How I'm Using My Credit Cards Differently During the Pandemic

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The changes from the COVID-19 pandemic have also led to big changes in my credit card habits.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my credit card usage was pretty much on autopilot. I had figured out my typical spending habits, I knew which cards to use for which purchases, and I had a plan for how I'd redeem my rewards.

But as the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. COVID-19 happened, and it's no exaggeration to say that everything changed. In addition to the impact on our health and economy, it also affected our day-to-day lives.

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Like just about everyone, my spending habits have changed quite a bit. And while I used to know the features of my credit cards by heart, that's no longer the case as card issuers have all kinds of limited-time deals.

As the pandemic has rolled on from month to month, here are the ways I've been using my credit cards differently.

Spending much less in normal bonus categories

The credit cards I use most are travel rewards cards that offer more points on travel and dining purchases. In the past, I've earned plenty of bonus points this way, because I like to travel and I go out to eat at least a couple of times each month.

That's obviously no longer the case. My travel spending is nonexistent and my dining spending is much lower since it's just the occasional delivery order.

On the bright side, I'm saving a lot more money. It also means I'm earning fewer credit card points, which is why this next change has been crucial.

Taking advantage of limited-time offers

Several credit card companies have added new, temporary perks in recent months. These include spending credits on everyday purchases and bonus rewards in areas where people are currently spending more. That's why I've kept an eye on emails from my card issuers and the news so I can jump on the best credit card offers.

By staying up to date on offers like these, I've been able to score big bonuses on groceries and streaming services. That has helped make up for the bonus points I'm missing out on.

Splurging more on hobbies and entertainment

Since I'm spending less than usual and I'm home all the time, I've been more open to the occasional splurge.

So far, I've bought more movies, TV series, and eBooks to keep myself entertained. When I decided coffee brewing would be my quarantine hobby, I bought a hand coffee grinder that cost more than I ever thought I'd spend on one. And because I can only exercise at home, I've bought some basic equipment to get a decent workout.

Saving money is still important to me, and I've made sure to stick to a budget. But if a purchase is going to improve my quality of life or help me adjust to this new lifestyle, then I'll pull the trigger.

Downgrading or canceling cards I can't use right now

I've never liked paying unnecessary annual fees, but I've been especially cutthroat during the pandemic. I'm not traveling and don't expect to until the end of the year at the earliest. So it doesn’t make sense to hang on to cards that provide most of their value through travel perks -- unless they have limited-time offers that I like.

My preferred approach is downgrading these cards to no-annual-fee credit cards. If that's not an option, then I'll cancel.

And what if I want one of those cards again when travel returns? No problem. Card issuers typically don't have rules against applying for a card you've already had. Depending on how long it's been, you could even qualify for the sign-up bonus again. If I want to reopen a credit card, I'll simply reapply for it.

New habits, same goals

Even though I'm using my credit cards much differently, my goals have remained the same. I want to maximize credit card rewards so I can pay for future trips with travel points, and I want to avoid unnecessary annual fees.

If you're unsure how to manage your credit cards right now, it's a good idea to pin down what your goals are first. After that you can figure out how to use current credit card offers to reach them.

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