You don’t need to ditch your trusty cash back card for a shiny new travel rewards card to add fun and excitement to your rewards life. By tweaking the way you think about, manage and redeem your cash back, you can add a spark to your relationship with your cash back card.
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While cardholders love cash back cards, they’ve also got less cachet than the more glamorous travel rewards cards.
But it doesn’t have to be that way: cash back can offer fun, excitement and even travel.
First, let’s face facts: the qualities that make cash back cards so popular – they’re easy, practical and frugal – also can make them seem a bit dull. Issuers allow you to redeem the cash as a statement credit, which may barely register in your mind as a reward.
It’s easy to see why cash back redeemed that way doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as the travel offered by airline miles cards, says David Feldman, an expert on loyalty psychology and behavioral motivation for New World Loyalty Consulting Services.
“At the end of the day, getting a $23 statement credit is not as sexy as the idea of sitting on a tropical beach or flying first-class to Paris,” he says.
But you don’t need to ditch your trusty cash back card for a shiny new travel rewards card to add fun and excitement to your rewards life. By tweaking the way you think about, manage and redeem your cash back, you can add a spark to your relationship with your cash back card.
See related: How cash back credit cards work
9 fun ways to earn and redeem cash back
Rack up cash back for a reason
Taking your rewards for granted will fast track you to cash back boredom. To become more conscious of your cash back and enjoy it more, start with these three simple steps:
- Make a plan for your cash back. Decide ahead of time what you want to get with your cash back. Not sure what you want? Read on for some cool ideas. Planning ahead will help you anticipate end enjoy your reward. “It can be a positive motivator,” Feldman says.
- Create a rewards bank account. Set up a separate checking or savings account just for your cash back, says Riley Adams, CPA and founder of the site Young and the Invested. This will help you keep track of the money, avoid spending it before you reach your goal, and mentally register it as a reward. “It’s kind of like a mental bookmark,” he says.
- Check in on your cash stash. It’s smart to check in on any bank account regularly to make sure everything is in order. Looking at your rewards account from time to time will also help you anticipate and savor the idea of reaching your goal.
Fun ways to earn and redeem cash back
Now that you have the basics in place, here are eight ideas for earning and redemption that can make cash back much more interesting, entertaining and rewarding:
1. Multiply your money
Upping the amount you earn can take cash back from “meh” to “yay!” Make a game of seeing how much money you can earn by stacking cash back rewards and other discounts. Use your cash back credit card to earn the 1-3 percent or more cash back you get from your card issuer.
If your issuer has rotating categories where you can earn 5 percent in some categories, don’t forget to sign up for those. Then use a site like TopCashBack.com or Ebates to get additional cash back when you shop online.
“You can really stack your savings,” says Rebecca Gramuglia, personal finance and shopping expert for TopCashback.com.
2. Buy a cool experience
Some issuers offer the ability to redeem points or miles for “experiences.” But it’s becoming more common for loyalty programs to also offer a cash price for experiences, Feldman says.
For example, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal offers hearthside seating at a prime restaurant for $225 or an off-road adventure in new Land Rover for $850.
Or, you can use your cash back to design your own experience exactly as you wish. You can hire a hot air balloon, buy a bottle of champagne and take your other half for a sunset ride. Or plan a “staycation” with a rooftop dinner and overnight stay at a luxury hotel in your city, Feldman suggests.
See related: How much can you really make with a cash back card?
3. Check an item off your bucket list.
Do you keep a list of activities you want to do during your lifetime? Maybe you scrawl these life plans in a notebook, jot them in an app or use a site like BucketList.org.
You can use your rewards to make one of these dreams, big or small, a reality. Many people have a mix of expensive (ride in a gondola in Venice, float on the Dead Sea, stay in an ice hotel in Sweden) and inexpensive (go on a picnic, try fried Twinkies, go ghost hunting) items on their lists, so you could use even a tiny amount of cash back to accomplish a life goal.
4. Splurge on an item on your wish list.
Cash back is a great way to snag an item you might not ordinarily buy with your hard-earned cash. One example?
“Recently I was eyeing this pair of boots,” Gramuglia says.
The designer boots from Rag & Bone retailed for hundreds of dollars, but she snagged them with cash back when they popped up for sale at a deep discount at Saks OFF 5th.
“It was awesome because they’re a designer, luxury item and they were initially so expensive,” she says.
If you love Amazon, you may be able to link your card to your Amazon account to make it a snap to buy yourself something special, Beverly Harzog, a credit card expert at U.S. News & World Report.
5. Play the stock market.
Cash back can give you some fun money to make investing more of a game. Cardholder Marcia Noyes, who is retired and lives in New Braunfels, Texas, sticks her $400-plus in cash back per year into a “found money” investment account. She then invests the cash into volatile stocks she normally wouldn’t touch.
“I look at it this way: it wasn’t money I earned and I don’t feel bad if the stock goes down,” she says. “However, when it goes up, it can go up really high.”
For example, she invested in a company that develops medical applications. She bought at $550 a share, and it’s gone as high as $920 and is now at $893. Because she used cash back to buy, she can sit back, strap in and enjoy the ups and downs.
“That one has been fun,” she says. “It’s like riding a roller coaster.”
6. Pay for the rest of a vacation.
Travel rewards cardholders may get a vacation for “free” using the points and miles they’ve racked up. That’s great, but the other costs – the meals at beachside restaurants, the Uber rides, the surfing lessons – can all add up quickly. So, consider stacking your cash back with your travel rewards to get a vacation that truly costs next to nothing. That’s what Adams, the CPA and personal finance blogger, is doing for a friend’s wedding in Israel next year. His airline miles paid for his flight, and cash back sitting in his Capital One account covered his share of an Airbnb rental and left $50 left to put toward the wedding gift.
7. Give cash to a good cause.
Many card issuers give you the option to donate your cash back to a charity of your choice through their platform. Another option that may be more fun is to collect your cash back until you hit a certain amount and then pick a charity that allows you to donate for a specific goal.
For example, you can check GlobalGiving.org to find and donate to vetted charities that allow you to plant a tree in Morocco, send a child in India to school for a year or buy a leash, collar and bowl for a rescued therapy dog going home with a U.S. war veteran.
See related: 10 cash back credit card mistakes you need to avoid
8. Spruce up a part of your home.
Do you have an area in your house that you keep meaning to fix up? Maybe you’ve got a sun porch that could use a little love, a bare wall that needs some art or a corner of a bedroom that you want to turn into a reading nook with a comfy chair.
Consider using your cash back to go shopping for items to fix up that part of your home. Every time you relax in your new space, you’ll feel rewarded.
9. Take a trip, or buy yourself something nice
You can even use your cash back card as a travel rewards card by putting your rewards toward your next vacation, Feldman says.
“It doesn’t have to be travel,” he says. “It can be a luxury item, a little extravagance, something to spend on and spoil yourself a little.”