How I Hit My Latest Sign-Up Bonus Spending Requirement a Month Early

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A little prepay here, a little non-category spend there...

Credit card sign-up bonuses are awesome. Lump sums of cash back or points worth hundreds of dollars just for using your card!

All right, so it's not quite that simple; you typically have to reach a set minimum spending limit to qualify for a new card's sign-up bonus. But, when you plan correctly, it's easy to reach that minimum spend requirement without making any purchases you wouldn't otherwise make.

In fact, only purchasing what you normally buy is more or less the key to using rewards credit cards without getting yourself into financial trouble. Even if you don't spend a ton on the regular, there are a lot of ways to bundle your expenses when you're working towards a sign-up bonus.

For example, I signed up for a Chase card, which came with a $200 sign-up bonus for spending $500 in the first three months. Not only did I hit my target without blowing my budget, but I even managed to do so a month before the deadline. Here's how:

I prepaid my streaming services

A good chunk of my sign-up bonus spending requirement was hit by prepaying a couple of my favorite streaming services. Although some services only allow you to set up a monthly recurring plan, others will offer you an annual plan -- often at a discount.

This meant I could pay for a year of service, get a lower overall monthly rate, and put a big dent in my sign-up bonus requirement, all in one fell swoop. Win-win-win.

Of course, this method only worked because of two important things:

  1. I had the money on hand to pay off the purchases. If I didn't have funds in the budget for these larger expenses, putting them on my card could lead to trouble.
  2. I know I'll use these services year-round. Some streaming services I only keep for a month or two at a time because I simply don't use them enough the rest of the year. The services I chose are ones I find myself viewing regularly.

Another thing to consider before prepaying your streaming services is the potential for lost rewards. If you have a card with bonus rewards on streaming, you could be losing out on purchase rewards by putting those charges on another card.

In my case, the services I prepaid don't actually qualify for bonus rewards on my streaming rewards card, so opportunity cost wasn't an issue. (Bonus rewards categories rely on merchant codes to determine what a given business does. If the merchant code doesn't meet the issuer's requirements for a given category, you won't earn bonus rewards on those purchases.)

I temporarily shifted my restaurant purchases

Next to rent or mortgage payments, the biggest expense in many households is food, and my house is no exception. Although I didn't want to put my grocery purchases on my new card -- I have one of the best grocery credit cards that offers a higher rewards rate -- I was happy to shift payment methods for my family's weekly pizza night.

While we certainly don't spend a fortune on restaurant meals these days, even a few weeks of meals added an appreciable amount towards my sign-up bonus requirement. My new card offered fewer bonus rewards on dining purchases than my standard go-to, but the rewards lost were minimal compared to what I gained from the sign-up bonus.

I used my new card for all my non-category spend

Finally, I padded out the rest of my sign-up bonus spending requirement with all the non-bonus-category purchases that came along. So, any time I shopped a department store website, got an oil change, or ordered bagels online (don't judge me, they're delicious), I used my new card.

Planning ahead makes all the difference

All in all, it took right around two months to hit my card's bonus requirement. It helps that the spending requirement was only $500, which meant that even smaller purchases made a noticeable impact -- but that was also part of the plan.

I knew before I even applied for my new card that I could earn the sign-up bonus without needing to spend extravagantly, and I deliberately planned certain expenses to occur around the time my new card would arrive.

The only way to ensure you'll be able to earn a given sign-up bonus is to only apply for cards with spending requirements you can realistically manage. For me, that meant streaming services and oil changes. For you, that may mean family trips or car insurance renewals. Whatever the case, always have the money on hand to pay off your purchases in full before your due date so you don't get stuck underwater trying to reach a bonus requirement.

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