This may seem like a slightly counterproductive post since I just shared with you how we are going to a cash-only grocery shopping system but just play along with me for a little bit. In fact I balked at switched our groceries to a cash system because we use that expense to help us get credit card rewards. I know some people disagree with using credit cards but I think the majority of us use them for one reason or another, and to be truthful it is the ONLY way that our family can afford to go on vacation – ever. This post is not sponsored in any way but using credits cards this way has made a MAJOR difference for our family and I’m shocked to hear how many people don’t use rewards on their credit cards!
The main reason that we use credit cards, aside from ease of use and sometimes necessity, is that we take FULL advantage of rewards systems. It seems like a great balance for our family so that we can enjoy a little luxury too. There are SO many different types of rewards systems with credit card companies – everything from Disney points, restaurant gift cards, etc. I will share with you what we use and why it fits for our family! I HIGHLY recommend NOT applying for every credit card rewards program out there! In fact our personal MAX for each adult in our family (my husband and I) is 2 credit cards each. This is just a personal preference. Not only would I lose my mind if I had more than our 4 to keep up with but we would be spending so little on any one credit card that the rewards would take forever to accrue. Every family is different so you must determine not only your own personal max (and stick with it!) but decide what rewards your family would benefit from the most.
I will say that having several credit cards IS a great way to build your credit IF you are diligent about paying it off every month. We have NEVER ever carried a balance. Ever. Sometimes that has meant using all of our savings. Sometimes it has meant cancelling cell phones for a few years. It means never having cable or other non-necessities. But I am VERY staunch about never carrying a balance on a credit card. We have, however, almost always had medical bills due and it is very easy to set up a payment plan through your hospital for those – interest free! I completely understand that things happen and that life gets in the way but do everything you can to keep from having a balance on your credit card – it’s a slippery slope!
So what types of reward cards do we personally have? We have one for:
HOTELS AIRPLANES TRAINS AMAZON
My husband and I each have 2 different types of rewards credit cards. Combined together we have 4 different reward cards.
HOTELS: Our hotel rewards to me are the most fun. We chose to go with the Choice Privileges hotel rewards because we do not need a super high end hotel when we travel, and at the time we applied they had the best reward system by far than any other group we checked out. Not to mention that they have a huge number of hotel brands that fall under their rewards including Comfort Suites, Clarion, Quality Inn, and plenty more. They have a hotel almost anywhere we would ever want to stay in the US. These rewards seem the easiest for us to rack up points and at any given time we typically have at least an entire week of FREE hotel stays in our rewards account. We save these for special family weekend getaways and trips that we plan for vacation. I honestly can’t remember the last time we paid for a hotel room (other than blogging conferences). This has also come in handy for emergencies such as last minute funerals when we needed to go on a long road trip and stay overnight.
AIRLINES: For us Southwest is typically the cheapest to fly (plus FREE luggage!) so we chose to open up a Southwest credit card. I cannot express to you how much money this has saved us! From the last minute funeral to attend, a best friend’s wedding, or my blogging conferences throughout the year – we have literally saved hundreds of dollars (or more!) just by getting FREE flights through our credit card.
TRAINS: Our Amtrak Rewards credit card is our newest one and one that we would have never needed when we lived in Florida. We are within an hour of an Amtrak train that runs almost from coast to coast and many times it is cheaper for us to take the train to visit family in Chicago than it is for us to drive! Not to mention that the train also takes me right out to my sister’s area in Colorado. We have saved up enough reward points for at least one round trip train trip and although we don’t use this credit card quite as much it will be nice to save the money next time we want to take a trip by train.
AMAZON: Most of our credit card rewards benefit our family by providing vacations that we couldn’t normally take, but our Amazon Rewards credit card helps us offset household costs in every other way. Our rewards card is hooked up directly to my Amazon account so that I can automatically use my reward points when shopping online. This is typically how we purchase paper products like toilet paper, or even other random things that may come up like Pull-ups, birthday gifts, socks, etc.
One last way that we afford vacations that is not related to credit card rewards is by saving. You may be wondering how you can afford to save for a vacation if you’re living paycheck to paycheck which is what we have to do most of the time too. PLAN AHEAD! This may sound crazy but we plan our “big” vacations (normal vacations to many people) 3-5 years ahead. For example, my husband and I decided that ever 5 year we would go on an anniversary trip – just the 2 of us. So I already know that every 5 years I have a trip to save for. Additionally my husband’s family decided everyone is going to Disney in a few years so I am currently saving for two separate trips. Save your credit card rewards like I talked about above AND set up a completely different savings account at another bank.
I chose to set up an account with Capital One 360 (formerly ING Direct) for the simple reason that it’s not easily accessible. It’s our “HANDS-OFF” account. When someone wants to give us a gift for the holidays or birthday, we ask for contributions to our trips. We have also predetermined that if we have over $500 in our checking account at any one time (after bills are paid of course) that the extra money will automatically go into our vacation fund. Tax returns are coming up – we’ll save a few hundred and it will go directly into our vacation fund. It’s SUCH an easy way to save for a vacation knowing that you have 5 years to let it accrue. Even if you can only pull together $300 a year, after 5 years that’s $1500 which is enough for a nice budgeted trip many places in the US. ESPECIALLY if you are also using credit card rewards. Our next trip is planned for Oregon. We’ll combine our hotel rewards, with our airline rewards, and our vacation cash that we have saved which will bring the cost to pretty much completely covered by the time we go!
How do you save for family vacations? Don’t think you can afford it? If you’re careful with your money and choose credit cards wisely based on their reward systems you can easily save for a nice family vacation every few years! Or opt for smaller more frequent family getaways!