After receiving an email notification about some “free money” I had just earned, I felt compelled to write this post.
As outlined on the “Cool Tools” page of this blog…Many credit card companies offer rewards (miles, cash back, points, etc.) on purchases we make. Their major goal: Quite literally, to “trick us” into racking up balances on our credit cards so that we pay hefty interest-related fees. The bank’s profit motive.
We can play their game to OUR advantage – if, and only if, we are highly disciplined.
For those with demonstrated discipline, read on and enjoy the free money.
Our approach is to flow ALL of our purchases (I mean EVERYTHING possible) through our “cash back” credit card. This includes, but is not limited to: groceries, gasoline, cell phone bill, gym membership, heating oil, Netflix, auto insurance, college books, etc. However, there are a few caveats that we will not compromise on:
- We will NOT do business with a credit card company that charges an annual fee. There are no-fee cards offering cash back rewards (one is suggested below).
- We will NEVER pay interest. That is, we MUST pay the entire balance off each and every month — on time, absolutely no exceptions.
- We don’t use the card when there is an additional fee imposed on us, by the merchant we are doing business with.
The overriding principle: We shall NOT pay an added expense for the use of money.
We’ve used the Upromise card for years. The “basic” cash back reward is 1%, higher for certain purchases defined in their agreement. They happen to offer a program which funnels our cash back rewards into a 529 plan (a tax free continuing education investment account with Vanguard). This kills 2 birds with a single stone: A painless way to earn “free money” on purchases we were going to make anyway AND we are investing in our children’s college education.
Some may ask “What is the point? 1% is so very little.” Certainly, taken alone and only considering the “free money” earned on a monthly basis it isn’t much. Or is it…As demonstrated in prior posts, when we ONLY look at the individual / monthly occurrence of an example (to save or earn) it doesn’t seem like much. We’ll again use the X (value earned, in this case, on a monthly basis) times 12 (months) times 10 (years) formula to see how we are doing with this example.
Let’s say that the typical monthly household expenses we channel through our credit card averages $2,000. The cash back reward is $20. Running this through our formula we earn $2,400 over 10 years. For some this number is on the conservative side and it doesn’t even consider other (non-monthly) expenses that could flow through the card (clothing, auto maintenance and repair, the extraction of wisdom teeth, etc.). And, we need not stop here: what about business expenses?
The point (made in several posts) is that, we can take many “seemingly” small steps to earn (raise the bridge) or save on costs (lower the water) towards our financial freedom. Take any one of these examples by themselves, considering only a single (monthly) occurrence, and they may not “seem” like much. Take them all in their entirety, considering the 10-year timeframe and now we are creating momentum!
Would you leave $2,400 “on the table?” I wouldn’t.
As a reminder, for those lacking the discipline to bring their credit card balance to zero every month: “Please don’t try this at home!” For those with discipline: enjoy some free money!