Avoiding Spend Creep – How to Responsibly Benefit from Amazing Offers
Earlier in the year, I shared my story of travel lifestyle creep and how I now avoid it. In the past, my increasingly luxurious travel habits didn’t provide a like amount of satisfaction. I came face to face with the law of diminishing marginal utility with my travel style. With all of the “good stuff” in this hobby – free points, miles, money, luxury flights, hotel rooms, and sometimes actual stuff – our expectations and habits can easily get away from us. I know those have for me in the past. The pandemic has poured jet fuel on the points and miles earning fire recently. Banks have announced huge bonus spend rates and welcome offers; consumers’ earning expectations have likewise seemed to increase. I’ve grown more concerned with this form of spend creep, where hobbyists potentially spend much more than practical to get the most out of every elevated points- and miles-earning opportunity. Let’s first look at a few examples of our current age of earning; I’ll then share options for avoiding spend creep.
Huge Earning Offers Abound
Credit card issuers are tempting many of us to kickstart our spending in a variety of ways. Here are just a few examples, in no particular order:
- Chase Freedom Flex Welcome Offer: Earn 5x Ultimate Rewards on all grocery store spend up to $12k in the first year, in addition to the $200 bonus after $500 spend.
- American Express Platinum Welcome Offer: Earn 10x Membership Rewards points on all grocery store and gas station spend up to $15k in the first 6 months, in addition to 75k/100k/125k with minimum spend.
- Citi Spending Offers: Get 5% back on online spend up to $500 in the 24-30 November 2020 timeframe. I (and many of you) have this offer across all Citi card accounts.
- Amazon Amex Offer: Earn 8 bonus Membership Rewards points on Amazon spend, up to 3k bonus points through 31 Dec 2020.
- Uber Eats Amex Offer: Earn 9 bonus Membership Rewards points on all Uber Eats spend, up to 1,800 bonus points through 31 Dec 2020.
These are just a few examples. The common theme? Credit card issuers want you to spend a lot of money on their cards NOW. Do they care about any near- or long-term effects this large spending will have on you? No, of course not. Therefore, it’s incumbent on all of us to behave responsibly as we earn points while avoiding spend creep. Of course, this is always true, but especially now in the face of persistent, ridiculously-high point earning opportunities. How can we do so?
Options For Responsibly Earning at High Rates
Everyone can easily focus on moving spend to bonus categories. For example, instead of earning at low rates with a variety of retailers (electronics stores, department stores, clothiers, streaming services, bookstores, etc) on normal spending, simply buy the retailer gift cards at the grocery store. This creates an extra step to obtain the gift card at the grocery, but you avoid the extra spend to obtain the grocery bonus. On top of that, you can earn fuel points with many grocery store chains, turning a basic, unbonused purchase into 5x-10x point earning and cheaper gas.
Time Shifting Spend
You can use the strategy of time shifting spend to meet significant minimum spend requirements for certain cards’ welcome offers. You can similarly “pay ahead” to increase spend during current time-sensitive bonus earning timeframes. Again, merchant gift cards can be your friend here across grocery stores, Amazon, and other bonus categories. One of my favorite moves is to simply buy a gift card for our normal grocery store when a time-sensitive bonus comes around that we wouldn’t otherwise meet. I’m not spending more long-term, since I’m paying ahead for groceries we would buy, anyway.
Of course, do your homework on the terms and conditions to ensure what you purchase qualifies for bonus spending. And obviously, be careful on pushing too hard with any one method or item. Of course, everyone should be cautious (or at least consider the potential consequences) with buying Visa Gift Cards during these promos, as well.
Some in the hobby pursue reselling as a primary option to increase their credit card spend. Indeed, many earn huge rewards from doing so. A bit of reselling work can easily meet bonus limits. Do consider the time, effort, and expertise needed to be made whole here. For these (and other) reasons, I’ve not yet significantly pursued reselling. But to those of you interested in the option, many earning opportunities exist.
Periodic Reality Checks
I’m a firm believer that we all should step back now and then to ensure what we are doing in the hobby makes sense. At times, I (and many of you, probably) have overly focused on the details and nuances of a certain offer while ignoring the big picture.
For instance, I added the Uber Eats offer to one of my Amex Gold cards. After taking into account the 4x Gold Membership Rewards points earning on dining spend plus the 9 bonus points, that’s 13x. Great, right? Not so fast. Uber Eats prices are generally inflated across the board. Also, depending where you would order from, you could simply buy a discounted restaurant gift card that is a much better deal than 13x Membership Rewards points. And while I try to spend exactly or very close to my $15 monthly Amex Platinum Uber Eats credit, I can set my Gold card with the 13x offer as the card to charge for any minor overage, if necessary.
Another Example: I added that 8x Amazon Amex Offer to my Blue Business Plus, reflecting 10x total earning. I value this as a 12.5% return (with Schwab cashout). However, the various card issuers offer excellent “spend with points” offers, where you can spend as low as one point and save 10-40% on your Amazon order. Or I can routinely save 12.3% on Amazon (and many other) gift cards via fuel rewards. And that’s not even taking into account normal credit card rewards or other angles. Read how I easily save 22.3% on Amazon here.
A Generous Helping of Perspective
I will now don my Captain Obvious cape. You don’t need to take advantage of the entire offer limit to gain great value from it. Let’s consider the above Citi offer. Someone gets 5% back regardless if he/she spends $1 or $500. What benefit is there to spending up to the $500 limit, if it can lead to negatives, like rationalizing unnecessarily purchases, clutter, or financial hardship? Instead, one can take a step back and think “Gee, I’m glad I saved 5% off that $20 purchase” and move on.
Another consideration has to do with the current trends in the credit card rewards hobby. In the past, I’ve caught myself saying “this can’t go higher”, when a given rate then inevitably does. There will always be more offers or bonus rates. How they are packaged may look different, but great deals will continue.
Finally, I like to remember this is a hobby. Many like to call it a game. Either way, it should be fun. In my view, earning and using points to achieve my goals brings joy, no matter the amount I earn.
Avoiding Spend Creep – Conclusion
I’ll keep a cool head while responsibly taking advantage of a few of these offers. I probably won’t spend up to the offer limits, but I don’t need to. But I can also appreciate that many out there hit the max on everything and have great methods for doing so. Bravo to you all! We can all find comfortable levels of spend with the variety of offers. Plan accordingly to determine your level. What strategies do you use to resist spend creep during this age of huge offers?