While it may seem a bit early - especially if you're still basking in the neverending summer heat in Southern Ontario - now is the time that retailers really start thinking about the holidays.

Whether looking at November’s Cyber Monday or the big Christmas push, smart merchants are unleashing their online holiday campaigns earlier than ever to be in a better position to attract new audiences and convert those buyers into customers.

And it seems we’re certainly ready to help. Nationally, consumer spending grew by 5.5% from April to June on a year-over-year basis, according to Moneris Solutions, which processes debit and credit card payments. Those numbers are expected to head higher still.

All of this means more people than ever before will likely be paying for some – if not all – of those Christmas gifts with a credit card. If you’re one of them, here are a few tips to help you spend a bit more wisely during the 2016 holiday season.

Prepare a Detailed Shopping List

One of the best ways to stay on budget this holiday season is to have a shopping list for your gift-giving – just as if you were heading for the grocery store.

If you know what you’re going to buy and for whom, then it’s a lot easier to know what coupons and promotions may be of some value, particularly if you’re using a card to shop online.

The option to insert a coupon or promo code during checkout is a good sign that your favourite e-tailer may be offering big discounts to select customers. Use sites like Retailmenot and RedFlagDeals to help you keep up with their current offerings.

At the same time, making a detailed list and then checking it twice will also help you keep tabs on how much you’re spending on gifts. Use an inexpensive app like My Budget Book to alert you when you may be getting a bit too close to your limit.

Comparison Shop with Your Smartphone

Using your smartphone or tablet while you shop to find the best deal is a must these days, whether you’re browsing at home or price checking in store.

More than 90% of consumers already use their smartphones while shopping in retail stores, according to research from SessionM. While just over half of shoppers use their devices to compare prices, close to 50% search for product information while more than four in 10 check out reviews.

Smartphone apps like Shopsavvy or Purchx are a great way to help you research products, compare prices, and generally make more informed buying decisions during the holiday crunch.

Use Your Cards Prudently

Although services like Apple Pay may be closing the gap, credit cards (particularly when you can “tap and pay”) are still the simplest way to pay for Christmas and other holiday gifts – but use them with caution.

You really have two main ways to go when holiday shopping: cash back (where you get a percentage of your spending back as cash) or rewards (where you earn miles or points that can be exchanged for travel or merchandise).

With no fee, the Tangerine Money-Back Card earns 2% on three spending categories of your choice (and 4% in the first three months), and 1% on everything else, so that may be a good place to start.

But if you’re interested in more exotic rewards, then have a look at the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. It can earn you up to 30,000 bonus points if you sign up prior to December 2, 2016. The earning rate is 1.5 Aeroplan miles for every dollar spent on gas, groceries, drugstore items and at aircanada.com, while you get 1 mile for all other purchases.

Check for Price Protection

If you’re buying a few big-ticket items though, have a closer look at the fine print when it comes to specific card features. Did you know that a few cards will refund you the difference if the price of an item you’ve purchased drops within a specific period of time?

Every issuer is a bit different though. The Aspire Cash Platinum MasterCard, for instance, offers 60-day price protection refunds on certain cards, but limits them to $100 per item and a cumulative $500 per calendar year.

Which items are eligible for price protection? Again, this varies by card provider, but generally the coverage applies to retail items such as clothes, shoes, and electronics. A new car, for example, wouldn’t qualify.

Needless to say, price protection is a great perk year-round, but particularly useful heading into the holiday discount stretch when prices can really move.

Gordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a consulting firm focusing on retirement readiness. Gordon was a columnist for the Globe & Mail and Morningstar for many years and is also currently a columnist for Investment Executive, Canada’s national newspaper for financial advisors.

Latest life insurance articles

10 Myths About Life Insurance Busted – Some May Surprise You
You may be young with no kids and no mortgage. Life insurance is for someone older, who has dependents right? Wrong. Let’s debunk life insurance myths and learn why everyone needs some form of coverage.
Will a Life Insurance Policy Cover Death Due to COVID-19?
Demand for life insurance may be on the rise during the pandemic as more Canadians consider buying a policy or reviewing ones they already have. If you’re thinking of applying for a policy, here are a few things to keep in mind.
How Does Vaping and e-Cigarettes Affect Life Insurance?
Many insurers may classify vaping in the same way they do smoking. If you smoke or vape, you can still qualify for a life insurance premium, but in all likelihood, you will pay a higher rate than someone who does not.