“We don’t spend enough to churn credit cards.” If this is you, congrats! Not spending enough to rapidly rack up rewards is a great problem to have.
Despite maintaining fairly low living expenses, we’ve always used at least once credit card in order to benefit from its rewards. We’ve earned many free plane tickets and hotel stays through credit card rewards, all without paying a penny in credit card interest. But only in the last year have we tried “churning” credit cards to increase the number of rewards we earn.
Credit card churning refers to opening one or more credit card accounts, spending enough to get the rewards, and then moving on to the next card. Many cards offer the largest bonus to new members, often after spending a minimum amount within a given period.
Disclaimer: we hope this site helps you manage your money wisely and credit card debt is a dangerous snare. Please don’t use credit cards unless you know you can do so responsibly, without paying interest. Of course you shouldn’t buy things you can’t afford. But you also need to have emergency savings in place to use credit. Otherwise, you’re one emergency away from falling into the vicious cycle of consumer debt.
Obviously it doesn’t pay to spend extra to earn the rewards. But if you can reap rewards simply by paying your normal living costs, why not? We only churn one card at a time. We’re not going to accumulate enough points for a jaunt to Europe any time soon, but rewards do help defray our less glamorous travel costs.
We’ve earned rewards from cards such as Marriott Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and PNC Points Visa. Below are our strategies for meeting the minimum spend as a frugal churner. Some require you to “buy ahead” by making purchases you will definitely use in the future. This tactic won’t allow you to churn cards indefinitely. You can’t artificially inflate your spending forever and still save money through the rewards. However, if you are trying to earn a specific reward, such as free plane tickets for an upcoming trip, it’s worthwhile to meet that minimum in ways that fit your low-cost lifestyle.
1. Buy gift cards that can be used for your normal expenses. Think grocery stores, gas stations, or other retail stores you may frequent, like Target. We’ve purchased discounted gift cards on eBay.
2. Stock up on staples and household goods. Buy extra staples like pasta, rice, beans, sauces, or canned goods. Stock your freezer with meat or frozen vegetables that are on sale. Stock up on toiletries, cleaning supplies, paper products, or other household items you’ll definitely use.
3. Build an emergency supply kit. If you’ve been putting off creating an emergency supply kit, meet that minimum spend by stocking up on first aid supplies, canned goods, candles, and other items recommended on this supply list.
4. Shop at ALDI! You may have heard that last week, ALDI started accepting credit cards nationally. They are expanding and building more stores, so if you don’t have one near you, maybe you will within the next few years. Although I’m used to using my debit card there, if I need to meet a minimum spend I will absolutely use a credit card, since ALDI is where I do the majority of my routine shopping.
5. Charge business travel to the card. If you book work travel on a personal credit card, sign up for a new card before your next trip.
6. Time churning with travel. Before booking a trip, open a new card to earn travel rewards. Once you earn those rewards, open a new card to cover any additional expenses before and during the trip. Since you’ll spend more than normal on a vacation, it’s a great time to start accruing your next round of incentives.
7. Time with other big expenses. It makes sense to open a card before funding a major home or car repair, remodeling project, or if you’re anticipating other major expenses.
8. Buy gifts. What gifts will you need for upcoming weddings, birthdays, showers, or other special occasions? Instead waiting until the week before to purchase the gifts, buy them ahead of time. And stock up on cards and wrapping supplies at the same time.
9. Contribute to a charity. The vast majority of our charitable giving comes from our checking account, but when we wanted to give to a special cause recently, we used the card instead. Don’t get me wrong—credit card rewards are not a good motivation for giving to charitable causes. But if you’re planning to make a donation anyway and online credit card payment is an option, it’s a good way to meet that minimum.
10. Choose cards carefully. Select cards that offer rewards you actually plan to use. What good are free plane tickets if you don’t want to fly? Also, some cards offer incentives without a minimum spend. Other cards have lower minimums that will be easier to meet. Find the offers that make sense for you.
Ultimately, if you have low expenses, you don’t need a ton of rewards. You are able to fund your lifestyle, and any rewards you receive are icing on the cake. We’ve found a happy medium of enjoying a certain travel rewards without devoting much time to churning, and without inflating our spending.
Do you churn credit cards? What other ways can frugal churners meet the minimum spending?