The credit card market is, basically, a rewards market. With the exception of beginner cards for building or rebuilding credit, each card tries to knock the others off of the podium with its best rewards program. These rewards come in various forms—cash back, points and miles—but they all do the same thing: give something back for spending money with that credit card. Though they're similar in effect, they're very different in whom they benefit. Choosing the right card means understanding your own spending habits and what rewards will benefit you the most.
Miles and points cards operate in the same way. You'll accumulate a balance of miles or points at a certain rate that you'll eventually redeem for rewards. And while true cash back cards automatically apply your cash back as statement credit, some actually behave like a points card. If a card offers 1 point for every $100 spent, that point is worth $1 and it will stay in your account until you accumulate enough to redeem them.
The main difference between points cards and miles cards is in the rewards offered. Points cards tend to be more flexible because a miles card is typically sponsored by one airline. A United Airlines Explorer card will earn United rewards: flight discounts, free upgrades, free bags, etc. A Chase Ultimate Rewards card, on the other hand, offers 1¢ per dollar spent to use on shopping sites like Amazon.
Here, it is important to understand your spending habits. Many points cards let you redeem points on specific rewards, or partner websites. Meanwhile, some cash back cards, even those that are basically points cards, give higher cash back value for certain categories, such as restaurants or gas. What you buy and what you want to receive for your points or miles will signal which card is best.
If you travel frequently, the rewards of a miles card will probably justify being locked into one airline. If you're paying off student loans, Citi ThankYou Points offers rebates to help. If you love to try new restaurants, the Uber Visa card will give 4% back on dining purchases. One surprising study showed that hotel-affiliated rewards cards actually offered better rewards rates than airline cards or cash back programs, even when used on everyday purchases. The average rewards rate for hotel cards was 2.5%, higher than many other points- or miles-earning cards.
The other important factor to consider is the sign-up bonus that might be offered by one card and not another. For example, the Uber Visa card earns a $100 bonus after you spend $500 in the first 3 months. The Citi ThankYou card earns 15,000 points after $1,000 spent in 3 months. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card gives you 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in 3 months. This card's points can become miles—50,000 points becomes $625 towards airfare. It also offers double the points earned for travel purchases and dining, so it's a good example of how cards can cross over into other categories regardless of whether they earn "points" or "miles."
While shopping for a card with high rewards, be careful of annual fees. After the first year, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card charges $95 per year. Depending on the amount you spend, this fee (and the similar fees on other cards) could start to cancel out some of the rewards you earn. The Uber Visa card, on the other hand, has no annual fee. Read the details of any credit card agreement carefully because an annual fee might start (or increase) only after the first year.
The credit card market is full of great rewards through various partnerships with airlines, hotels, websites and other companies. Though it takes time and patience to sort through the fine print of dozens of cards, your work will pay off for years, whether it's in cash back, points or miles.
Tom Twardzik is a personal finance writer for Paypath. He also covers music, film, TV and gaming for Popdust, social issues and current events for The Liberty Project and travel for The Journiest. Read more on his page and follow him on Twitter
Ah yes, 'tis finally the giving season!
As someone whose love-language is gift giving, I relish most opportunities to spoil my friends with sweet tokens of appreciation. I am the queen of spontaneous gifts. When I'm puttering around the city, doing my silly little tasks, I always perk up when I find some small trinket that I can give my friends.
Nothing says "I love you" more than saying, "hey, this reminded me of you." And then handing them a nod to a past conversation, or a memory we share. So, sorry to my friends for cluttering your houses with sentimental junk, but I'm even more apologetic for my fatal flaw: when it comes to the holidays … I always draw a blank!
To me, organic gifting is much more genuine than holiday gifting. Yet, if I were to use that as an excuse for turning up empty-handed to every single holiday party this season. I fear I'd start the new year off with fewer friends. And, as someone who loves to receive gifts just as much, I don't want to chance burning bridges that might hold presents on the other side.
So, when the holiday season arrives, I spend far too much of my precious time strategizing my gifts for my friends.
Often, when I draw a blank, I end up splurging on expensive gifts — a luxury candle, a decadent face oil, a classy bottle of perfume. Sure, these opulent gifts are a cop out, but they're guaranteed successes. Upon opening a package containing their favorite, overpriced indulgence who wouldn't smile?
Due to my holiday default, I'm forced to do some serious budget planning to accommodate my lavish spending. Or, more often, I go spectacularly over-budget.
