The best rewards credit cards make it easy to earn points or miles for each dollar you spend. All you have to do is sign up for the right card, use it for all your regular purchases, and watch your rewards add up over time.
Some cards even offer big signup bonuses that can be worth $500 or more if you meet a minimum spending requirement within a few months. And while it’s common for credit cards to let you earn cash back or gift cards, many offer travel rewards that can help you save thousands on your next trip.
So, what’s the catch? For the most part, it’s the fact that credit cards are almost too convenient. When you are earning rewards and can wait to pay your bill until the end of the month, it’s far too easy to wind up spending more than you planned. And since the average credit card carries an interest rate over 17% these days, carrying a balance while earning 1-4% back in rewards makes no sense at all.
To get the most out of a rewards credit card, you need to learn to use credit to your advantage and avoid common pitfalls like overspending and credit card debt. Here are some tips that can help.
#1: Don’t Save Your Credit Card Information Online
Most major retailers let you save your credit card information online for convenience. This way, you can easily shop for what you want then submit your order without having to enter your payment information every single time.
While convenience is usually a good thing, this set-up makes it far too easy to fall into the trap of buying things you don’t really need and can’t really afford. After all, these companies want to let you spend big money with barely any thought, which is a recipe for disaster.
We recommend not saving your credit card information in an online profile. That way, you’re forced to dig out your credit card and enter your number manually each time you make a purchase. With this extra time required, you’re more likely to stop and think before you spend.
#2: Only Use Your Rewards Credit Card for Regular Bills
Also remember that you don’t have to use your credit card for all your regular spending, and that limiting card usage to certain bills can help you avoid making impulse purchases. If you’re prone to overspending on regular purchases you make at retail stores, for example, that’s a situation where you may want to leave your card at home.
It can also help to only use your credit card for regular bills you have to pay anyway. Think utility bills, gas for your car, insurance payments, and daycare expenses. These are bills you absolutely have to pay no matter what, so you can use your credit card to cover them then pay off your balances right away. You may even be able to automate the payments, either on the purchase end or by selecting auto-payments on your credit card.
#3: Use a Written Budget or Spending Plan
Using a monthly budget never hurts anyway, but this is especially true if you’re prone to overspending or making too many impulse purchases. A written budget will set limits on how much you can spend within discretionary categories like groceries and dining out, entertainment, and clothing. With this kind of document in force, you’re more likely to know your own boundaries and limits and stop yourself from buying “stuff” and ruining your budget for the month.
Of course, budgets only work if you also track your spending throughout the month to see how much money you have left for food, gas, and other budget considerations. Make sure you’re using a budget and tracking your spending, and you’ll be a lot better off.
#4: Recognize and Prevent Emotional Spending
Are you more likely to overspend if you’ve had a bad day? Do you find yourself shopping online when you’re bored or sad? Both of these activities may be “normal,” but that doesn’t make them any less detrimental to your financial goals.
If you’re an emotional spender, recognizing your issues is the first step to preventing the damage they cause. From there, look for other activities to replace your harmful habits.
If you tend to spend when you’re sad or bored, for example, try exercising instead. You could also play a new game, start reading more books, or simply learn to manage your emotions better without having to fill the void somehow.
#5: Unsubscribe from Newsletters and Mailing Lists
Finally, make sure you’re not setting yourself up for failure and doing things as you have always done them. This means eliminating situations that might cause you to make an impulse purchase for no reason.
This includes unsubscribing from your favorite store’s newsletters and mailers, even if you enjoy receiving them. The best newsletters and email marketing ads are crafted with the sole intention of getting you to stop what you’re doing and spend money, usually with the promise of a discount or special sale.
Saving money with your favorite retailers is always nice, but you don’t need to know every time a store you love offers a new discount code or gets a new shipment of merchandise. In fact, you’re better off not knowing. That way, you’re less likely to buy without thinking.
The Bottom Line
No matter what anyone says, it’s possible to earn rewards and benefit from them without overspending or winding up in credit card debt. The key to making it work is learning to use credit cards to your advantage — instead of in ways that hurt you in the long run.
Eliminating impulse purchases will help you reach your rewards goals without buying stuff you don’t even need. These tips can help, but the desire to make better financial decisions has to come from within.
Editorial Disclaimer: Information in these articles is brought to you by CreditSoup. Banks, issuers, and credit card companies mentioned in the articles do not endorse or guarantee, and are not responsible for, the contents of the articles. The information is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted; however, all credit card information is presented without warranty. Please check the issuer’s website for the most current information.