The Ultimate Cash Back Rewards Strategy

Cash back rewards

Earning cash back rewards allows you to put money back in your pocket on everything you buy. 

Anyone can earn a few rewards by swiping a basic rewards card, but we’re here to help you earn more than the average person.

Believe it or not, it definitely possible to combine various coupons and rewards so that your purchase is either free or almost free.

And who doesn’t like free stuff?

This page will help you put together the ultimate cash back rewards strategy, beyond just selecting the right credit card, to spend less overall and maximize your earnings.

Best rewards cards


Try to pay for everything using a credit card, even if you have cash in your pocket.

No, this is not a trick to get you in to credit card debt.

I don’t advise you spending more than you make each month, and I don’t advise you buying things just for the sake of earning points.

But if that purchase was one that you were going to make regardless, you might as well earn some points or cash back rewards along the way. 

Here is a list of the only three credit cards you need in your wallet to maximize your earning potential in all situations:

Chase Freedom

Rack up cash back rewards quickly with the Chase Freedom card (5% back on select rotating categories; 1% on everything else).  

The 5% cash back it offers makes it one of the highest earning cards on the market today, far exceeding the 1% offered by your average rewards card.

Eligible expense categories rotate quarterly and require one-click activation, but that’s a small price to pay for the loads of points you will be earning.

How to Redeem Rewards:

You can redeem your points for cash rewards like a check in the mail or a statement credit, or even redeem them for gift cards, travel, etc.

Maximum Earnings Strategy:

Use this card for all bonus eligible categories while they are active.  

Use an alternate credit card that offers higher than 1% for all other expenses (see the Costco Anywhere Visa and the Citi Double Cash Card below).


Costco Anywhere Visa

When I’m not using my Chase Freedom card on 5% cash back rewards categories, I’ll switch to my Costco Anywhere Visa if I’m buying gas, booking travel, taking an uber, or dining out.  

This is one of the most often used cards in my wallet because it offers huge cash back rewards on some of my most common spending categories:

- 4% back on gas

- 3% back on travel (hotels, airfare, even rideshare trips!)

- 3% back on restaurants

- 2% back at Costco

- 1% back on everything else

How to Redeem Rewards:

Costco will automatically send you a check in the mail every February for the total rewards you earned that year.

Spend it on whatever you like at Costco, or trade it for cash in-store.  The choice is yours.

Maximum Earnings Strategy:

Use this in tandem with a higher earning rewards card like the Chase Freedom.  

Use the Chase Freedom card for gas, restaurants, and travel when they are eligible for the 5% back, and then switch to the Costco Anywhere Visa when these categories drop to 1%.


Citi Double Cash Card

Double points

When all your other cards are offering a measly 1%, turn to the Citi Double Cash Card.

This is not the card that I turn to first, but it is the one that ensures that I will always be earning at least 2% cash back rewards on all purchases. 

There are no rotating categories, or activations required.  With this card you’ll always be earning double what most people earn using the average 1% back rewards card.

How to Redeem Rewards:

You will earn 1% when you make a purchase, and the other 1% when you make your payment.  

Then, you can choose to redeem your cash back as a statement credit, direct deposit, check, or convert to points.

Maximum Earnings Strategy:

Use higher earning cash back rewards cards when applicable. Use this card for everything else.  

When all else fails, turn to the Citi Double Cash card.

Loyalty programs


Many stores offer loyalty programs where you can earn points redeemable for free merchandise or food.

Signing up and taking advantage of these programs will help you maximize your earnings potential.

Here are a few of the best options:

Kohl’s Cash – Kohl’s

Kohl’s will give you $10 in Kohl’s Cash for every $50 you spend during a Kohl’s Cash earning period.

If you do the math, that’s 20% cash back.

What is Kohl’s Cash?

It’s essentially a certificate redeemable for anything in the store. After you make a purchase, you are issued Kohl’s cash that can only be redeemed during a certain period in the future.

This is Kohl’s way of enticing shoppers to return to the store at a later date. 

