There are some years you rack up significant points, miles and other card rewards - and just don't have the chance to use them. That can pay off huge at the holidays. Pore over the offerings of your rewards programs to see what your options are. You may be able to convert points or miles to gift cards you could use to purchase gifts for the folks on your list. You may be able to shop directly from a rewards catalog. Or, if you're getting cash back, see if you can craft a holiday budget that matches up with that amount. (And note, the same tactic works with all those gift cards you've received but haven't used. Redeem them for loot for the folks on your holiday list.) If you don't have enough reward points this year, consider consolidating all of your purchases onto a reward charge or credit card that you pay off monthly, of course to build that rewards pool for the next holiday season.
One of the best money saving tactics that has emerged in recent years is "layering" the combining of money-saving measures. This means taking charge and credit card rewards and combining them with coupons and other promotions. So if you do nab that $400 TV, try layering on coupons, promo codes and even paying part of the cost with reward points. You can save hundreds of dollars.
Give an experience.
For the people in your life that seem to have everything, purchasing yet another vase can feel ho-hum. Think about giving an experience instead: go-carting, cooking lessons, massages, anything you believe would produce a story for the recipient to relate. Why? Because while things tend to pale over time, experiences get better every time we talk about them. Experiences don't need to cost a bundle, either. A spa manicure for a friend who's up to her eyeballs in work (or diapers). That's huge - and under $30.
If you're looking to save money, talk to your siblings, cousins, or even friends about doing a group gift for someone. The iPad 2 may be outside your price range, but divided amongst your seven cousins, it suddenly becomes reasonable -- and Grandma (who can then FaceTime with each and every one of you) will be thrilled.
By now, even style icons and celebrities have been known to pair a $40 dress with expensive pumps or a designer bag. Mixing high-and-low cost items is in style right now, and you can use the same technique when buying an outfit for the fashionista in your life. Find an affordable sweater then use online holiday deals to go big (at small prices) on a pair of boots, and you'll have a high-fashion look for low prices.
However you do your holiday shopping this year, just remember: set a budget, make a shopping list, and stick to both. And have a happy and healthy holiday season!
About Jean Chatzky
Jean Chatzky is an award winning personal finance expert and bestselling author. Jean's just published title, NOT YOUR PARENTS' MONEY BOOK: Making, Saving and Spending Your OWN Money, addresses exactly what kids want and need to know about money. Other recent books from Jean include: MONEY 911, PAY IT DOWN!, THE DIFFERENCE and MAKE MONEY NOT EXCUSES. Jean appears on television is a columnist for the NY Daily News and her articles have appeared in publications including USA WEEKEND, NEWSWEEK and MONEY. Jean lives in Westchester County, New York with her husband and two children, and is a passionate advocate for financial literacy who believes every child should learn about money both in school and at home. Learn more about Jean at www.jeanchatzky.com.