Friday, April 17, 2015

Wallet Status Update - Starters

Well, it's mid-April so thought we'd do a quick status check on what credit cards we're currently using and which ones we closed down when the annual fee came due.

Since it's also the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, I thought we'd discuss this in terms of baseball rosters.

My father's wallet really only holds 4 credit cards. It's not practical to have more than that in your starting rotation.

Here's our list:

1. Chase Freedom - Since we're in the middle of Q2, we get 5x on restaurant spending. We eat out more than most Americans, so we definitely want to maximize our earnings by using our Freedom Visas. Since my mother also has her own Freedom, we can actually spend $3,000 (April 1 - June 30) on restaurants and earn 5x. However, the entire point of this "game" is NOT to overspend, so we don't plant to maximize the full spend. But when my father does pick up a sandwich for lunch at work, he'll pull out the Freedom card.

If for some odd reason we did spend more than $1,000 a month on restaurants/fast food, then we still have the Discover IT cards which also give 5x on eating out. However, since we value 1 Chase UR point = 2 cents and a Discover Mile at 1 cent, we'd rather earn Chase UR points using our Freedom card first.

We use Chase UR points to transfer to (a) United Airlines for international trips in business class or (b) Hyatt Hotels for aspirational stays at destination Park Hyatts or Andaz resorts.

2. Citi Thank You Preferred - My father had read that by calling up to threaten to cancel ask nicely, Citi may give you a special limited time promotion on this no-fee card where you can earn an extra 2x points on all your spending. So on regular non-bonused spend where we normally get 1x (insurance payments, doctor co-pays, shopping), we use our Citi Thank You and will earn 3x with the bonus.

We use Citi Thank You points as "currency" by redeeming them for domestic United Airline flights at 1.25 cents/point by booking through Citi's Thank You Travel portal. These "purchases" are seen as paid flights, so we also earn additional United miles on these flights.

3. Amex Starwood - This card actually is normally ahead of #2 Citi above, but during this Citi promotional period. However, to keep track of our limited manufactured spending, we put most of those purchases on this Amex card and keep the Citi for regular purchases (for now).

We use Starwood points for hotel stays when we go on our trips. While many people find compelling uses besides Starwood hotel redemptions (i.e., transfer to airlines at 1.25x ratio), we stick with the simple plan of using it to offset our hotel budget - like at our upcoming 5 night stay at the Westin Lagunamar in Cancun. The best part is, Starwood hotel award redemptions get stay credit to allow us to re-qualify for SPG Platinum status year after year.

4. Fairway Gift Card - The other largest monthly spend in our family (besides housing) is definitely groceries. Last quarter (Jan 1 - March 31), the Chase Freedom cards had the 5x bonus on grocery spending. Now again, we had 2 Freedom cards, so that was 5x on up to $3,000 of total grocery spending until March 31. However, we definitely do not go through $1,000/mo on groceries since we're a small family of 3.

However, I was ABSOLUTELY positive that we will eventually spend $3,000 in groceries sometime over the next 12 months. So my father had the idea to "pre-purchase" our groceries during the 5x promotional period by buying Fairway gift cards to maximize the $3,000 maximum spend during the Q1 period. So in mid-March, we estimated how much we already spent on groceries, and then bought another $1,800 of gift cards to use after March 31.

By maximizing the full bonus, we'll have earned 15,000 Chase UR points which we value at $300 (2 cents/UR point). Had we not gone the gift card route, we'd have only earned 6,000 Chase UR points ($120 in value back), then earned a lower bonus on the next $1,800 of grocery spend.

So while we technically "spent more" during Q1, we're 100% positive that these gift cards will get used since groceries are a staple of any family's monthly budget. Of course, now the trick is to convince my father that we don't need to burn the gift card  balances on overly expensive cuts of steak or fancy gourmet cheeses that we wouldn't normally buy.

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