The holiday season is upon us, and for many Canadians, that means it’s time to get Christmas shopping. However, due to COVID-19, it’s going to look very different this year. For some, getting out to physically shop isn’t going to happen. Others may be struggling financially right now and looking for more creative ideas for holiday gift-giving. Plus, hopefully, everyone is looking to shop locally and support small businesses this year.
In an effort to reduce some of the holiday shopping stress, we’ve put together our COVID-friendly gift guide.
Buy an At-Home Dinner from a Local Restaurant
For families or friends who are feeling the financial strain right now, the gift of a meal from their favourite restaurant could be a great treat. Most restaurants are doing take-out services, so you can plan a meal for your special someone to enjoy one night. You can either give them a gift card so they can do it themselves or, set aside a specific night and surprise them by telling them not to worry about cooking that evening. Bonus: your friend gets an amazing meal that they haven’t had for a while and you get to help support a local business.
Insider tip: If you’re buying a lot of restaurant gift cards, you might want to consider using the American Express Cobalt® Card. It has a high earn rate of 5X the points for every $1 spent on eligible food and drink purchases. It’s a good reason to add an American Express credit card to your wallet.
If money is tight, you could also cash in your credit card points to buy restaurant gift cards. American Express Membership Rewards have plenty of options when it comes to gift cards for dining and restaurants, including The Keg or the Ultimate Dining Card (covering popular Canadian restaurants like Montana’s, Milestones, and more). However, gift cards tend to have the lowest redemption value when it comes to American Express Membership Rewards points, but if you have the points and need to save your cash, it’s a great choice.
Give A Staycation
Let’s be honest: we’re all sick of staring at the walls in our house. So why treat yourself or a loved one to a staycation at a local hotel? They get a much-needed break in a new environment and you can help boost your local tourism sector.
Tip: if you have a travel credit card, you can even use points to pay for the room and save yourself some cash. For example, if you’re an American Express Membership Rewards collector, you could put 80,000 points towards a swanky stay at the iconic Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. You could go with a hotel gift card instead, although the redemption value isn’t as high. For instance, it’ll cost you 32,500 Membership Rewards points for a $250 Fairmont gift card. You can also cash in on the welcome offer, but a word from the wise: pick a hotel where the nightly cost is of equal or higher value than your credit, as you can only use the credit for one transaction. Got it?
If you hold any American Express Platinum cards, take advantage of the access to the iconic Fine Hotels & Resorts and The Hotel Collection. It comes with a bunch of free perks, such as room upgrades, early check-in/late check-out, a $100 experience credit, free breakfast, and so forth. You can even Pay with Points for all or part of your stay.
Organize a Christmas Stocking Exchange
Christmas stockings are a lot of fun and can allow you to get personal and creative. Plus, if you decide as a group to do a stocking exchange, you can also set a budget. Filling a stocking also provides lots of opportunities to shop and support small local businesses. Think of things like locally made bath products or chocolates. You can also check online small artisan businesses found on Etsy (insider tip: you can change setting to show Canadian artisans).
Another great idea that is especially timely right now is reusable facemasks. Take a look at these fun designs from an Indigenous-owned company.
Create Your Own Gift Basket
If you are looking to do something a bit bigger, why not create your own gift basket? Choose a fun theme that reflects the person’s interests and add a bunch of local or Canadian made options. Fun ideas could include bath and body, coffee and tea, or every beer and wine. Many breweries are also making deliveries to their local areas this year and some even have festive baskets or gift packs pre-made, so keep that in mind as you shop!
Pro-tip: Make money back on your purchases with Ampli – a cash back app in Canada that gives you a percentage of a purchase or a set amount of cash back when buy at participating retailers. There is no fee to download and start earning and you will earn actual cash (not points!) back at participating retailers. Read all the details in our Ampli review.
Put Your Points Towards Something Personal
Most of us collect rewards from our credit cards, but if it’s travel points, chances are many of those points are just sitting around not being used. If you are short on cash but still want to buy something special, then use your points.
For example, with BMO Rewards, you can redeem points towards any purchase made on the card. Whether it’s a video game, jewelry, or clothing, you can pay with points through your online banking. However, you’ll need a BMO rewards credit card to start accumulating BMO Rewards points.
Invest in the Future
Do you have a younger niece, nephew or grandchild on your list that you are really stuck on ideas for? Why not invest in their future by putting a contribution into their RESP? While it may not be a physical gift to unwrap under the tree, helping to decrease the prospect of student debt is a huge help to the younger generation.
Wealthsimple offers RESP options and it takes 5 minutes to open an investing account online. Anyone – grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends – can open an RESP for a child. You do not have to be the child’s parent! You just need to know the child’s Social Insurance Number to create the account. However, make sure to coordinate contributions with the parents and anyone else who may have started an RESP for the child, as there is a lifetime contribution maximum of $50,0000. Additionally, it’s worth strategizing contributions to ensure that you maximize the child’s CESG grants. Read more about how RESPs work.
Donate to a Charity
If someone on your list seems impossible to buy for, then consider making a donation in their name to a worthy charity. After all, Christmas is about kind deeds and helping those in need, not just physical gifts. Plus, save the receipt for tax season: you can claim it as a deduction and get more money back on your tax return!
Plan a Virtual Get-Together
This year has made people struggle with loneliness more than ever – which means that one of the most valuable things you can give during this holiday season is your time. While you may not be able to meet in person, you can still plan a virtual get-together.
One easy (and free) idea is to make a date for an at-home movie night. Netflix parties are a great way to do this. It allows several people to watch the same movie with a dialogue box on the side so you can chat while you watch.
Christmas is a magical time of year and while the pandemic means things will have to be different, that doesn’t mean you can’t still make it special. Taking the personal route and choosing experiences will go a long way right now for people who have felt restricted. Choosing to support small businesses by shopping locally will make you feel good and help the economy.
But don’t forget about yourself either. Holiday shopping is typically hard on the wallet at the best of times and might be even more stressful this year. Credit card points can help a lot right now if available, but don’t feel like you need to spend a lot of money. Set a budget, make something homemade, or offer your time. There are also some smart ways to save on Boxing Day, so you don’t dig yourself into a debt hole.