On my journey towards financial independence, I’ve tried all kinds of things to increase my income and decrease my spending. One thing I have done for many years is use credit cards. I’ve never been charged interest as I’ve never carried a balance (i.e. I pay off the balance in full every month), and I’ve used credit cards with a long 0% interest period to help me earn more interest on my savings. Earlier this year, I decided to try and earn a different kind of currency: air miles. Airline credit cards have been around for years, so this article isn’t about getting one. It’s about how to spend enough to trigger the bonus when you don’t spend much in the first place. If you’re a regular reader of The Financial Diet, there’s a good chance you’re frugal or on your way to being more frugal to reach your personal finance goals. It’s great to be frugal and something to be proud of. However, it can sometimes work against you when you’re trying to spend enough on a credit card within a fixed period to earn rewards. I must emphasize that using these types of credit cards only work if you spend less than you earn already, so you won’t be tempted to overspend in order to get the reward. They also should only be used when you have cleared your consumer debt. Adding another form of borrowing into the mix when you’re already in debt is not a smart move.
The card I have will earn me 22,000 British Airways air miles, but only if I spend £2,000 (around $2,600) in the first 90 days of having the card. The key to hitting your bonus without compromising on your frugality or spending more than you normally would is to consider your annual expenses. Since I’ve tracked my spending for 15 years, I know what my regular and irregular expenses are. I also know when I need to make big purchases, so I timed my credit card application to align with my bigger spend months. Here is how I’m going about racking up points and rewards without overspending.
1. One-off big(ish) expenses
If you’re frugal, there’s a good chance you use your possessions for many years until they’ve officially worn out. For me, I’d not replaced my bed sheets and towels in a decade, my black work pumps for four years, my winter coat for six years, and my running shoes for four years (I know that last one is pretty bad). However, there are things I need to replace throughout the year such as my mascara (I go for one from Estee Lauder which is usually $30 each time), sunscreen ($40 as I have to get a physical one for sensitive skin). I also pay around $170 every six weeks for my Japanese classes — one of my more expensive luxuries.
Since I knew these items would need to last me a long time, their price tag is higher and usually three to four times more expensive than lower quality, more disposable items. Just recently month I spent around $500 on replacing items that were on their last legs.
2. Refundable expenses
As a tennis umpire, I work at some tournaments where my transport costs are fully refunded. Since I know where I’ll be working as an umpire until the end of 2018, I can book my train tickets to travel throughout England to tournaments now and claim the money back later. This would work well if you spend money to travel with work, and if they don’t force you to use the company credit card. This month I spent around $180 alone on refundable expenses.
3. Travel expenses
I visit my parents in the town where I grew up which is a train journey away and usually costs me around $25 each time. Booking my journeys for the next few months also helps me ensure I go home regularly. I also go abroad a few times a year anyway, and since I book a few months ahead normally, it makes sense to help get to my spending requirement on my credit card whilst booking a trip.
4. Gift cards
This is the ultimate credit card bonus trigger hack. I know where I shop regularly for groceries and online items. Since I also know how much I spend roughly throughout the year, I can accurately predict the amount that is in line with my normal spending. When I’m near the deadline, I take the remaining amount I need to spend and buy gift cards for grocery stores and Amazon.
5. Typical shopping expenses
I’ve used cash back websites for many years and luckily, I’m able to use them while trying to get to my spending limit, so even though I spent around $90 replacing my running shoes, I’ll be getting around 10% of that back through a cashback website. I won’t be getting the cashback for several months, but it still means I’m maximizing my opportunity to spend less while hitting the spending limit I need to earn my credit card bonus.
Thinking about the bigger picture, what will 22,000 air miles really get me? Since I already have lots of miles from work travel in years gone by, I have a balance that I’ll be adding to, so while the 22,000 air miles alone may only get me a few discounted flights throughout Europe from London (where I live), the total balance will enable me to fly business class internationally on the return leg of trips. I’ve never flown business class but have always wanted to. That said, I’m not entirely sure whether I’ll use the air miles any time soon. On my path to financial independence, I want to travel, but I also want to travel once I’ve retired early (currently on track for my early 40s), so these air miles could come in handy then, too. As a personal finance enthusiast, I’m always looking to experiment with different ways of earning rewards, but only if it makes financial sense. I’ve had a cash back credit card for many years, so decided that this year would be a good time to see what this air miles craze is all about. I picked this card as it has no fees for year one, but there’s a good chance I’ll be canceling it at the end of the year before the fees kick in, and I’ll sign up for my next rewards card.
Maureen writes on personal finance for millennials. In 2017, she released her first book: Your Money, Your 20s. Since releasing her book, she has written several online courses on money management and investing. She is a big fan of index funds and started investing in the stock market aged 22. Since then she has invested in peer-to-peer lending, renewable energy, and crowdcube businesses. You can read more of her work at The Life-Life Balance.
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