
- Stack rewards to cash in on more holiday savings
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.
- 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.
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.
For example, if you want to earn cash back on dining out, consider:
- Uber Visa Card: Earn 4 points per dollars spent on restaurants, takeout and bars.
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Earn unlimited 4 percent cash back on dining and entertainment.
If you need cash back on groceries and gas, you might try:
- Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets, on up to the first $6,000 in purchases each year; then 1 percent.
- Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card: Earn 3 percent cash back in the category of your choice (including gas) and 2 percent cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs on the first $2,500 in each quarter.
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 and on the first $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets each year. 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.
Take advantage of Q4 rotating category bonuses
Here's what Discover and Chase are offering bonuses for in the fourth quarter of 2019:
- Discover categories include Amazon.com, Target and Walmart.com – 5 percent cash back on up to the first $1,500 in combined purchases.
- Chase Freedom categories include department store purchases, PayPal and Chase Pay – 5 percent cash back on up to the first $1,500 in combined purchases.
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 percent cash back as you charge purchases and 1 percent 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 percent back on those purchases. Hayes says if you're using cash back cards or any other type of credit card for holiday spending, to plan to pay the balance in full or as quickly as possible to minimize interest charges.
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 APRs on brand-new store credit cards have increased substantially in recent months – 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 Walmart credit card, Target REDCard and the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa are my top earners,” says Ghneim. “Each earns 5 percent 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 percent cash back.
Also, consider how you can redeem rewards earned with a store card.
The Target REDCard, for instance, applies your 5 percent back as a discount at checkout. 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.
See related: Best retail rewards credit cards
Stack rewards to cash in on more holiday savings
There are several ways to add to your savings at the holidays, across virtually every spending category. To wrap up things up, here are four more money-saving tips to try when family comes to town:
To 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.
To 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 Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card or Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card to earn 4 percent or 3 percent cash back on those purchases respectively.
To 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.
To 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 percent 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.