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Younger and wiser: How I helped my 88-year-old grandma maximize her credit card spending

July 15, 2021
4 min read
Wallet with cash and credit card
Younger and wiser: How I helped my 88-year-old grandma maximize her credit card spending
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My grandma is nothing if not financially literate. She pays her bills every month (by paper check) and maintains an impeccable credit score. At 88, she has accumulated plenty of credit cards. Unfortunately, most of them are store cards -- Sears, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Bloomingdale’s, Walmart, Union Plus -- and the lone Chase Freedom Flex. The store cards don’t allow her to get any real benefits except store discounts.

So, how do you teach someone who is knowledgeable about credit cards how to take full advantage of their benefits, much later in life?

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

The most important thing when trying to break a bad habit is to teach the value of a better direction. My grandma has always been a traveler and loves to explore the world. But the pandemic changed her outlook on being in crowded spaces such as airplanes, especially with the additional risks she faces. Now, using points to travel has less value to her -- but that doesn’t make the points worthless.

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

A great place to start in her credit card journey is with a card she already holds -- the Chase Freedom Flex. This card earns 5% cash back on rotating bonus categories (on up to $1,500 in combined purchases) each quarter when activated. It also earns 5% on travel when booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% on dining at restaurants, 3% at drugstores and 1% on all other purchases.

Unfortunately, by not being tuned in to how this card works, my grandma missed out on a great cash-back opportunity. She recently completed a kitchen renovation in July. However, she didn't know that the bonus category for home improvement was available between April and June. She was upset to learn that the $75 received from this project could have been $125.

Although she might not be jetting off to Paris these days, the points or cash back she earns on credit cards can be used toward other expenses. TPG generally frowns on redeeming points for statement credits, but it's a solid option when you’re not traveling. Since the Freedom Flex card is part of the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, cardholders have the unique ability to use the Pay Yourself Back program through Sept. 30th 2021.

This is how we found a new use for her accumulated cash back that would give her much more satisfaction. Now that her bonus categories have been activated, and she’s getting a better return on purchases, my grandma had a little extra money laying around. Every few weeks, she donates money to different charities she supports.

The Freedom Flex only allows you to use the Pay Yourself Back feature to offset dining purchases and donations to charities. Points donated to charities can be redeemed at a rate of 1.25 cents per point. So, if 200 points are donated to a charity, they would be redeemed for $250 dollars.

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While getting a better understanding of the capabilities of credit cards was one battle, another was figuring out how to continue to save my grandma money and make her life (and my own) a little easier. One way was teaching her how to take advantage of her Amazon Echo devices.

Now that she’s older, my grandma finds it helpful to have things delivered instead of having to lug them from the store. With Alexa, she can just ask for an order to be placed and it appears. This increase in spending through Amazon prompted us to talk about her opening the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card. She loves her store cards, and this no-annual-fee addition allows her to save 5% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases.

The information for the Amazon Prime Rewards card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

No matter how skilled we think we are at managing our finances, there’s always room for improvement. And age or experience shouldn’t be a deterrent from saving money. With a little patience and guidance, my grandma has picked up some better credit card habits -- and some tricks to make them work better for her. The next challenge? Getting her to close all those store cards.

Featured image by Getty Images/EyeEm
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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Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
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  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

5XGet 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com
1.5XEarn 1.5X points on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year
1X1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 150,000 points
    120,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Good, Excellent

Why We Chose It

It's hard to find a card that competes with the mile-long list of benefits that come with the Amex Business Platinum. While it's certainly not the card for the average consumer, a business owner with tons of expenses -- especially related to travel -- will find this card incredibly valuable. This card is similar to the consumer version that Amex offers, but with more business-oriented perks around statement credits and earning rates that are a better fit for business owners.

Pros

  • An up to $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee every four to five years
  • Up to $400 annual credit for eligible U.S. Dell purchases (enrollment required)
  • Gold status at Marriott and Hilton hotels (enrollment required)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts program and Hotel Collection
  • Extended warranty protection
  • International Airline Program and Cruise Privileges Program

Cons

  • Steep annual fee
  • Difficulty meeting $15,000 welcome offer for smaller businesses
  • Limited high-bonus categories outside of travel
  • The Points Guy Exclusive Offer: Earn 150,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Platinum Card® within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Get 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights and prepaid hotels on amextravel.com, and 1X points for each dollar you spend on eligible purchases.
  • Earn 1.5X points (that’s an extra half point per dollar) on eligible purchases at US construction material & hardware suppliers, electronic goods retailers and software & cloud system providers, and shipping providers, as well as on purchases of $5,000 or more everywhere else, on up to $2 million of these purchases per calendar year.
  • Unlock over $1,000 in annual statement credits on a curation of business purchases, including select purchases made with Dell Technologies, Indeed, Adobe, and U.S. wireless service providers.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year for checked baggage fees, lounge day passes, and more at one selected airline.
  • $189 CLEAR® Credit: Use your Card and get up to $189 back per year on your CLEAR® membership. CLEAR® is available at more than 50 U.S. airports and stadiums.
  • The American Express Global Lounge Collection® can provide an escape at the airport. With more than 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and counting, you have more lounge location options than any other credit card on the market as of 9/2021.
  • $695 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.