I love free stuff. Free samples, free trips, complimentary drinks… I want them all. Like, did you know the salad dressing cup at Whole Foods can double as a sample cup? I’ve eaten entire meals that way.
I’m a generally lazy person, but if you make work a game to get free stuff then I’m the most industrious human alive. In high school, I worked at Banana Republic. I was more or less a terrible employee who spent 90 percent of my time being yelled at for leaving a pile of sweaters unfolded because I’d migrated over to the men’s section to flirt. That is, unless there was a seasonal promotion going on where you’d win a free outfit for having the highest sales. Suddenly, I was a star employee/rockstar. I would go into warrior mode, getting people to invest in poorly made, expensive shoes and selling high-waisted pants to housewives like it was my job (It was. It was precisely my job).
When my husband and I had just started dating, the Jewel-Osco (a Midwestern grocery store) in our neighborhood was running this promotion where you received stickers for shopping there that you could turn in for cookware. Ten dollars equaled one sticker, and the lowest pan in the set was 150 stickers. The highest was 500. Basically, you had to spend 15 thousand dollars at the supermarket to get a pan set. That’s a lot of grocery money in a month. And because it seemed relatively impossible to get enough stickers to get one pan (let alone the whole set), most people threw their stickers out or on the ground in the parking lot. But my husband and I connected over a shared sense of frugality. So we spent the month trolling the parking lot every chance we got to pick up rows of stickers discarded on the ground or sticking tantalizingly out of the garbage cans.
“I got 15 stickers on my walk home from work!” he called me to report. I think it’s how we fell in love. A mutual obsession with free cookware and a complete lack of embarrassment when it came to picking through the trash to get it. At the end of the month, you better believe we got that full pan set.
Considering this passion for free and cheap things, I’ve always been intrigued by credit card points and rewards. There’s nothing I want more than to maximize my vacations with free stuff. But unfortunately, up until now, there are two things that have prevented me from fully exploring all that credit card rewards have to offer. First, I’m lazy. I forget that I have credit cards or they have rewards at all and then I don’t bother redeeming them. And second, I’m TERRIBLE with credit cards. A free bra at Victoria Secret when I was 22 (which seemed totally worth opening a credit card for) was less cost effective when I forgot that I opened it, never paid the balance, and ended up tanking my credit.
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” I frequently tell myself in the mirror.
So I was excited to talk to CreditCardForum editor, Kristin McGrath, this week about what I could be getting if I was smarter/better with money. Because we all know that credit card points can be redeemed for things like airfare and hotels, but did you know that you could have also used your credit card to go backstage at your favorite concert or get those surfing lessons you’ve always dreamed about?
It turns out that credit card rewards are as varied as the people using them. And no matter what you spend yours on, the best advice Kristin gave me was to just make sure you’re “Getting excited about something, making yourself happy, and getting a little splurge you otherwise wouldn’t be able to justify. Because if you’re doing that, you’re winning.”
And without further ado, here’s some stuff you can get: