New Zealanders spent about $4.6 billion on their debit and credit cards in December, up about 3.4%, or $150 million, on 2010.
Gains on the Paymark network were led by a 9.2% increase in discretionary spending, including clothing and footwear and growth in the building and home improvements sector, up 5% for the month.
Paymark, which processes 75% of the nation's electronic transactions, said spending growth was strongest in Palmerston North with a 7.7% rise.
South Canterbury followed on 6.5%, while weak annual growth rates were recorded in Canterbury on -0.9% and Marlborough on -0.8%
"2011 was a tough year for retailers, with all kinds of local and global factors affecting business," said Ben Robinson, a Paymark spokesman.
"It is encouraging to see a bit of positivity with higher discretionary spending in the latter part of the year.
"Signs of more discretionary spending bode well for the future even if the trend is patchy across sectors and across regions at present."
Debit cards remained the dominate payment type in 2011, with 701 million transactions despite the overall growth rate slowing to 3.6%.
Credit card's surpassed debit card usage in December accelerating 0.7% from 0.2% in the same month of 2010.