MyMoneyBlog Holiday Gift Buying Battle Plan

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Holiday shopping season is upon us… According to a Black Friday survey, and the average shopper spent $423 this long weekend. Another National Retail Federation survey reported the average spending per person in 2011 was about $704. (They also spent $130 on themselves.)

Although I still avoid crowded malls like the plague, I’m not one of those Scrooges that say that you should say “sorry, I’ve gotten myself into some debt, so this year I won’t be giving any gifts”. There’s no need to spend lavishly, but even if things are tight, gift-giving should be something that you planned for ahead of time. Otherwise, unless you live like a miser, what you’re basically saying is “I prioritize giving stuff to myself higher than giving to others.”

In reality, my main problem with gift-giving is dealing with all the extra entropy generated. You get all this stuff, a certain percentage of which is useful and the rest that isn’t. Therefore, in addition to saving money, my “battle plan” includes trying to reduce the chaos and clutter inherent in the gift-giving process.

Use up all your gift cards. Every holiday season, we are lucky to receive a number of gift cards. A year later, a chunk of those gift cards still sit unused. Since I already had an entire year to use them on myself and didn’t, the new mission is to use up all those gift cards to buy other people gifts before the next wave comes in. If all else fails, I try to force myself to sell them for cash at a gift card vendor. Run your own gift card price comparison like I did, or use a site like

Get 5% back on all online purchases up to $1,500 from Discover. I do all my shopping online anyway. See here for details.

Buy discounted gift cards first. For large purchases, consider buying a discounted gift card to the store where you’re shopping (with a rewards credit card of course), and then use that gift card immediately to buy the final gift. You can even buy them while in the store from your smartphone. Don’t do this unless you are sure you’re going to shop at that store.

Redeem all those points you’ve been meaning to use. If you read this site, then it’s quite likely you have a stash of points somewhere. Earn ’em and burn ’em! Citi ThankYou points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, American Express Membership Rewards points, Discover Cash Back or other balances that you need to request, and so on. The best redemption rates are usually for either a gift card or cash.

Sell your stuff. Really, actually sell it, not just think about selling it! Use your gift-giving urge as motivation to sell your old stuff. I know, it’s hard. Try selling electronics and popular items with an Amazon Seller account, you’ll get a better price than selling to a business, but it’s a little less crazy than eBay. Use the proceeds to pay for gifts or donate to charity. If you want zero hassle, run a sellback price comparison like I did for an old iPod Touch.

Cash Back portals. Cashback portals have become very popular, and most are having promotions right now which vary day-to-day. Sites that I have regularly use and cross-compare are eBates ($10 new user bonus after any purchase of $25+), Mr. Rebates ($5 new user bonus – minimum cash-out balance is $10), BigCrumbs (no bonus, but often offers the best payouts), FatCash, and Chase Ultimate Rewards mall (need appropriate Chase card). You can even earn cash back from Amazon and eBay now in certain categories. If you use these places, don’t forget to request a payment!

Credit card bonuses. Around the holidays, the banks usually have some new offers to grab us customers. Remember, use these loss leaders for your own benefit by never carrying a balance! I usually go through another wave of applications near the end of the year, all on the same day with different browser windows. Recently there are some new offers that I may jump on – 40,000 Thankyou points = $400 from Amazon from Citi, 50,000 American miles from Citi (100k if you do the business version too), $800 in Southwest Airlines airfare from Chase, and 50,000 points = $500 in gift cards from American Express.

All together, I’m sure I could scrounge up $704 with these tactics, counteracting both the cost and clutter of gift-giving. I’ll certainly be happy when I am done with shopping, though. Got some other ways that you help offset the hit from the holidays? Share in the comments below.

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. You said “The best redemption rates are usually for either a gift card or cash.”

    This might be true for “cash back” type cards, but it’s been my experience that using travel points or miles for gift cards is probably the worst redemption rates. The best are for select hotels or flights. Maybe something like Thank You points would be OK for a gift card, but most hotel/airline cards give you quite a bit more value if you actually use them for their intended purpose. Obviously, if you have no need for hotel rooms or flights, then getting cash or gift cards is probably your best bet.

  2. i found a website that compares a bunch of the Cash Back portals plus some portals i never heard of. it’s called i also use to compare, sometimes the discounts aren’t always updated

  3. For cashback portals, check out this site compares cashback on a whole bunch of sites and tells you where you can find the best cashback for a particular site.

  4. @Pat – I agree with all you said regarding miles and hotel points, I was focusing on the points mentioned like membership rewards or thankyou points.

    Cashback comparison sites are handy, but I still like to check the original sites to make sure the number is correct as they change so often, also I’d rather go with a trusted site over an new unknown site if the percentage difference isn’t too great. These days I tend to like Ultimate Rewards as they are worth 1 cent at a bare minimum but possible more as United miles or redeemed towards travel.

  5. Brad Smith says

    When it comes to using a credit card during the holiday seasons there are many responsibilities that come with it. There are many dangers as well as positives that follow the burden of having a credit card. It is very nice to have one when you need to spend a surprise amount without a notice. Coming with that though is always the surprise at the end of the month when your bill comes. Here are some tips that I follow by when using my credit card. The first thing is to always pay your bill at the end of the month no matter what the circumstances are. Even if your bill may be too high to pay that month at least pay more than your minimum amount to stay away from having a backup of payments. Making a payment plan before each month could be a great deal of help. Another tip may be when spending for things that require a small amount of cash. If you are just going to go pick up a pack of gum or a snack, try to stay away from using your credit card as those will pile up over time. Use cash or look around your car or bedroom for spare change as people sometimes forget that is money too! Also, when using your credit card it is imperative to always keep a close check on your account to make sure you are not maximizing your amount spent. In present time we can now have apps on our smartphones and can check the balance in a mere second. This is important because losing tract of what you are spending can increase the chance of you spending more than what you can pay back. The last tip I have is to find the right credit card for you. Many companies include perks and freebies that you can get by using your credit card. I know from personal experience by just using my credit card for normal day use, I usually get a free flight by the end of the year from points from Delta. Why not get free things when you are already spending the money for the holidays. More gifts for you!

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