Skip to main content
smart cookies

Over the past few years my family has toned down gift-giving. Our new approach to the holidays is reducing stress and excess spending, and putting the focus on spending time together rather then spending money on one another. Still, there are always a handful of gifts to buy, mostly for the littles ones. For these gifts, I'd rather shop online or at smaller shops closer in my neighborhood. I can't handle the malls in December. Elbowing my way through the crowds, sweating in my puffy winter coat, and picking through messy piles of sale items, isn't my idea of a merry time.

I'm not alone in my choice to shop online. At least 40 per cent of shoppers are expected to do some or all of their holiday shopping online this year, according to eBay. This Sunday, Nov. 27, will be Canada's busiest online shopping day of the year, says eBay, with consumers purchasing 100 gifts per minute through the Internet.

It's likely you'll be using a charge or credit card to make these purchases, and if you're shopping in-store you should consider using the same method of payment.

However, a new CIBC poll says that 65 per cent of us are planning to stay on budget by using cash or debit to cover the majority of our holiday spending. The good news is that most Canadians planning to pay with credit also have a plan to quickly pay off their holiday spending in full. If you can pay your bill in full, then it makes sense to use plastic. The only thing you walk away with is a receipt if you pay cash (likely lost by the time you get home if you're anything like me). Your card on the other hand has perks: additional security if purchases are stolen, lost, or damaged, the ability to track spending, extended warranties on electronics, and, my favourite, collecting reward points while you spend.

Fifteen per cent of Canadians plan to redeem reward points to help cover some of their holiday costs, the CIBC poll found. It's likely more of us could if we knew the kinds of rewards we have. The secret with points or membership rewards though is knowing how to get the most from them. If you're not sure where you stand with your points, or what your credit card offers, simply call the number on the back of the card to see how you can make your rewards go even further this holiday season.

After redeeming charge and credit card points, run through all of your other points cards, like grocery cards, gas cards, and Shoppers Optimum points. You can likely check a few things off your list with these. It's also likely you've got gift cards in your wallet or scattered around your home you can use or swap for a more fitting card. According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, almost 60 per cent of U.S. consumers want gift cards as holiday presents, putting their popularity at an all-time high. Sites like are worth checking out to sell, swap, or buy a gift card at a reduced rate for a store you plan to purchase an item from. I have three gift cards in my wallet valued at more than $300, and thousands of points from various cards.

If you have a hard time keeping track of your points, check out a site like Here you can set up an account and manage your points, miles and rewards, all in one place, so you know you're getting the most out of your loyalty programs. You'll be surprised how far your points can go.

If you fall into the camp of not having a plan to pay off holiday debt, then clearly you shouldn't use your credit card. It's time to revisit your list and make some edits with your festive red pen. Kids make the cut, everyone else should understand. When I was carrying debt I opted out of Secret Santa, and put a stop on gift-exchanges with friends and family. I felt a bit grinchy but it was my reality. In the end, most of my family and friends were actually relieved to drop the gift exchange and get back to a simpler holiday. December should be less about shuffling through the malls with strangers, spending and stressing, and more about having a good time with loved ones, eating, drinking, and laughing.

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her weekly column on managing debt and saving money at's personal finance site.