Additionally, you will earn 5% cash back rewards on every purchase, every day. 

Add these two amounts together and you get a whopping 25% cash back!

Now think about the additional rewards you can get from using the right credit card or Rakuten on this purchase…

Just like that…your cash back rewards are adding up quickly!

How to Redeem Rewards:

Kohl's will give you a printed certificate in-store, or email you a barcode for online purchases. Scan in-store at the register, or enter your code online to redeem. 

Maximum Earnings Strategy:

Shop during Kohl's cash earning periods to earn extra Kohl's cash.


My Rio Rewards - Café Rio

Café Rio is one of my favorite restaurant chains. Not just because their food is delicious, but also because their rewards program is one of the most generous I’ve seen.

Download their app and scan it when you pay during each visit.  Whenever you cumulative spending reaches $100, Café Rio will give you a $10 credit that you can use towards anything on the menu (no purchase required).

This equates to a 10% cash back rewards credit which is higher than most restaurant rewards programs.

How to Redeem Rewards:

Click “Redeem” and scan your in-app QR code at the register.

Maximum Earnings Strategy:

Swipe your Chase Freedom card (when it offers 5% cash back) or your Costco Anywhere Visa to earn credit card rewards on top of the in-store rewards. 

Earning a total of 15% cash back on your meal sure beats paying cash and getting nothing in return.

Earn cash back every time you shop online


Icing on the cake

Getting the maximum cash back rewards doesn’t stop with choosing the right credit card.

Nope.

Earning extra cash back by first going through a shopping portal is the icing on the cake of your shopping experience.

Combining these techniques is how you elevate your shopping skills.

Take it to the next level and multiply your rewards in just a few clicks.

Rakuten

Rakuten, formerly E-Bates, will send you a check in the mail for the cash back rewards you earn every three months.

How does it work? 

Easy. Simply log in to your Rakuten account (on your laptop or mobile app) and click the store where you want to shop. You will be redirected to that store, and you will earn cash back for any purchases made.

It’s literally like getting paid to shop.

It doesn’t cost you anything to sign up, and the registration process takes just a few minutes. 

The amount of cash back rewards vary by store, and can often change day by day. But whether its 2% or 10% back, it’s still free money.

Trust me on this one.  Every time you are making a purchase online, go through Rakuten first so that you can get some money back.

>> Learn More: How to use Rakuten

>> Learn More: Sign up for Rakuten


Top Cash Back

Similar to Rakuten, Top Cash Back is a site that will pay you cash back rewards every time every time you shop.

While they are very similar, sometimes the available stores and cash back percentages vary between sites, so it pays to check the rates on both sites before clicking through and making your purchase.

No, you cannot get cash back rewards from both Rakuten and Top Cash Back for the same purchase.

However, if you are getting rewards from your credit card along with your earnings from Rakuten / Top Cash Back, you are essentially getting rewarded twice.

The ultimate cash back strategy


By now you have the best cash back rewards card, have signed up for store loyalty programs, and are using a cash back portal every time you shop.

But how do I take my shopping skills to the next level?

The key is to combine as many sales, promotions, and rewards as possible to minimize the amount you have to pay and get the most value for your money.

You already know to use a rewards card, loyalty program, and Rakuten / Top Cash Back every time you shop. 

Now, look for in-store sales and coupon codes that can be applied at checkout. For example, a $10 off for every $25 you buy, or even an additional 30% off ticketed price.

Financial success

If you can stack this discount on top of other rewards and credits you’re earning / redeeming, you know you’re getting the best deal. At least a better deal than most people are getting.  

Keep in mind, stores are still making a profit even after all of the discounts and rewards they give you.  Consider it a game to see how little you can pay for the things you buy.

Aim to get the thing you’re trying to buy for pennies... basically free. 

It’s definitely possible.

This is how you master the jungle.

Share your cash back rewards strategies


Have you used any of these strategies and scored a great deal?

Do you have any additional strategies to share on how to maximize cash back rewards?

Share the details of your shopping victories in the box below!


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