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The Gift Card Way to Maximize Cash Back/Points

With more and more places/options popping up where we are spending our hard earned/saved cash, the ways to save are also increasing and if you’re an avid points/cashback collector such as myself, you’ll want to know these few tips towards maximizing your returns.

Grocery Stores Are The Jackpot

Given the number of options to choose from, there is an abundance of grocery stores in the US and that means unlimited options to choose from. Plus, it doesn’t cost you additional time wasted trying to get GCs with separate trips.

Home Improvement/Office Supplies Stores

If your card setup optimizes categorical spends at these stores, that’s good too considering the wide array of options to choose from. A few cards, especially business cards such as the Chase Ink Business cards offer 5X on Office Supply store spends which can be great for points collection.

Picking Your Credit Cards

If your goal is to max out the limits (if any) set by the card issuer, you may want to have options available to turn to once they are reached. So lets start from a basic entry level to high end way of cashback/point maximization.

Cashback Maximizing Strategy

You ideally want to plan your card applications/collection in a way that you not only get the most return but also get a well diversified cashback amount.

Great starter cards:

Card Categories Limit
Chase Freedom5% rotating categories: Gas, Groceries, Home Improvement Stores, etc$1500/quarter, post 1%
Chase Freedom Unlimited3% back year one/$20,000, post 1.5%3% upto $20,000 then 1.5%
Citi Double Cash1% when you swipe + 1% when you pay statementNo Limit
Discover IT 5% rotating categories: Gas, Groceries, Restaurants, etc $1500/quarter, post 1%

Do note, since this is only cashback, it’s worth the exact amount you receive so I would not recommend you go out of your way to buy GCs you really won’t be using and it ends up costing you.

VISA/AMEX/Mastercards GCs come with a fee of $5-6 so I wouldn’t recommend you buy those for the Cashback instead buy GCs for places you may go often such as restaurants (Subway, Domino’s, Chili’s, Red Lobster, etc…).

Additionally, the reason I did not include an American Express Card as a starter card is to wait for the 100,000 MR Point Platinum Card offer (use incognito). You will not receive this high sign-up bonus if you are already a member in the AMEX Ecosystem of cards.

Points Maximizing Strategy

The most popular amongst credit card enthusiasts, there are so many ways to earn points quickly if you’re willing to learn and follow the rules.

I’m not going to cover manufactured spending as I do not recommend it – but it is a thing that still is the go-to method by enthusiasts to collect as many points possible quickly.

However, other (and more “appropriate”) ways of getting a lot of points is to follow the same principle as in the case of cashback.

Identify the categories you spend the most across a month or if you have big transactions coming up (insurance renewals, tuition payments with no surcharge using credit cards, taxes, travel, etc…) and start planning accordingly.

For me, I have identified the following areas I end up spending every month (and the card(s) I use:

CategoryCardBonus Rate
GroceriesAMEX Gold4X
GasChase Freedom5X
RestaurantsAMEX Gold 4X
TravelChase Sapphire Reserve3X

If an upcoming transaction does not fall into the first four categories, I see if there is a gift-card for that product/service. For example, if I have amazon purchase coming up, I’ll probably buy an Amazon GC at my next visit to the grocery store and earn that 4X instead of the 5% cashback my Amazon Prime Business Card will give me.

5% Cashback on a $1000 Phone purchase = $50.

4X MR Points on $1000 = 4000 MR Points (worth $80+ when transferred to a travel partner).

In another example, if I wish to go watch a movie at Cinemark and I know there’s a big group of us, I’ll offer to buy tickets (get a Cinemark GC, load it to the amount required) and everyone can send me their share through mobile transfer. Check out the Cash App if you’d like to save money!

If you have spends planned throughout the year and can afford the liquidity, you may open a new credit card and buy a VISA/Mastercard/AMEX Giftcard and that way you hit your minimum spend faster. Just be sure to space out your applications and how you meet your minimum spends. Additionally, many Bank’s have rules which you need to be weary of.

Chase 5/24 Rule (read more here)

AMEX Lifetime Rule (One time sign-up bonus in a lifetime)

Lot Of Work?

Admittedly it is but if you don’t waste time over it, then why not do it. If you specifically go out of your way to earn more points, then it may not necessarily be worth your time. At the end of the day, it’s all about how valuable your time is and how accessible is everything to you.

Since I learnt all these tips and tricks when I was a student, I don’t have to waste time is learning anything as I am already upto date. Now that I have started a job, I don’t get a lot of time to sit and potentially learn all that I did earlier. Hence, do it if you see a value that makes your time spent worth it.

Examples of Gift Cards

Listing a few examples:

  • Amazon
  • Target
  • VISA/MasterCard/AMEX
  • Subway
  • Chili’s
  • Home Depot
  • Best Buy
  • eBay
  • Barnes & Noble
  • etc…

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