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Tips for maximizing rewards in 2019 with a January spending reset

Summary

The new year is a great time to examine your past spending and plan ahead to boost your rewards earnings in the upcoming months. These tips will help you maximize savings in 2019.

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If you did a lot of spending during the holiday rush, saving more money might top your list of new year’s resolutions. Hitting the pause button on spending temporarily can help you plan your budget and set savings goals for the year ahead.

“The new year is a great time to examine your spending and look at how you can cut costs in key areas,” says New York Times-bestselling author and finance expert Nicole Lapin. “No matter your spending style, step one is setting a budget and step two is figuring out ways to stick to it.”

Your rewards card can help with budgeting in the new year. As you reset spending, consider how you can use your card to earn more points, miles and cash back in the coming months to maximize savings. These tips can help.

See related: Tips from finance experts: ‘If you only do one thing, do this’

1. Review last year’s spending first

“As you look ahead at your budget for the year, take a hard look at where your money went in 2018,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot. “Look for savings opportunities and make note of any anticipated new costs for the year.”

When it comes to reviewing your credit card spending, consider:

  • How much you charged to your card total.
  • Total rewards or cash back earned both altogether and by spending category if your card offers tiered rewards.
  • What purchases you may spend more or less money on in the new year.

This can help you do two things. First, breaking down purchases by category can help you plan your budget categories going forward. More importantly, however, analyzing purchases can help you decide if your rewards card still aligns with your spending habits.

“In order to get maximum value, your credit card needs to fit your lifestyle, and match your personal preferences and spending habits,” says Devika Mathrani, executive vice president, head of marketing for payments, virtual solutions and innovation at Wells Fargo & Co.

Say you spent $10,000 on travel last year, earning miles on every purchase. You plan to halve that for this year’s budget but expect to step up spending on things like gas and groceries. In that scenario, it might make sense to shift more of your spending to a card that offers cash back or points on everyday purchases.

“In order to get maximum value, your credit card needs to fit your lifestyle, and match your personal preferences and spending habits.”

2. Plan purchases around your card’s quarterly bonus categories

Flat-rate cash rewards cards make earning cash back simple, but you could increase your rewards with a card that offers extra quarterly bonuses. Cards that feature a quarterly bonus include:

  • Chase Freedom: Earn 5 percent cash on rotating bonus categories each quarter, up to $1,500 in purchases combined.
  • Discover it® Cash Back: Enroll every quarter to earn 5 percent cash on rotating bonus categories, up to $1,500 in combined purchases quarterly.
  • In order to unlock either bonus, don’t forget to opt in or activate the rotating categories each quarter.
  • U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature: Earn 5 percent cash back on the first $2,000 in eligible net purchases each quarter on two combined categories you choose

Discover recently unveiled its cash back calendar for the coming year. The 5 percent cashback quarterly bonus rotates between groceries; gas, Uber and Lyft purchases; restaurants; and Amazon.com shopping.

Chase Freedom’s categories for the first quarter of 2019 include gas stations, drugstores and tolls.

Knowing your card’s bonus categories can make it easier to target your spending for the year. The key is to remember to activate those bonuses each quarter so you don’t miss out on rewards.

See related: When rotating categories don’t align with your spending habits

3. Factor larger purchases into your spending plans

As you contemplate your new year’s spending, “be sure to consider any major purchases or expenses that you didn’t have last year,” says Skirboll. For example that might include a major home improvement or repair, buying new furniture or appliances or taking the luxury vacation you’ve been planning for.

You’ll need to budget for those items, of course, especially if you’re using a rewards card to pay. While you could earn more rewards with bigger purchases, you’ll have interest charges to contend with if you’re paying the balance off over time.

“It goes without saying that paying your card in full each month is one of the most responsible ways to manage your balance,” says Mathrani. “It also ensures you get the most value from your card’s rewards program as carrying a revolving balance often means you’ll pay interest, negating rewards earned.”

There are two potential work-arounds to the interest issue, aside from paying in full:

If you’re opening a new card, tailor the rewards to where you plan to spend. Look for one that comes with a generous introductory rewards bonus, since you may easily be able to qualify for it if you’re planning a larger purchase.

See related: What is a balance transfer: 9 things you should know about balance transfer cards

4. Look beyond your card to earn rewards and maximize savings

Earning rewards with your card can put money in your pocket but don’t overlook other ways to grab cash back when you spend.

“If you’re not taking advantage of cash back opportunities, you’re quite literally leaving money on the table,” says Skirboll.

Considering how easy it is to earn additional cash back using apps, websites and other tools, there’s no excuse for missing out. Consider adding these apps to your rewards strategy in the new year

For example, Skirboll points out that installing the RetailMeNot Genie browser extension automatically applies discount codes and cash back offers to your card as you shop.

You can also increase your cash back earnings with tools like:

See related: How to stack rewards to save big on purchases

The idea is to stack rewards by using one these apps or tools along with your cash rewards card for purchases. You can save even more money in the new year by pairing them up with discount codes from sites like Savings.com or Promocodes.com.

Card-linked offers are another savings opportunity. These are special offers linked to specific purchases that allow you to earn extra rewards automatically when you spend.

Issuers that feature card-linked offers include American Express via Amex Offers, and Chase via the Chase Offers section on the Chase mobile app.

These methods can work well for saving and doubling up on cash back at retailers and grocery stores. But, you can also add to your rewards total by shopping through restaurant, travel and hotel loyalty programs and their respective shopping portals and apps.

These programs work a little differently, in that you’re earning points (or in the case of some frequent flyer programs, miles) on purchases instead of cash back. The benefit to you is that depending on the program, you can apply those rewards toward free meals, airfare or nights.

Shopping apps and portals associated with loyalty programs you can leverage with your rewards card include:

“If you have a rewards card that gives you a bonus at restaurants or grocery stores, for example, volunteer to pick up the tab and get the rewards points your card offers, then have [your friends] pay you back [with a P2P payment app].”

5. Use the right tools to manage your budget and spending

Starting off the new year with a spending reset and reworking your budget is great, but it’s only effective if you’re able to commit to following it all year-round.

Budgeting apps and software programs can make crunching the numbers less time-consuming and help you keep track of spending. Some of the most popular budgeting tools include:

Some of these apps are free; others require a one-time or monthly fee. They can all help you create a basic budget, although some may come with more extensive features than others.

While you’re looking into budgeting apps, check out savings apps as well. QapitalDigit and Acorns can be linked to your checking account to allow for automatic savings.

They don’t offer rewards when you spend with your debit card instead of your credit card, but they’re an easy way to work toward your savings goals in the new year.

Lapin says a P2P app like Zelle can also be useful and it can help you bank more rewards when you spend with your credit card.

“If you have a rewards card that gives you a bonus at restaurants or grocery stores, for example, volunteer to pick up the tab and get the rewards points your card offers, then have [your friends] pay you back with Zelle,” says Lapin. “The money will be in your bank account before you get your receipt and you can redeem those points for whatever you want.”

Other apps you can use to pick up the tab and get paid back include VenmoPayPal and Google Pay.

 

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