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How to Find Extra Christmas Cash, for things you’re already doing

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  Also the most expensive.  And the busiest.  But with a little strategy, you can use the busyness to take some bite out of the expense.  How?  By making sure you’re getting the maximum cash back for all the gift-giving, grocery shopping, show-going, dining out, and hosting and visiting you’re squeezing in to the holiday season.

Step 1:  Diversify Your Cash-Back Credit Cards

By now you’re probably getting offers for cash-back credit cards by the handful.  And they keep getting more complicated, with higher rates for spending within certain categories, or at specific stores, or during scheduled times of the year.  And of course, the cards with the best returns for some things tend to have the worst returns for everything else.

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My recommendation:  Leverage all these options with three or four cards, enough to make sure you’re getting a good variety of deals but not so many that keeping track of them becomes a full-time job.  Look for one with a good universal cash-back rate of 2% or more and a few with great cash-back rates of 4% or more in your biggest spending categories or at your most-frequented retailers.  You can put a small sticky note on each one to help you remember which to use when.

Here are a few of the better ones:

The Discover it Card offers a blanket 1 percent cash back on most items, and 5 percent on quarterly categories, like restaurants and Amazon, on up to $1,500 in purchases, which comes out to $75 per quarter.  It has no annual fee and will double all the cash back you earn during your first year.

Capital One’s Savor Rewards Card, designed with foodies in mind, offers 4% back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores, and 1% for everything else.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year.  It is currently offerring a tidy bonus of $500 when you spend $3,000 in your first three months.

The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card gives you 5% back on purchases at — you guessed it! — Amazon, as well as Whole Foods, 2% at restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, and 1% for everything else.  It has no annual fee and, as of this writing, will give you a $70 Amazon gift card as soon as you’re approved.

Step 2:  Sign up for Cash-Back Rewards Programs

Cash back from your card issuer is just the beginning.  There are apps out there that will give you even more back for your spending.  For example:

eBates pays you up to 15% cash back for shopping online, and sometimes in-store, at more than 2,500 retailers as well as for making travel arrangements, so you can take a bite out of those holiday vacation costs.

Dosh pays you up to 10% cash back at thousands of retailers, like fitbit so you can keep those holiday pounds at bay.

ibotta is a popular program that gives back for your day-to-day shopping at hundreds of grocery and drug stores, as well as eBay and more.  Run out of wrapping paper or need supplies for holiday baking?  Look for the best deals on ibotta.

Step 3:  Come Clean with Gift Cards

Does your holiday tidy-up plan include getting rid of that big jar of change?  Coinstar will give you a voucher for a gift card to use at Amazon or Starbucks — without charging a fee.

What about clearing drawers of all those gift cards people gave you from stores where you never shop?  Sign up at Gift Card Granny and find your offers for up to 92% of their value, payable to you via check, ACH, or PayPal.

Merry Christmas!

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