Seven out of 10 holiday shoppers will use a credit card to purchase gifts this year, NerdWallet’s 2019 Holiday Shopping Report found, charging an average of $660. Those opting to use their credit cards say they expect it will take them 3.7 months to pay off their balances — and 35% of those who used their cards last year say they are still paying off last year’s holiday debt. That’s a heavy burden to carry into the new year. And it’s one that you can try to avoid, or at least minimize, with some planning.
1. Use technology to track spending
Thanks to digital wallet apps, it’s easier than ever to track your money, said Amy Zirkle, vice president of industry affairs for the Electronic Transactions Association. You can see with a few taps whether you’re staying within your budget. If you’re making your purchases the more traditional way, with a credit or debit card, you can still use your card issuer’s app to track spending.
2. Earn cash back wherever possible
Shoppers can use cash-back credit cards to earn a percentage back on their purchases as well as participating in other cash-back websites to stack the rewards on top of each other. RetailMeNot claims it offers members an average of $13 cash back per online order (you need to register first). With Uber’s Visa Local Offers, you can link your credit card and automatically earn extra cash back at certain retailers. Rakuten also offers as much as 40% cash back at more than 2,500 stores.
3. Monitor prices
With all of the price fluctuations this time of year, it can be hard to know when to buy the items on your list. Tools like CamelCamelCamel.com, which tracks prices on Amazon, and the Honey browser extension, which checks for better prices for your online purchases, can help. If you’re shopping in stores, the ShopSavvy app makes it easy to scan bar codes so you can see whether there’s a better deal elsewhere. You can also sign up for Paribus through your e-mail account; the free service then scans your e-mail receipts and monitors more than 25 major retailers.
4. Take advantage of side perks
Check out the shopping protections on the cards in your wallet so you can use that card to make big purchases. For instance, some cards come with price protection — which can give you a refund for the difference if the price falls after you make the purchase — or extended warranties. If you have a consumer or small-business American Express card in your wallet, you have free access to ShopRunner, which offers free two-day shipping and returns at more than 100 retailers. That’s especially useful if you are shopping at department stores or retailers that normally charge for shipping.
5. Pay off debt as quickly as possible
If you do accumulate a balance on your card, make a plan to pay it off as soon as possible. If you make just the minimum payment on the card, a balance of $660 will take nearly four years to pay off and cost $239 in interest, according to NerdWallet’s calculations. Being debt-free can feel like an even bigger accomplishment than finding the perfect present for everyone on your list.
Kimberly Palmer is a writer at NerdWallet. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @kimberlypalmer.