As you all who have been following our journey know, Brad and I recently embarked on our second
sprinter camper van conversion. This is the latest of a stream of fairly significant capital outlays for our
family. In the summer of 2019, we did our first camper van conversion, and I took the girls to all 50 US
states. In the spring of 2019, we did a lot of updates to our house including adding floor-to-ceiling built-
ins. And there were others before that (typically in two-year cycles, which works well with this strategy).
Whenever we have planned significant capital outlays that deviate from our normal budget, I am always
looking for ways to save as much money as possible in the process. Over the years, I have mapped out a
strategy that we employ anytime we have a large capital expense to essentially make as much money
back as possible from spending money. I wanted to share my how to make money when spending
money strategy with you all. We just finished our van build and our final tally for money back on the
build was 15.4% (this does not include savings we may have incurred from using coupon codes or sales,
which we also always try to find and use, so overall I am sure we saved even more than that).
As a side note, as goes with anything related to finances, I am not a financial planner or tax accountant,
so take my techniques with a grain of salt. We do utilize leverage (debt) in our household, so these
strategies may not be a good fit for everybody.
So how did we do it? A combination of taking careful advantage of welcome bonuses on new credit
cards, ongoing cash back incentives on credit cards, and Kroger fuel points. I’m going to map out exactly
what I did on this latest big spend to illustrate how we used each of these categories to our advantage.
Remember that utilizing credit cards can have varying impact on your credit score and financial position,
so do your homework first to see if this methodology is a good fit for you.
For baseline, our original budget for the camper van build was $10,000. You can read all the details of
our camper van build here. We ended up splurging on high end window coverings for all the windows in
the van bringing our cost to around $11,575. However, we accumulated about $1,785 in cash back
incentives, so we ended up still coming in under budget at $9,800. Now as a side note we
already had the $10,000 cash set aside to do this project and could have very easily paid cash instead of
using cards. I do not recommend employing any of these strategies if you are unable to pay off the
credit card balances in full each month. Trust me, we’ve been there done that in the past, and its not
smart. You’ll end up losing all the money you saved plus some in interest expenses.
Okay, so the first thing I did, knowing that we had a $10,000 budget, was to map out which new credit
cards were offering welcome bonuses and the best combination of them to get to a $10,000 spend. The
key for me is which ones have the best spend vs. welcome bonus trade off. For instance, a card that
offers a $200 welcome bonus after spending $1,000 is better to me than a card that offers a $300
welcome bonus after spending $2,000 because I will have more leftover spend to apply to other cards,
unless they all add up to well below my spend goal, in which case I would add in the higher cash back
because I know I am going to spend it anyways.
Another tip is that if you are married or have a partner, then apply for credit cards separately. Brad and I
always keep our credit card accounts separate and will often both apply for the same card to each take
advantage of the deal.
Now it’s important to note that opening credit cards affects your credit score. And also, credit card
companies aren’t going to let you open a million credit cards all at once. That pattern of behaviors
mimics credit card fraud (when someone steals your identity to open a bunch of cards and spend as
much on them as they can before getting caught) and is just risky in general. So, I only recommend doing
this if you aren’t needing your credit report pulled for something serious (like purchasing a car or home
or refinancing) in the next year or two. And then you also need to plan out exactly which few are the
best to get because you probably won’t be able to open any more than 2-3. Also, you probably won’t be
able to get more than one from each provider (Chase, Capital One, Discover, etc.) so take that into
consideration when you apply for the cards. This is an article that I found helpful when planning out
which to apply for and the timing of my applications.
We ended up opening three cards (each, so we got to get six welcome bonuses).
Chase Freedom Flex = $200 after spending $500 and 5% on groceries! (this is a refer a friend link ツ)
Bank of America Cash Rewards Card = $200 after spending $1,000 and 3% on category of choice
American Express Blue Cash Everyday Card = $150 after spending $2,000 plus 20% cash back at Amazon for first 6 months (this is a refer a friend link ツ)
= Total Cash Back x2 = $1,100 for spending $7,000
Notice that the total spend on these cards was well under the $10,000 we planned to spend, so I knew I
could easily meet all the spend requirements to earn the welcome bonus as well as use some of our
existing cards for their cash back percentages. I could have also tried to open another card, but decided not to press our luck. Also I never pick cards with annual fees. All of these cards have no annual fee.
Not only did we choose cards for their welcome bonuses, but we were very methodical in how we used
our cards (existing and new) to maximize their ongoing cash back incentives. This is a more common,
perpetual benefit that credit card users use to cash back on everything they buy.
