Have you ever made big plans that would have been great except you completely failed on the execution? Maybe back in January you joined a new gym, bought new workout clothes, and even started drinking kale smoothies, but you forgot to, you know, workout? It happens. It’s even worse when your intent is to save money, but the result is that you end up spending even more.
I’m talking about the articles you read in popular “personal finance” magazines that feature credit card hacks to upgrade flights, secure free hotels, or even pay for entire vacations. The articles highlight which credit cards to sign up for and how their benefits accumulate, usually through points or miles. But here’s the thing—to earn points you have to spend money.
Now, if it’s money you will spend anyway, then that is absolutely fine. I get cash rewards on my personal card all the time, and I have paid for two flights this summer with points from my business card. So I totally get it. But you have to be aware of the psychology that goes into your purchases. Do not justify a purchase by thinking about the points you will earn. In other words, don’t spend a dollar to save a nickel—you’re still out 95 cents.
But if you have accumulated rewards by using a credit card for regular purchases, make sure you actually use them. According to a recent Harris poll, while 58% of Americans think it is financially prudent to use credit cards “points,” only 15% have actually used them to help pay for a trip. So it sounds like a lot of people are racking up rewards that they never even use.
And if you were spending money with rewards as some kind of justification, then the illusion of saving by spending should be completely busted by now, especially if you are part of the 14% of Americans who have used their credit card to finance a trip they couldn’t pay off before their next billing cycle. The penalties and interest you will incur far outweigh any benefit you may have been seeking.
I’m not going to preach against credit cards because I use them every day. They are extremely convenient and provide a layer of protection against fraud. But do not fall prey to the false psychology of “building rewards.” It’s just a euphemism for spending money.
Josh Norris is an Investment Advisory Representative of LeFleur Financial. Josh can be reached at josh@LeFleurFinancial.com.