As oldest of five children, Pam Iorg learned from her dad early on how to stretch money. He would give her an allowance for clothing, but she learned how to sew all her own clothing so that she could make the most of the cash she was given. As she was raising her own five children, she passed along these lessons.
Wanderlust was also something Iorg, who was a stay-at-home mom and later worked as a nurse, shared with her kids early on. “I’d love to travel, and I love to take them on trips, but we didn’t have a lot of money,” recalls Iorg. “And I would always say, ‘Well, I can work an extra shift.’ And my husband would laugh and say, ‘Pam, there are only so many hours in the week.'”
As Iorg’s youngest, Alex Payne, entered adulthood, tied the knot at 21, and went on to have four boys, she kept the love of travel she’d gotten from her mom. But she didn’t want to have to go into debt or sacrifice the funds that were meant for her kids’ futures. “The type of traveling I wanted to do wasn’t just like going on a road trip,” notes Payne. She wanted to go to tropical destinations and to Europe.
In college, a friend who was jetting off to amazing destinations around the globe with her husband told Payne that they were doing it with credit card points and miles. At the time, Payne didn’t understand the strategy. Then, about four years ago, another friend was singing the praises of points and miles, and Payne was motivated to learn more.
“I went down some rabbit holes, learning everything that there was to learn about the points of miles world,” she recalls. “Nine months after I first signed up for our first card, my husband and I were able to go to Hawaii, and we didn’t have to pay for our flights or hotel.”
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At the same time, Payne began sharing her knowledge with Iorg, and soon, they were both reading everything they could. Payne was inspired to start a travel hacking blog called Travel Hacking Mom and asked her Iorg to join her.
Their strategy: open credit cards that offer welcome bonuses with enough points to cover your flight and hotel. Payne explains how by just putting everyday living expenses on the cards, she can quickly reach the minimum spend to get the points. “I’m literally putting every expense that I can on a new credit card when I sign up,” she explains. “I’m looking at my groceries, our gas or utilities, phone bills, Disney subscription, everything that we can. The only thing that we really can’t put on our credit card is our mortgage.”
Payne says that another trick is only using one card at a time to keep things simple and easy. “I don’t want to be putting more on my plate than we can financially afford to do,” she notes, explaining that the process never impedes on other financial goals. For instance, money is automatically withdrawn from her husband’s paycheck and put into savings accounts.
Their experience has been so seamless and fulfilling that the mom-daughter team is not only thrilled to share their know-how with others on the blog and social media, but they see themselves doing it for years to come. Here, some of their best tips for getting started.
Pay Attention to Your Budget
Payne warns people to steer clear of cards that require spending more than you can realistically afford to put on them for the sake of gathering points. “There are some that are $7,000 or more,” she notes. “For me, that’s outside of my normal spending in three months.”
If you are going to go with a card that requires a higher spend for the rewards, do it at a time when you have higher expenses as a result of medical bills or holiday spending. “When we had our fourth child who is 9 months old, we got a new credit card,” notes Payne. “We knew we were going to have a decent-sized hospital bill to pay.”
Use Apps to Track Your Credit Cards
Payne and Iorg recommend keeping track of your credit cards on a free app like Travel Freely, which will help you stay on top of the dates you owe your payments and annual fee bill dates, and AwardWallet, which tracks points.
“As you open up more cards, you’re going to have points and lots of different accounts,” says Payne. “And sometimes it can be cumbersome to log into all of those and see what your totals are. AwardWallet just keeps them all on a sheet for you, so you know what your total balances are with all your points. And it’ll also notify you if your points are going to expire, which is really helpful as well.”
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Don’t Forget About Your Credit Score
Payne says a lot of people have expressed concerns about how this strategy can affect a credit score. “In our situation, it’s actually helped our score,” she notes. “I think I was in the 700s before we started this, and now, I’m above 800, and so is my husband. And the reason being is having a lot of credit cards actually helps your score go up because you have a lot of available credit.”
Payne explains that part of your credit score is your credit utilization, or the amount of available credit you have and the percentage you’re using of it. “I have a lot available credit, but I don’t use very much of it each month because it’s spread out amongst so many cards versus somebody that maybe has one or two credit cards,” she says. “They put all their spending on that. They’re going to use a higher percentage of their available credit.”
Still, Iorg adds that it’s crucial to be on top of tracking and stick with cards you can afford. “You do want to have a credit score of about 700 or above,” she says. “If you don’t, then you can totally work on that. Get some lower or easier cards to get, and that’ll help boost your score.”
She adds, “It’s also important to know that is isn’t for everybody. If you have credit card debt or you tend to overspend, then you want to get all of that debt paid off.”
Consider How the Strategy Can Help You Save
Because Payne and Iorg are using miles and points instead of cash to travel, they’re able to stash away more money into their savings and investments. In fact, after travel hacking for two years, Payne and her husband moved into a new house, and Iorg and her husband have been able to preserve a retirement fund that they would have otherwise spent on travel.
“[My husband] brags to everybody all the time,” notes Iorg. “He tells people on airplanes everywhere, ‘You can’t believe what my wife does. My wife and daughter save so much money. They travel here and there, and they don’t spend very much money.'”
Payne sums it up: “We’re able to still travel and live that lifestyle and hit our financial goals. Sometimes people think you have to sacrifice one or the other, and you can’t have it both ways, but with travel hacking, you can have it both ways, which is super exciting.”
This story originally appeared on parents.com
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