Extra credit: How to save 1, 2, 3 percent or more on online purchases
Little-known fact: If you shop online you can often get 1 percent - and many times much more - back on your purchases simply by shopping via a portal sponsored by your credit card company. All it takes is a couple of additional clicks of the mouse.
The bonus dollars are in addition to whatever you earn if your credit card offers cash back or another rewards program.
Not using the shopping sites is essentially throwing money away. I've made a number of large purchases this year, and have pulled in hundreds of dollars in extra rewards.
Here's how it works. Before I make an online purchase, I check the shopping portals sponsored by the credit cards I use - Chase Visa and Citi Card. More often than not, the retailer I'm interested in - from Anthropologie (7 percent at Citi Card) to Zale's (2 percent at Chase) - will be listed.
Say I want to order something from JC Penney using my Citi Card. I sign into the Citi Bonus Cash Center using the password I've set up for my account, then scroll down to the JC Penney link. I click on that, and it directs me to the regular JC Penney website. But by entering the site through the Citi Bonus Cash Center, I'll earn an extra 4 percent cash back on my purchase, in addition to the 1 percent cash rebate the card gives me on all purchases.
At Chase, the shopping portal is called Chase Ultimate Rewards. Other credit card companies offer similar earning opportunities. Go to your card's website and search for "more ways to earn."
I also use the American Airlines shopping portal, AAdvantage eShopping, since I can earn air miles no matter which credit card I use - a bank-issued card or a store-issued card (that's where I shop when I'm using my Banana Republic card). And if you aren't affiliated with any of the credit cards I've mentioned or with any of the airline sites, check out Big Y supermarkets. Silver Savings Club members who shop via its Big Y Marketplace earn points that can be redeemed on Big Y purchases.
There are hundreds of retailers listed at each website, but the mix changes often, and varies by card company. Get the best deal by bookmarking the sites and comparing them before you place an order.