We’re seeing some outsized credit card bonuses at present, some of which have higher minimum spends. Reader Jeff posted on Ask Lucky wondering about his credit card strategy in light of needing to meet the minimum spend requirements.
While the thread itself covers several other topics, I thought I’d address the spending concern, as I think it’s something many of us can relate to. Granted, we’re a very small subset of the population that are looking for more ways to make purchases with credit cards, but sometimes it takes a bit of creativity and careful planning to meet larger spending requirements in the allotted time!
Besides not paying cash for anything (even parking meters if I can help it), what works best for me is to “shift” my spend. Rather than paying bills as they come due, for example, I’ll pay a few months in advance if the vendor takes credit cards. Some actually give a discount for doing so!
This has worked pretty well in our household, so I thought it might be useful to go through a handful of the expenses that I’ve shifted around. Many of you already do this stuff (and more!), so please share other easy tips if you have them.
Rule #1 – Don’t overspend
Before we get started, I think it’s key to remind everyone to be responsible with your credit card use, and with your spending. Don’t over-extend yourself.
Carrying a balance on a rewards card is not only stressful, but the interest can negate the value of the rewards you’re trying to earn.
Many people pay their insurance premiums monthly, but paying car (or pet) insurance ahead of time can be an easy way to goose your spending.
My car insurance provider allows me to pay any amount via credit card. I used to have this on a monthly auto-pay, but have switched to paying six months or a year in advance. That’s an easy ~$2000 a year that I can divide up however I need.
Many power and water companies won’t allow you to pay with a credit card, but most cable, internet, and phone companies will.
When I had Sprint as my cell phone provider I could pay any amount in advance, so we’d often pay for most of the year up front. Now I have Google Fi, which allows you to guesstimate how much data you’ll use and pay in advance if you’d like. Any credits are applied to your following bill, so you could theoretically pay quite a bit in advance.
It’s definitely worth checking to see what the rules are with your assorted providers, as expenses in this category can really add up.
Memberships, subscriptions, and deposits
The yoga studio I like to go to will frequently offer discounts for buying sessions in bulk, and I know many other gyms do the same. Just paying for an extra month or two can help in completing that minimum spend quickly.
You might also be able to make deposits for events, or for some services. A contractor that typically only accepts cash equivalents might take a deposit via credit card, and we were even able to charge the down payment on our car last year to an AmEx.
Some professional fees can be paid before the exact due date as well, and subscriptions can always be renewed a bit early.
Heck, you could even renew your AARP membership!
Definitely ask, as you might be surprised by who is willing to accept credit cards for certain transactions.
Tuition & daycare
This one is very much a YMMV, but if you are paying tuition or daycare (for people or pets!), check and see what the credit card acceptance rules are. I was shocked to find out my husband’s university accepts Visa for no fee, which takes some of the sting out of paying tuition.
We don’t take our dog to daycare much anymore, but when we did we could pay for a bundle of visits at a time. Once they started taking credit cards via Square, that became a great option.
(Speaking of Square, if you have a teenager in your life who babysits, does yard work, etc., set them up with a business and a Square reader. We did that for my nieces, and not only does it make it easier for everyone in the neighborhood to meet their minimum spends, the tips are much better!)
Small business owners are likely familiar with paying their estimated quarterly taxes online, but you can make individual payments as well. There is a fee to use a credit card, so it might not make sense to do this exclusively, but if you typically end up owing a bit in taxes at the end of the year you can certainly make that payment early.
I wouldn’t *short* your withholding, as that can cause other complications, but ask your CPA about making estimated payments, and what amounts could be reasonable for your situation.
This one also depends on your situation, but it could be possible to pay your rent or mortgage via credit card. Given that this is probably the largest monthly expense for many of us, this can be an intriguing option.
Plastiq sends payments to any business, and has been reliable for Travis. My apartment building accepts credit card payments directly.
There’s a fee for this, so it’s not my favorite method, and I’d personally only use it in a pinch, but depending on your circumstances it could make sense for you.
Gift cards for stuff you know you’ll use soon (groceries, fuel, etc.)
Our dog’s food is outrageously expensive, and we’re obviously going to need it, but I don’t want to store six months worth of kibble anywhere near where a labrador might be able to get to it. But a $500 gift card to our local pet store allows us to shift that spend nicely.
And I don’t mind buying $500 in supermarket gift cards to cover groceries for the next month.
Our preferred gas station gives free car wash vouchers when you buy fuel gift cards, so we’ll buy a few hundred dollars worth of gas ahead of time.
You get the idea.
In all of these cases it’s money we budgeted to spend anyway, we’re just time-shifting when we make the purchases. Again, you don’t want to over-extend yourself, or your credit, so you’ll want to leverage these techniques carefully if you have a less-reliable cashflow.
What you don’t want to do is buy a few thousand dollars in Best Buy gift cards and then use that as an excuse to buy a new flatscreen or something. That’s bad for marriage. Of course, if you know you have some big purchases coming up it can make sense to coordinate those with your card applications to ease the spending acrobatics.
You also want to be cautious not to prepay all your expenses “just because you can.” That gives you less flexibility down the road, so I’d only pay as much as you need to in advance.
Any other easy vendors you’ve found that take credit cards?