However, this year, I must make a change. After my summer of post-vax hedonism that granted justification to spend more money than I'd ever dare, my holiday budget's looking pretty lean.
After sitting myself down and giving myself a strict talking to about prioritizing my savings, I've come up with some tips on how to save money around the holidays:
Review your budget
The amount of money we think we spend and the money we actually spend are two very different numbers. Grab a drink, pull out your bank statements, it's time to get to the bottom of your spending.
Take a look at two or three months and categorize your purchases. Which ones were intentional? Which ones were emotional? And how many times did you go to the coffee shop just to feel something and leave with a $10 latte and pastry? Once the truth is laid out in front of you, it's easy to see where you're bleeding money.
For me, it's coffee shops and boutique clothing stores I discover during jaunts around trendy neighborhoods. Whatever your vices are, do your best to become aware of them.
Budgeting apps like Cleo have helped me curb my impulse spending a ton! Cleo talks to me like a friend would — a friend who is not afraid to tell me no and call me out on my overspending. We all need a friend like Cleo, so download the app and watch your budget change overnight.
via Cleo App
Cut out what you don't need
It's all well and good to glance at your spending, but the next step is brutal: get honest with yourself about the purchases you could have gone without. But this isn't about deprivation, it's prioritization. What can you relinquish now to ensure you have a great holiday season later?
Cringing at past impulse buys I've made, I vowed to avoid my typical temptations, since I couldn't resist them. I know I'm easily lured into charming little storefronts downtown. So I took new routes home, avoiding the streets where all the cool clothes lie, waiting for me to cave.
I'm sure, in good time, I'll be back. But that's a problem for 2022-me. Until then, we just have to hold out for less than two months, get the gifts our friends deserve, and then it's back to regularly scheduled planning.
Make a spending plan
Saving without a plan usually leads to spending. As you narrow down what you can afford, figure out what you want to buy. I like to split it into categories: larger expenses vs. affordable picks.
Here's the fun part: shopping around. Sometimes I only have a general idea of what I want to buy, and sometimes I have specifics in mind. Either way, I love to shop around for a deal.
When it comes to saving money, research is paramount. Various vendors might have different prices, promotional codes, or sales. A quick Google search can often save you 10% or more, so don't take the first price you see as gospel.
via Cleo App
After finding the best price, I can budget for what I'm going to buy and when. Which takes me to ….
Take advantage of sales … strategically
The holiday season brings with it the promise of big, blowout sales. But, if you're not careful, you can end up spending more money during a sale — which is precisely the stores' intention.
Don't fall victim to the allure of those big, red "SALE" stickers. Instead, plot out how to take advantage of a number of sales for different products. Adding those sale prices to your spending plan will keep you focused and on track, instead of buying frivolous items no one will ever use just because the prices are slashed.
Saving money over the holidays doesn't mean you have to make a Scrooge of yourself. You can still gift and gift well, just more intelligently. Spending with intention is key to savings, while investing thoughtfully into your relationships.
Apps like Cleo can help you keep your finances on track without feeling overwhelming. With one download, you could be on your way to mega-savings.
Sticking to a budget is super important for everyone, no matter how much you're making or how much money you're trying to save... But it's often incredibly tricky.
Here are five easy ways to stick to a budget.
1. Use a Budgeting App
One of the easiest ways to stick to a budget is by using an app specifically designed to help you keep track of your finances and hit your saving goals. One such app is Cleo, an app that, per its own website, decisively "doesn't suck." Cleo connects to your bank and tracks your spending — and it uses a special AI integration that will literally call you out if you break your pledges.
Cleo will help you budget, save, build credit, and much more, and it comes with special quirks that will make saving a bit more fun — including a "swear jar" that helps you control your worst spending habits. A budgeting app can act like an old friend looking over your shoulder and giving you a little extra support as you try to stick to your financial goals, and Cleo is definitely the friendliest of budgeting apps around.
2. Be Realistic
You're not going to want to stick to your budget if you set it way too low — then every time you look at your budget you'll find yourself disappointed and sad, and it'll keep spiraling. When you set your budget, be realistic and make sure you also have categories for emergency expenses or splurges. It's not like you're never going to splurge on your item of choice (be it an expensive meal out or an impulse-bought outfit), so put that into your budget as well and figure out where else you can save or skimp in order to make room for those inevitable stretches.
