Some finance nerds carry 50+ credit cards, obsessed with squeezing every single reward point out of airlines/hotels/stores as they can. It’s exhausting! And it requires a ton of hassle which can often outweigh the benefits. So, we’ve created a MUCH easier credit card strategy!
With only 3 credit cards, we believe most people can achieve 95% of rewards and cash back programs for their typical spending…
The propriety How To Money Credit Card Optimization Strategy involves only these 3 cards:
We’ll cover all the deets in this post, but first a quick word about credit responsibility…
Should you even use credit cards?
Credit cards are one of those polarizing subjects in the world of personal finance. Some personal finance advocates loathe them. Others sing their praises.
Here’s the thing. There’s no need for such intense divisions on this subject! Credit cards are neither angel nor demon. They’re just tools.
If you use credit cards properly, they can benefit you. If you use them poorly, they’ll impede your financial progress in a meaningful way. It’s just like a kitchen knife. That blade is a tool that can be used effectively to slice your fruits and veggies. But you can seriously injure yourself if you don’t take care and learn how to use a knife safely!
A knife is a tool. So is your credit card. Use them both wisely.
Now that we’ve established the reality that credit cards can be a tool that you can wield effectively, it’s crucial to talk about how to optimize your credit card strategy.
Let’s Simplify Your Credit Card Strategy
There are some folks around the internet who discuss the benefits of credit cards ad nauseam. Heck, our friend Brian Kelly started a very successful site called The Points Guy that teaches folks how to optimize their credit card strategy. It’s fascinating. And potentially lucrative. But trust me, this rabbit hole can get pretty deep.
What if you aren’t interested in scouring message boards for the newest tips? What if you don’t want to be forced to create a spreadsheet to keep up with your new credit card obsession?
Enter the HTM Super Chill Credit Card Optimization Strategy. It’s a 3-card approach that takes extreme complexity out of the equation, allowing you to nab the lowest hanging credit card reward fruits with very little effort.
Card #1: American Express Blue Cash Preferred
The #1 piece of plastic in your arsenal is the American Express Blue Cash Preferred.
Why? Because rewards are based on spending that almost every single person is doing anyway! This card offers 6% back at the grocery store and 6% back on streaming services too. Who among us doesn’t eat food and watch Netflix!?
How it works: A family of four could easily max out the 6% reward this card offers by spending $6000 on groceries over the course of the year. That alone would equate to $360 in cash back. Make sure to pay for all your streaming (Netflix, HBO, Disney +, etc) with this card too since you’ll get 6% back on those expenses as well. This card also offers 3% cash back at gas stations. So you might want to use it for that purpose too.
It’s important to mention that this card comes with a $95 annual fee (waived for the first year though!) Fortunately, the rewards for most users will far outweigh that annual fee. The AmEx Blue Cash Preferred also currently comes with a $250 sign-up bonus when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months. That’s a sweet bonus!
The bottom line: If you, like most Americans, are feeling the pain of higher costs at the grocery store, the rewards that this card prioritizes can ease that pain a little. It’s a lynchpin card to have at your disposal.
Card #2: Citi Custom Cash Card
The next card you’ll want to open if you’re implementing our proprietary credit card optimization strategy is the Citi Custom Cash Card.
This card is great for one thing, and one thing only. And that is for spending in whichever category you spend the most in every single month.
How it works: The Citi Custom cash Card will give you 5% rewards in any one category where you spend the most money in a given month.
It doesn’t have to be the same category month in and month out. But given the paltry 1% reward you’ll get on any other spending you do, using this credit card like a ninja means using it in only one area.
Which category you choose should depend on where you spend money. If your eating out budget is substantial, this card would be a great choice to pay for those dining excursions. If you’re into home improvement projects, use it at The Home Depot and Lowes. But again, pick just one category to prioritize.
The bottom line: No other card in existence offers you 5% cash back on the category of your choosing. The flexibility of the Citi Custom Cash Card to nab elevated rewards on your favorite category sets this one apart and deserves inclusion in your credit card optimization strategy.
Card #3: Citi Double Cash Card
And the third card you’ll want to include in your strategy is a 2% cash back card for all of your other spending. It’s the Citi Double Cash Card. (Another very similar option we recommend is the Fidelity Rewards Visa)
How it works: The Citi Double Cash is the perfect for catch-all spending and will ensure that you are earning at least double the paltry 1% that other cards offer as standard.
That’s pretty cool! And it gives you the cash back rewards in the form of a statement credit, check, or direct deposit when you pay your bill on time each month.
An additional perk is that the Citi Double Cash comes with an additional $200 sign-up bonus right now when you spend $1500 in the first six months. Given the fact that this card has no annual fee, that’s a strong value proposition!
The bottom line: Both the Citi Double Cash or the Fidelity Rewards Visa are cash back gems that make a perfect third card that will round out your optimization strategy incredibly well.
Going Beyond our Super Chill Credit Card Strategy
Again, the credit card strategy we’re proposing here is all about simplicity. There are dozens upon dozens of credit cards that you could choose from. But this uncomplicated approach will allow you to reap most of the benefits of credit card usage without going overboard.
If you choose to go further, make sure to stay organized with the cards you open, the payments that need to be made, and the rewards that you earn. Added complexity can push you to make bad decisions. Make sure you set up automatic payments for the full statement amount each month so you aren’t paying interest and fees to the credit card company. And stay on top of your rewards balances so they don’t languish either!
A couple of cards that are worth mentioning:
- The Bilt Mastercard (for paying rent)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (best all-round travel card).
The Bilt Mastercard is literally the only credit card on the market that allows you to earn rewards for paying rent. There’s no annual fee on this card either. It offers other perks like cell phone insurance and trip insurance too. This is a clear frontrunner for card #4 if you’re a renter and want to optimize even further. We’ve written a full Bilt Mastercard Review here.
As for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, this sit at the top of our list for the best travel rewards cards. Why? The sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 over the course of the first three months is strong. That’s $750 worth of value when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Optimization Without Overdoing It
Hopefully our 3-card optimization strategy will allow you to amass meaningful cash back on the spending you’re already doing.
Your new shiny AmEx is for using at the grocery store, for streaming, and filling your tank. Use your Citi Custom Cash card for your next biggest spending category. And after that, having the Citi Double Cash or Fidelity Visa helps you snag the elevated cash back reward of 2% for every other purchase you make.
Don’t forget, credit cards are just a tool. They aren’t inherently good or bad. They won’t impoverish you unless you use them foolishly. And while credit card rewards can be nice, they won’t make you rich. Earning more, being frugal, and investing the difference is what will allow you to build wealth over the years.
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