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Money-saving tips for hosting family for the holidays

STAMFORD, CT - NOVEMBER 24: Central American immigrants and their families pray before Thanksgiving dinner on November 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut. Family and friends, some of them U.S. citizens, others on work visas and some undocumented immigrants came together in an apartment to celebrate the American holiday with turkey and Latin American dishes. They expressed concern with the results of the U.S. Presidential election of president-elect Donald Trump, some saying their U.S.-born children fear the possibilty their parents will be deported after Trump's inauguration. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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.

Author: Rebecca Lake

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.

5 money-saving tips when hosting family for the holidays

  1. Create a budget for holiday spending
  2. Match holiday budget categories to the right rewards card
  3. Take advantage of Q4 rotating category bonuses
  4. Scrutinize retail store rewards cards closely
  5. 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:

If you need cash back on groceries and gas, you might try:

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

If you have the Discover it® Cash Back or Chase Freedom 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 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.

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