3. Review Your Budget Regularly and Build Your Habits Over Time
No matter how you hack your budget, be sure that you make checking and reviewing it into a routine. Be sure you review your spending at least every two weeks, if not once a week, and give yourself time to grow. Like any other skill, budgeting takes practice, and you'll get better at it the more you do. You might even try to set a timer for once a week and give yourself fifteen minutes to go over your budget at that time.
It's important to start slow and build your budgeting muscle over time as well. If you're just getting started or have a history of failing to properly budget, start with one or two categories and go from there. Or challenge yourself to save on one area each week, and then add more goals as time passes.
4. Determine What You Want to Do With Savings
It's important to feel like all your budgeting work has a purpose. Finding your "why" and figuring out what you're budgeting and saving for can really motivate you to do better, and this makes giving up little expenses a lot easier. Figure out what exactly you want to accomplish with your budget, and also make sure your goals are achievable and possible.
Of course you'll need savings for an emergency fund, and maybe you need to save to pay off loans and retirement; be sure you have specific goals for these categories, and also it's never a bad idea to pick a few fun things to save for.
5. Automate Your Savings
Saving money is really hard, when all is said and done, so it might be easier for you to just automate your savings so all that cash doesn't suddenly appear in your bank account, giving you the illusion that you can buy whatever you want (until you're broke before the next payday). You might want to enroll in a 401(k) plan or schedule automatic transfers to a saving account. Just be sure that you're tracking how much you're saving, and once you've saved enough you can consider investing.
Of course, Cleo is probably the easiest way to implement all of these tips, since the app helps you do all this and more (with a fun and friendly twist), and it's free! (Or you can get the plus version for $5.99 a month, which gives you features like Cleo Cover, a form of overdraft protection, and Daily Cash, a cashback rewards program).
Over the past month, both Haiti and Afghanistan have been pummeled by tragic disasters that left devastation in their wake.
In Haiti, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake erupted, leading over to 2,189 deaths and counting. A few hours later, in Afghanistan, Kabul fell to the Taliban just after U.S. troops had pulled out after 20 years of war.
In many ways, these disasters are both chillingly connected to US interference. The United States invaded Haiti in 1915, ostensibly promising to restore order after a presidential assassination but really intending to preserve the route to the Panama Canal and to defend US creditors, among other reasons.
But the US forces soon realized that they were not able to control the country alone, and so formed an army of Haitian enlistees, powered by US air power and intended to quell Haitian insurrection against US controls. Then, in 1934, the US pulled out on its own, disappointed with how slow progress was going. Haiti's institutions were never really able to rebuild themselves, leaving them immensely vulnerable to natural disasters.
Something similar happened in Afghanistan, where the US sent troops and supported an insurgent Afghan army – only to pull out, abandoning the country they left in ruins, with many Afghans supporting the Taliban.
In both cases, defense contractors benefited by far the most from the conflict, making billions in profits while civilians faced fallout and devastation. While the conflicts and circumstances are extremely different and while the US is obviously not solely to blame for either crisis, it's hard not to see the US-based roots of these disasters.
Today, in Haiti and Afghanistan, civilians are facing unimaginable tragedy.
Here are charities offering support in Afghanistan:
1. The International Rescue Committee is looking to raise $10 million to deliver aid directly to Afghanistan
2. CARE is matching donations for an Afghanistan relief fund. They are providing food, shelter, and water to families in need; a donation of $89.50 covers 1 family's emergency needs for a month.
3. Women for Women International is matching donations up to 500,000 for Afghan women, who will be facing unimaginable horrors under Taliban control.
4. AfghanAid offers support for people living in remote regions of Afghanistan.
5. VitalVoices supports female leaders and changemakers and survivors of gender-based violence around the world.
Here are charities offering support in Haiti:
1. Partners in Health has been working with Haiti for a long time, and they work with the Department of Health rather than around them, which is extremely important in a charity.
2. Health Equity International helps run Saint Boniface Hospital, a hospital in Haiti close to the earthquake's epicenter.
3. SOIL is an organization based Haiti, "a local organization with a track record of supporting after natural disasters." They are distributing hygiene kits and provisions on the ground to hospitals and to victims of the earthquake.
4. Hope for Haiti has been working in emergency response in Haiti for three decades, and their team is comprised of people who live and work in Haiti. They focus on supporting children and people in need across Haiti.