Are you Credit Card Optimized?

Not that long ago we released our podcast episode on Canadian credit cards. It got me thinking about my own strategy for harvesting cash back points. Like Chess, I need to go on the offense. Why was I only using one card? Surely I could increase my cash back potential. We agonize about how to slash investing fees and increase returns, so why not optimize our credit cards too? But could I juggle multiple cards, remember which one to use and keep on top of all the payments?

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As I mentioned in the episode, I switched to the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite* Card* earlier this year. I bank with TD and this card is included with my account, so no annual fee and we get a free card for Mrs. Money Mechanic. Bonus! This card has all the usual insurance coverage and has excellent cash back on Gas and Groceries at 3% respectively (FI Garage bonus points for you if you buy gift cards at the grocery store). Unfortunately, it only distributes 1% on all other purchases. Hmmm, maybe we can do better than that!

Enter the next contender…

From reviews within the FI community and our own research, we found that the Rogers World Elite MasterCard comes with a nice suite of extra coverage, 4% cash back on foreign currency transactions, 2% on Rogers ‘eligible’ products, and a nice 1.75% cash back on EVERYTHING else. All for no annual fee. Application sent!

Well, that’s a pretty nice increase over the TD 1% in the big picture. The .75% will add up over the long run, but will it be worth it for the additional ‘work’ on my part to manage the account? Just how much more could we harvest on all the non gas and grocery spending? Which for all FI seekers is just a quick spreadsheet away, right? Now, where did I put that?

There are a couple of other perks that definitely make the Rogers Mastercard worth keeping in our wallets. There is no annual fee and we get a second card included. We can also use it at Costco and get some cash back from those trips too. I also connected this card to my PayTM app so that I can use it to pay bills that usually don’t let you use a credit card. Utilities, etc.

One complaint I have with this card is how the online account info is displayed. It is very simplistic, just showing a balance owing and a list of transactions. I tend to pay several times a month, so I like to see a running total of transactions including payments and rewards redemption’s along with a running balance.

Now we’re really optimizing…

Almost. 1.75% is pretty good, but hey, what’s this? The Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card* is a no-fee card that pays 2% on up to 3 spending categories!! Clickity clack, enter enter. Off goes another credit card application. These are the days I love being on the path to FI and having dialed-in finances and a good credit score.

Right, the Tangerine Mastercard, also no annual fee, lets you choose 3 categories for 2% cash back. I chose, Restaurants, Hotels, and Home Improvement. There are 7 other categories, but these made the most sense for our spending. We travel and eat out a lot for work, so this is a nice way of collecting some ‘free’ cash. I know I mentioned already about the grocery store gift card hack, but I just don’t always have them in hand, and I go to LOTS of different hardware stores. Sometimes just for fun.

How are we doing now?

Okay, let’s put this all together with some realistic spending estimates. These are our real numbers from a 4 month period earlier this year and multiplied by 3 to get a rough annual spend.

GasGroceryEating
Out
Hard-
ware
HotelMiscTotal
Total
Spending
$6500$9000$6000$2500$9000$36000$69000
TD
rewards
$195$270$60$25$90$360$1000
RogersN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A$630N/A
TangerineN/AN/A$120$50$180N/AN/A
Cash
Increase
SameSame+$60+$25+$90+$270$1445

The first thing you should notice is…

Sweet maple bacon doughnuts!!! Those guys aren’t very Mustachian!! Just keep in mind that $30,000 +/- of that is business travel/cost that we are reimbursed for. But hey, someone else pays and that’s free cash rewards for us thank you very much.

More importantly, you will notice the original cash back was around $1000 when we were just using the TD card. By making life a little more complicated I’ve managed to generate an extra $445 in cash rewards by adding the Rogers and Tangerine cards. This also brings my total cash back percentage to 2.1%. Nice. So if it takes me an extra 30 minutes a month to keep up with the additional accounts, I’m getting paid $74/hour for the hassle. Not too shabby.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…

Why isn’t Money Mechanic using the awesomest card of them all? The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite*. Rated as one of the top cards in Canada, there definitely are some nice rewards to be had including: 4% on groceries, but only 2% on gas and 1% on everything else. However, it also comes with a $120 annual fee (waived the first year). So, if we exchange the Scotia for the TD and run the numbers, it’s only a net gain of $25. It’s not nothing, but that’s just not worth the hassle for me. I think we’ll call it a tie on this one.

Caveats…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that everyone rush out and apply for 3 credit cards and come up with strategic spending plans to optimize your cash back rewards. Okay, I am sort of doing that. But what I mean is, make sure you are a DISCIPLINED, MINDFUL spender who has mastered the control of your finances like a unicycle rider on a tightrope. We absolutely NEVER, NEVER, NEVER want to pay any interest on our credit cards. How does that saying go, “YOUR DEBT IS NOT SOMETHING YOU “WORK ON”. IT IS A HUGE, FLAMING EMERGENCY!!!” MMM.

Furthermore, your spending is going to be different than mine. Make sure you analyze where you can make best use of the points or cash back offered by different cards. Spend a few minutes on Ratehub.ca or Credit Card Genius they both have great search and comparison tools for you to find the ideal card for your needs. It just might be worth $445 dollars you didn’t know you were missing.

But I do like free money…

Yup, it’s pretty much free. I keep 3 credit cards in my wallet, spend mindfully, choose the card wisely, and stay on top of the accounts and payments. It’s just that easy. Oh, that’s one thing I didn’t mention. I have to get Mrs. Money Mechanic up to speed on all the spending categories and when to use each card…that might take a few beers in the FI Garage.

Are you Credit Card optimized? Can I improve my returns?

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About the Author: Money Mechanic

The Money Mechanic is a 40 something 50% of his way to FI. Active in the FI/RE community. He is passionate about personal finance and educating others and sharing the tools you need on the path to Financial Independence in Canada.

2 Comments

  1. What a great chart. I nearly fell of my chair reading your annual expenses but I quickly settled down once I saw they’re combined with business expenses.

    I’m seeing only a $43.75 difference by using the Tangerine card over the Rogers. I’m not sure that’s enough of a difference due to Tangerine’s limit to 3 categories but I respect your decision to hyper optimize. I’d choose a simpler path and ditch Tangerine (the cc, not the chequing account which is quite good!

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