Almost everything from our build came from one of two places: Amazon and Home Depot. Because we
shop at these locations often, we already had their cards in our arsenal.
The Amazon card is an absolute must if you shop regularly on Amazon. They offer 5% cash back on all
Amazon purchases, which is significantly higher than standard cash back percentages. The cash back
that accumulates is available at every statement run and can automatically be applied anytime in your
Amazon cart to reduce your purchase totals (or used to lower your statement balance or sent as cash to your bank account). So moral of the story is that if you shop on Amazon often, go ahead and get their
card. It is 1000% worth it! Also, it is serviced through Chase, so I can access that card in the same place as my Chase Freedom Flex. There were a lot of terrible reviews of the card on Amazon’s website, but I have had a very good, seamless experience with it.
The Chase Freedom Flex offered 5% cashback at grocery stores, which was also really high! Now we didn’t buy parts for our build at the grocery store, but you can see how we still utilized it in the section below. And then the Bank of America card let you pick a category for 3% cashback and we choose hardware stores for that. So we had a lot of high percentage cashback options.
Another card that I love (and we already had) is the PayPal Mastercard. It offers 2% cash back across the
board. It also accumulates your cash back and makes it available instantly, which I love! I used to use a
cash back card that only gave you your accumulated cash back once a year. Anytime I can log into PayPal
and transfer my accumulated cash back to my PayPal balance. I highly recommend this card as well! So,
for spend that wasn’t required to meet the welcome bonus and didn’t fit into the higher category or
store specific cash back percentages, I charged it to the PayPal Mastercard. This is especially usual for third-party vendors that don’t fall into typical spending categories.
Your spending needs may be different, so shop around for which cards give you the highest cash back
for the type of spending you will be doing.
Gift Cards at Kroger
And my final, favorite hack for making money while spending money is taking advantage of Kroger’s (or
your local grocer’s) fuel point incentives. This is my favorite hack because I use it all the time to convert
cash to digital money. We do not have a local back, so anytime I happen upon a sum of cash, I have to
figure out a creative way to use it. But you can also take advantage of this deal if you don’t have cash.
And it’s also my favorite hack for maximizing a 5% grocery cash back offer across the board.
So, at the end of every month, Kroger offers a special that you will get 4x the fuel points on gift cards.
Normally you get 1 fuel point for every $1 spent. But during this special you will get 4 fuel points for
every $1 you spend. Once you accumulate 100 fuel points, you can get $0.10 per gallon of gas up to 35
gallons. So, if you buy $250 in gift cards, you can get $1 off per gallon up to 35 gallons (we always try to
max out the gallons on these visits) so essentially $35 saved or 14% cash back.
Now if you don’t have cash laying around, you can also do this by buying the gift cards with your credit
card. And because it will show up as Kroger, if you use your Chase Freedom Flex, then you will get 5% cash back no matter what kind of gift card you are buying bringing your total cash back on this hack to 19%. Just note that you will not get the cashback then when you actually use the gift card; you got it on the front end.
So, to summarize my plan of spending taking all of that into consideration was in the following order.
1st: $2,000 on American Express at Amazon = 20% cashback on first $750 ($150) and then 1% cashback on remainder and $150 bonus
2nd: $2,000 on American Express at Amazon = 20% cashback on first $750 ($150) and then 1% cashback on remainder and $150 bonus
3rd: $1,000 on Bank of America at Home Depot = 3% cashback and $200 bonus
4th: $1,000 on Bank of America at Home Depot = 3% cashback and $200 bonus
5th: $500 on Chase Freedom Flex at Kroger for Amazon Gift Cards = 5% cashback, $200 bonus & $70 free gas
6th: $500 on Chase Freedom Flex at Kroger for Amazon Gift Cards = 5% cashback, $200 bonus & $70 free gas
7th: $1,000 Amazon purchases on Amazon card for 5% cashback
8th: $3,576 Third Part Vendors (Xplr Outfitters, Renogy, Amazing Auto, etc.) on PayPal Mastercard for 2% cashback
= $11,575 spent, $1100 in welcome bonuses, $140 in free gas, and $545 in cashback for total of $1,785 cashback or 15.4%
I hope you found this breakdown helpful as an illustrative way to maximize your cash back when you
have to spend fairly significant amounts of money. Let me know if you employ any of these techniques.
Also, are there any other hacks I am missing? I would love to learn about them and utilize on our next
big project. Let me know below!
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