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Simple hacks to tackle your holiday bills and save money

Financial advisor and Select contributor Kristin Merrick shared shopping hacks with the TODAY show.

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Money Made Easy: Tips to help save you save on holiday shopping
VIDEO4:2304:23
Money Made Easy: Tips to help save you save on holiday shopping

Today, we're launching a new series: Money Made Easy, where we focus on simple ways to manage your finances and save money. CNBC Select Contributor and financial advisor Kristin Merrick walks us through her best tips and tricks for saving while shopping during the holiday season.

Check out the full interview featured on TODAY in the video above and read on to see some of Merrick's best tips.

Create a strategy for how you'll shop

It goes without saying that a budget will be a key part of your holiday shopping strategy since it can help you determine how much money you can comfortably spend on gifts and other items.

"I like a strategy or a game plan, like a good old fashioned checklist," Merrick says. "Who you are buying gifts for? What else are you doing this season? Are you throwing a party, are you hosting? Put it all on a list and assign actual dollar amounts [to each]. Add it all up and if it's too much money then we have to start cutting things."

Keeping a budget in mind will ensure you don't end up overspending on unexpected costs since every purchase can add up quicker than you think.

Have a plan for how you'll pay

It's also a good idea to determine the best method for paying for items ahead of holiday shopping. Shoppers pretty much have four main payment options: cash, debit cards, credit cards, or buy-now-pay-later. Each option comes with their own set of pros and cons.

"One of the hacks I'm recommending this year is to use good old fashioned cash," Merrick says. Specifically, she recommends using the "cash in the envelope method" to simultaneously budget your money and have a way to pay.

Additionally, once your cash envelope is empty, you'll know you've maxed out your budget. As Merrick put it, when you're out of cash, you're out of cash.

Credit cards are a very popular way to pay for items year-round since many of them carry a variety of rewards and offers. However, using credit cards for holiday shopping can be particularly powerful since you'll be making purchases you needed to make anyway and earning rewards for it.

"My recommendation for credit cards is always the same, which is that you should only use your credit card if you are a responsible credit cardholder who can pay it back in-full each month, because that is how you can reap rewards from your credit cards."

There are credit cards that offer things like discounts to retailers, travel credits, return protection, purchase protection, cash back and points.

According to Merrick, a good cash back credit card might earn you between 2% and 6% cash back on your purchases. Typically, the cash back can be redeemed as statement credit, which you can then use to make a payment toward your credit card bill.

Select ranked the Chase Freedom Unlimited® as the best cash back credit card since it carries no annual fee and new cardholders earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back! Cardholders earn 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants (including takeout and eligible delivery service), and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.The Chase Freedom Flex® is another solid choice since the welcome bonus allows new cardholders to earn a $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

On Chase's secure site
  • Rewards

    Enjoy 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery services, 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, our premier rewards program that lets you redeem rewards for cash back, travel, gift cards and more; and 3% cash back on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

  • Welcome bonus

    INTRO OFFER: Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    20.49% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • Member FDIC. Terms apply.

Chase Freedom Flex®

  • Rewards

    5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate (then 1%), 5% cash back on travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3% on drugstore purchases and on dining (including takeout and eligible delivery services), 1% cash back on all other purchases

  • Welcome bonus

    Earn a $100 bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 5% cash back on grocery store purchases (excluding Target® and Walmart®) on up to $12,000 spent in the first year.

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers

  • Regular APR

    20.49% - 29.24% variable

  • Balance transfer fee

    Intro fee of either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater, on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that, either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

  • Member FDIC. Terms apply. Information about the Chase Freedom Flex® has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Credit cards that offer a 0% intro APR period are advantageous for holiday shopping since you have a certain amount of time to pay off the balance without having to pay interest. Just make sure you make at least the minimum payments on time or you could lose that 0% intro interest rate. Select ranked some of the best 0% APR cards below:

Wells Fargo Reflect® Card

On Wells Fargo's secure site
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers.

  • Regular APR

    18.24%, 24.74%, or 29.99% Variable APR

  • Balance transfer fee

    5%, min: $5

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees. Terms apply.

U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card

Information about the U.S. Bank Visa® Platinum Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.
  • Rewards

    None

  • Welcome bonus

    None

  • Annual fee

    $0

  • Intro APR

    0% for the first 18 billing cycles on balance transfers and purchases

  • Regular APR

    18.74% - 29.74% (Variable)

  • Balance transfer fee

    An introductory fee of either 3% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater, for balances transferred within 60 days of account opening. After that, either 5% of the amount of each transfer or $5 minimum, whichever is greater

  • Foreign transaction fee

    3%

  • Credit needed

    Excellent/Good

See rates and fees. Terms apply.

To avoid accidentally making a late or missed payment, take a set-it-and-forget-it approach by setting up autopay so you don't have to remember to manually make a payment.

Lastly, buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) platforms can also be a tool shoppers use to manage their spending. Essentially, when shoppers make a purchase, they can split up the total into a number of smaller, equal fixed payments on a certain schedule. This is meant to make it feel more affordable. However, keep in mind that you're borrowing money that you'll need to eventually pay back in-full. Be award that some BNPL platforms may charge interest or late payment fees, so make sure you read the terms before agreeing to use the service.

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Bottom line

The financial component can make holiday shopping feel extra stressful, but shoppers can take a few important steps to get ahead of the overwhelm without breaking the bank. Merrick recommends creating a strategy for what you're shopping for and then making a budget. She also suggests ways to use cash, credit cards and BNPL platforms to shop responsibly this season.

Of course, shoppers should remember to take caution when using payment methods like a credit card or BNPL platforms since they are spending money they may not have and it must all be paid back eventually.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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