[Lesson] Tracking Your Cash Back and Rewards

As your credit portfolio starts growing, it is a good idea to look at ways to track your spending and rewards so that you can highlight the strengths and correct any weaknesses. It might seem like a lot of work especially since most credit card accounts conveniently track your rewards for you, however, by design, many miles and points rewards programs try to trick you into thinking you are getting really good deals when you might not be. Tracking rewards using your own system can really help you see how your credit portfolio is truly performing. I will admit it definitely takes a little bit of time to build a tracker whether you use a spreadsheet or some other kind of program but once you have the foundation created, adding your purchases each month isn’t that hard and the benefits should be worth it. Below I will show you my method of tracking to hopefully give you some ideas for when you make yours:

credit tracker final

  1. List of Cards

This is the most basic, yet most important area that your tracker should include. Make sure to not leave any cards you use off the list or it will skew your data since you won’t be tracking all portions of your spending. For a nice reference, I also include info like the year I opened the account, what the sign up bonuses were (if any), and the credit limit for each card. For the creative users: you can make each cell representing your cards colorful in schemes that match card’s design like I did!

  1. Spending on Each Card

For my tracker, I break up the spending by month as it seems like the most logical way to do it. I have a main tab in my workbook and then a tab for each of my cards to breakdown each card’s spending. Having a separate tab for each card is particularly useful for cards with multiple tiers of cash back rates.

  1. Rewards for Each Card

In a similar looking format to my spending chart, I have a chart for all the rewards each of my cards gets me. My credit portfolio has cards that award points, cash, and miles so to keep things simple I convert all rewards to a cash value. Under the totals for each month and year I calculate the average cash back rate and color code it. The range for the average cash back rate will vary from person to person. For me, 3% is average (yellow) so anything less starts turning red and anything greater starts turning green.

  1. Total Rewards

I have two cells that highlight my average cash back rates for the year which automatically update with every new purchase I add to my spreadsheet. The first number is purely the cash back rate that each of my cards have offered on every purchase made since the beginning of each year. Right now my average cash back for this year is a little low for me, currently coming in at 2.98%. As you can see with the months above it, there were a few months where I had very low cash back returns. This can be attributed to a few new credit card accounts I opened and when ensuring I met the minimum spending requirement for their sign up bonuses, I had to dip into categories where it did not get me as high of a cash back return. Now that I successfully received the sign up bonuses, I will go back to using the cards that get me a higher cash back rate in those categories. I predict by the end of the year my average cash back rate will be back to its healthy 3.5+% range. The second number is the same but also calculates all my sign up bonuses for the year. This second number goes down with every purchase I make since every purchase dilutes my sign up bonus total but is a good way to see at the end of the year just how much my bonuses got me back in a percent format. Currently my sign up bonuses and regular cash back rates have gotten me the equivalent of 12.67% cash back on every purchase I have made this year!

  1. Spending vs. Rewards

I also added a few columns on the end of my spending chart to show a very basic picture of spending on each card compared to rewards earned on each card. This section gives a quick look at how each card is performing within my credit portfolio. The higher the percentage of total rewards earned compared to a lower percentage of total purchases made on the card can indicate important trends for me. If a card’s cell is red then maybe I am using it too much compared to its cash back potential so I should look what purchases I have put on that card and try to see if any of the purchases fall in a big enough category where a new card can get me a higher rewards rate. My best performing cards (cells with the darkest shades of green) all contribute a higher percentage of rewards compared to their spending. This (at a very basic level) indicates that they are performing very well in my credit portfolio. There are definitely more intricacies to a card’s performance in a credit portfolio, but this section gives me a quick overview before I need to dig deeper.

As you can see, making a tracker can be very useful on your journey towards credit card nirvana. For me, the end of each month is exciting as I can see where I might need to tweak my credit portfolio in the future or ensure I keep using my cards the same way for the following month. It also allows me to make adjustments before I start missing out on too many extra cash back opportunities. Knowledge is power and the more you know how your credit cards are performing by using a tracker, the more rewards you will earn!

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