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My mom got her first rewards card after using cash for 50 years

Feb. 24, 2020
7 min read
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My mom, Kitty Konkle, just applied for her first rewards credit card after decades of only using cash and a debit card for pretty much everything.

Growing up, I knew my mom was financially savvy. About five years ago she was buying a new car and weighing her financing options and the dealer was astonished when he checked her credit. She had, he said, the “highest credit score that I've ever seen!”

A senior in high school at the time, I didn’t think much of this. I’ve always known that my mom was organized and good with her finances, but a FICO score and what goes into it didn’t mean much in my 18-year-old mind.

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Fast forward a few years and my mom is still the same meticulously careful spender and responsibly reliable borrower she has been for decades. Except now, her son has a much better idea of what a FICO score is, how impressive and aspirational her credit patterns have been, and — most important — the rewards that my mom has been leaving on the table for too many years.

Related: Grandpa Points' journey from cash to credit cards in retirement

My mom and me at my college graduation. (Photo by Austin Konkle/The Points Guy)

You see, my mom has used the most traditional and least-rewarding method of payment almost exclusively for her entire life: cash. Whether checking out at our local grocery store or bargain-hunting for the holidays, my mom has pulled out her wallet and counted out exact change for her purchases. Even convincing her to use a debit card to pay at the pump — instead of making the two trips inside the gas station, one to pay (with physical bills, of course) and one to pick up the inevitable change — took me years.

Related reading: Why you shouldn't use a debit card

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Soon after I got my job at TPG, it became clear to me just how many benefits and rewards my mom had been missing out on. It also became clear to me that my mom was not alone. Paying with cash, or at the very least, money that goes directly from your checking account to a merchant, is a much more comfortable spending style for many consumers. This can be especially true for the older generations who have decades of experience and comfort paying bills without the ubiquity of “rewards” programs and credit cards.

Using CardMatch to find the best offer

After a few weeks of persuading on my part, my mom tried out the CardMatch tool to see what offers were on the table in case she decided to apply for a rewards credit card. Unsurprisingly, she was prequalified for just about every premium credit card on the market.

Boasting a credit score well above 800, she was a prime potential customer for The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve, along with a host of other valuable travel, rewards, and cash-back credit cards. Yet she was wary of applying for any credit card, let alone fronting a high annual fee.

I recommended the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, a card I’ve carried for a few months now and one I thought would line up closely with her spending habits. I sent her my referral link and she was even targeted for a special $300 welcome bonus after spending $1,000 in her first three months (offer subject to change at anytime). (The public offer for the card is a $300 statement credit after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 6 months. Offer Expires 12/10/2020).

Related reading: Amex Blue Cash Preferred credit card review

Making the switch from cash to credit

It's been about four weeks since she received her Blue Cash Preferred card in the mail, and she couldn’t be happier. Not only has she been diligent about pulling out her new card at the register instead of rummaging through her wallet-and-change-purse combo, but she also calls to tell me about it almost every time she does.

I ask her how much she spent at Publix market, then do some mental math on how much money she saved by using her card instead of cash. When I tell her the sum, it's always followed by an excited, “Oh boy!” I couldn’t be happier that my mom finally jumped on the rewards credit card train.

For example, since that card awards 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent annually; 1% thereafter), a $200 trip to the Publix results in $12 cash back -- on top of all the other coupons and discounts she leverages. Every little bit counts.

Related: Best credit cards for maximizing trips to the grocery store

My mom has given me so much in my life. Even though I can’t begin to repay her, I can at least empower her to repay herself. She loves to travel — as does my father. I’ve already encouraged them to sign up for a few airline loyalty programs and helped them earn almost 8,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles each from our trip to Alaska this summer.

After I convinced my mom to start collecting points and miles, she and my father earned 8k miles each on our trip to Alaska in 2019. (Photo by chaolik/Getty Images)

Points and miles can seem confusing or overwhelming when you're a beginner — especially if you've been using another way to pay for everything for the past 50 years. But with a little help from The Points Guy, I’ve learned that when used correctly, credit cards are an avenue to adventure and a launchpad to new places, new people and new things. We're starting small with cash back, but there are other travel rewards credit cards on my radar for her, too.

Related reading: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Bottom line

If I can guide my mom through the process of upgrading to a points-earning — or miles-earning — credit card in the future, she’ll be able to take year-defining, transformative vacations more often. Like many before her, she'll be able to see the world in ways that she never thought possible — all by simply changing the way she pays for goods and services.

My mom missed out on years of cash back and points, but she is rapidly becoming a walking example of the adage that it's never too late -- to start earning rewards on spend. And as a recent owner of a small business, having recently opened a swim school that runs swim lessons in Columbia, SC, the sky is the limit for the types of credit cards she'll be able to apply for as well. As long as your credit and income/expenses are in order, there is almost definitely a credit card out there to fit your needs, your budget and your spending habits. I'm proud of my mom for not letting old habits scare her away from learning, earning and burning in the world of credit card rewards.

Ready to sign up for your first rewards credit card? Check out our .

For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred, please click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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