Many folks look forward to the holidays and the generosity it invokes. While it's critical to set a holiday spending budget and stick to it, if you are going to plunk down a substantial amount of cash on gifts this season, it pays to get a little something out of that holiday shopping in return.

Last year, U.S. consumers spent an estimated $929 apiece, on average, during the holidays, so if you're looking at a similar number this season, you'll want to approach your shopping strategically. Here are three ways to capitalize.

1. Find a generous rewards credit card and charge your purchases

Some people shy away from using credit cards during the holidays because they lack self-control and don't want to risk racking up debt. But if you're smart about using a credit card, you'll benefit big time by charging your purchases rather than paying for them in cash. This especially holds true if you sign up for a credit card with a generous cash-back rewards program. This way, you'll snag free money for the things you were planning to buy already.

Woman carrying lots of shopping bags

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

One card you might consider this season is the Bank of America® Cash Rewards card, which offers a $150 cash-back bonus if you make $500 in purchases during your first 90 days as a cardholder. If you're planning to spend that much -- which most of us are -- this deal is really a no-brainer.

Another option to look at is the Discover it®-Cashback Match™ card, which, in addition to 1% back on regular purchases, offers 5% cash back for rotating bonus categories that change every quarter. Both cards come with a 0% introductory APR and don't charge an annual fee, so it pays to give them a whirl.

2. Get money back (or miles) for travel

When you budget for holiday spending, it's not just gifts you need to plan for; if you're traveling this season, you'll need to account for expenses like airfare and lodging, too. We all know that travel prices tend to get inflated during peak periods such as the holidays, so if you'll be spending a small fortune on travel this season, it pays to use a credit card that'll reward you for it.

One card to consider is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® credit card, which gives you double points for every dollar you spend on travel and dining. There's also the Capital One® Venture® Rewards credit card, which offers a 50,000 miles sign-up bonus and double miles per dollar charged.

3. Double up on rewards

As a means of enticing shoppers, some retailers offer store cash when your purchases reach a certain level. For example, you might get $10 in store cash from a certain retailer to use in the future for every $30 you spend during the holidays.

In that scenario, it doesn't pay to spend an extra $8 if your purchase only comes to $22. But if you reach that $30 threshold by virtue of what you were already planning to buy, then it's an easy way to accumulate some free store cash. But here's the best part: If you use a rewards credit card to pay for that purchase, you'll get money back to use at the store plus cash back for charging that purchase. Talk about a win-win.

No matter how much you're planning to spend this upcoming holiday season, be sure to approach your shopping strategically to get the most bang for your buck. Stalk the sales, comparison shop for the best prices out there, and, for the love of your budget, make a list and stick to it.

Your goal should be to shower your loved ones with thoughtful gifts without going overboard. And with any luck, you'll snag some neat rewards for yourself in the process.

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