Friday, July 19, 2019
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How to take advantage of credit card bonus categories to earn millions of points and miles

We’ve all seen this – companies like American Express and Chase offering dozens and dozens of credit cards, each with a different rewards system. Earn 2 bonus points on travel! Get 3% cash back at restaurants! Receive 5 miles for buying groceries! Being a shrewd ninja, you try to maximize your earning potential as much as possible. Maybe you even have a bunch of credit cards, using specific ones that gives you the best rewards for a certain category. It gets pretty complicated juggling all your cards and remembering which earns what.

But… what if I tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way? That there are advance ninjas out there earning millions of points and miles every month? This isn’t new. A small group of people who understand how the system works have been doing it for years. I’m one of them.

In the last three months alone, I’ve earned almost 1,000,000 points with American Express and Chase:

Chase Ultimate Rewards balance
American Express Membership Rewards balance

The secret is to let your brain get a little creative and think outside of the box. A popular option for many is manufactured spending (something that some card issuers frown upon), but if you want to do it organically, here’s an example to get your creative juices flowing.

I have a credit card that normally earns 1 point for every dollar I spend, but it gives me 5 points for purchases at “office supply stores” like Staples and Office Depot. At first glance, it doesn’t sound too exciting. I mean, how much can people spend at Staples?!? I’m not a teacher, there’s only a limited amount of Five Star notebooks and Bic pens I need in life.

Well, it just so happens that most of these stores have a rack section that sells gift cards. Remember, ANYTHING you buy at office supply stores qualifies for the 5 bonus points. Gift cards are included as well.

Gift card rack at Staples

Have a Netflix subscription? Instead of paying Netflix directly and earning only 1 point per dollar, I can buy a Netflix gift card and pay my own account off, earning 5 points instead. Need to fill up your car with gas? Don’t do it at the gas station! Buy a Shell gift card and use it to pay next time you need to refill your tank. Flying somewhere? Buy a Southwest gift card to pay for your next flight home!

You get the picture. All of this really adds up over time.

Still, this may not earn you the millions of points you’re craving. Let’s increase our ninja brain power up another level! You may have noticed that these stores also sell Visa and Mastercard-branded gift cards. They work exactly like cash. So why not buy them, earn the bonus points, and use the Visa/Mastercard gift cards for everyday purchases?

Visa gift cards at Staples
  1. Go to an office supply store
  2. Buy a $500 Visa/Mastercard gift card, earning 2,500 points ($500 x 5 bonus points per dollar)
  3. Use the $500 Visa/Mastercard gift card everywhere you would have normally spent with your credit card
  4. Once the gift card is used up, go to the office supply store and repeat steps above
Chase bonus points earned at office supply stores

Ninjas-in-training, this strategy essentially gives you a permanent bonus anywhere you shop! You might as well throw out your credit card’s earning structure out the window. Although the card I’m using above is not available for new sign-ups, there are many credit cards out there that have bonus categories, so the underlying technique is the same:

  • Use a credit card that gives bonus cash/points/miles for certain categories
  • Find out if those categories have something you can take advantage of
  • Earn rewards a lot faster than you normally would
  • KA-CHING – enjoy your ninja lifestyle

Some ninjas have scaled this to size or mix this up with a little manufactured spending. There are top-tier ninjas out there who generate millions of points every month. Others do it to gain a few more thousand than they would otherwise. A lot of people are also somewhere in between.

What other creative ways have you thought of?

How much should you have in your 401(k)?

Having a 401(k) account is one of the most powerful retirement assets one can have, but the reality is that most people are not saving enough in it. Far from it. In fact, Americans as a whole are in a lot of trouble. According to the Economic Policy Institute, almost half of us don’t have ANY retirement savings. Zero. Zip. Zilch. With pensions following the Dodo bird into extinction and the future of Social Security up in the air, having enough for the future rests more in our hands.

So how much should you have by the time you are 30, 40, or 50? We’re going to base our numbers on a few assumptions:

  • You started working full-time after college at 24 years old
  • Your family makes $61,372 a year – the median household income
  • You contributed $19,000 a year to your 401k – the maximum IRS limit
  • Your company matches the typical amount, which is around 3% of your contributions
  • The stock market returns an average of 7% a year

Here’s what that looks like by the time you’re 60:

Holy ninja warrior multi-millionaire! How does $19,000 a year come out to $4,806,643??? It’s a thing called compounding – let your money make you more money. You leave it alone on autopilot and let it do its job, all while you meditate in your dojo. It adds up, slowly at first, but over time it’s on money-making steroids. As you can see from the chart below, you’re only investing $875,329 over the entire 36 years. The rest of $4,806,643 is from stock market gains and the beauty of compounding:

Nice huh? The biggest obstacle most of us will face in life is how to manage money correctly. Psychologically, it’s hard for people to save for a future seemingly so far away when they can use that money for instant pleasure now. It’s nice to take a vacation to an exotic island or buy that car you’ve been drooling at forever. As a reader of The Money Ninja, I will teach you how to have the best of both worlds.

How are you compared to your age? Is it realistic or are your odds better of being struck by lightning twice?

Welcome!

So after many years of sitting on The Money Ninja domain and social media accounts, I have finally slashed away (ninja-style) the inertia and formally launch the blog! Although this is not the first blog I have ventured into, I am truly passionate and excited about this one!

Personal finance has always been an obsession of mine. I created my first company when I was still a teenager, traded my first stock as soon as I turned 18, and looked for ways to make and save money for as long as I can remember. Along the way, numerous friends and family have benefited from my advice, which was what spearheaded this idea for a blog in the first place.

Whether you are making $50,000 or $100,000 or $250,000 – join me as I dispense advice and strategies on how to maximize your finances. You will make more of it, save it better, and spend it in ways you wish you had ages ago!

In the meantime, feel free to email me with any suggestions for blog posts at john@themoneyninja.com.

Let’s do it, ninja style!