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    Here's My Method For Getting The Maximum Cash Back On Everything I Buy

    I love the smell of cash back in the morning.

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    Last year, people turned to hobbies like baking bread and playing chess to get them through lockdown, but my personal quarantine hobby was a little different: I became obsessed with something called reward stacking.

    CBC / Via

    (Aaaaand I may have spent a lot of time playing dress-up in Animal Crossing, but that's another tale for another day.)

    In a nutshell, reward stacking is when you combine several shopping rewards programs with a rewards credit card to get the maximum discounts, points, and/or cash back that you possibly can.

    Woman shopping on her phone with a credit card
    Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

    Pre-quarantine, I would've been like, Who has time for that? I used coupons and stuff when it was convenient and I had a cash back credit card, but the idea of doing the research to find and combine deals seemed kinda hard and tedious to me. But once I dipped a toe in the reward-stacking pool, I was hooked. These days, I get a wild amount of satisfaction from scheming, studying different rewards programs, and figuring out new ways to combine deals. 

    There are a few different things you'll need to start stacking rewards. First, you'll want a rewards credit card that offers you travel points or cash back.

    Hand holding a credit card
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    I personally use a Bank of America Cash Rewards Visa. I get 3% cash back when I shop online, 2% back at grocery stores, and 1% back everywhere else I use it. Since I do a lot of my shopping online anyway, this is a great deal for me. But depending on how and where you like to shop, different cards might be a better fit for you. For example, if you travel a lot, then you might get more out of a card offered by your favorite airline. So if you don't have a rewards card yet, take your time and shop around for a card that fits your lifestyle.

    And if there's a retailer where you tend to shop a lot, you might want to open a rewards card through them, too, if they offer it.

    But you should know: Credit card rewards aren't worth it unless you can pay your card off in full each month.

    App screen showing my cash back balance at $38.13
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    Credit card interest rates can be pretty high, especially if your credit score is on the lower end. The interest on my cash back card is 16.99%, so if I carry a balance from month to month, interest charges will easily cancel out the cash back I get. I used to have some debt, so I focused on paying it off before I got into cashing out rewards. It honestly took me a couple of years to pay off a $2,000 balance, and it wasn't easy, but it was sooo worth it. If you're dealing with debt right now, you might want to check out these payoff tips that real people swear by — numbers 1, 3, and 8 did the trick for me.

    To stay out of debt now, I like to pay my credit card off every Friday. That way, the balance never gets big and scary looking, and it helps me stay on top of my budget. I also have an emergency fund that I can pull from when unexpected bills pop up instead of charging them to a credit card. You might have a different system that works for you (and I'd love to hear about it in the comments), but this works for me.

    Once you've got a rewards card set up, you'll want to download some rewards shopping apps that you can use to get points while you shop, like Drop.

    And to really take it to the next level, there are additional rewards apps that you can stack with your credit cards and Drop to get even more out of your purchases.

    Here's a little taste of what reward stacking looks like for me in practice. The other day, I decided that I wanted to get a new pair of sandals to start out the summer. So first, I looked in Drop and Slide to see which footwear retailers work with both apps.

    Foot Locker page in the Drop app
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    I discovered that Foot Locker is partnered with both, so I cruised around their website until I found a pair of no-nonsense black slides that are just my style. I also played a couple quick games in Drop and "spun the wheel" before shopping, which got me a 2,000-point bonus that would apply if I shopped through the app in the next 48 hours. Things were really looking up for this reward stacker.

    Next, I got back on my phone and tapped the link to shop at Foot Locker via Drop. I shopped on the website as usual, and then at checkout, I noted the total and switched over to Slide.

    Payment screen on Slide
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    I entered the total in Slide and bought a Foot Locker gift card in that exact amount. I copy-pasted the gift card code and pin into the Foot Locker site and ordered my new shoes.

    You can also put your Slide cash back balance from previous purchases toward your current purchases so that it works more like an instant discount, but I like to let it add up for a while until I can withdraw it and move it into my investing account. Slide also allows you to pre-load your account with money (and your cash back percentage goes up to 5% if you do).

    My total came to $56.48, and thanks to my reward stack, I got 3% cash back from my credit card ($1.69), 4% cash back from Slide ($2.26), and 4,379 points toward my next Sephora gift card in Drop.

    Drop app screen showing my rewards points for my purchase
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    It is a couple of extra steps, but just the cash back on this single purchase adds up to almost $4. This year so far, I've gotten just over $100 cash back from my credit card and Slide and about $10 in gift cards. I don't think I'll get rich from reward stacking by any means, but I love seeing my money go a little further, and I don't mind taking a couple of minutes to do it. It's almost like a little game that I get to play whenever I shop (and I love games).

    Of course, the apps that I use to get rewards and cash back collect data about me and my spending. That's not a huge concern for me, but depending on how you feel about privacy and your data, it could be for you.

    Paramount Pictures / Via

    I realize that data about my shopping habits (and sometimes even my location) gets shared with the companies that run these apps. However, before I downloaded any of them, I read through tons of reviews in the App Store, searched for Reddit threads about each app, and looked at the FAQs on their websites very carefully to make sure that they were legit and that I felt safe and comfortable with the company. I'm not putting my credit card into some shady, random apps.

    The way I see it, I've given so much more free data to online companies that offered me a lot less in return (cough, cough — Facebook), that I'm not too bothered if Slide and Drop know that I bought a pair of sandals in the summer. But that's just my take; you might feel totally different, so do your own research, and go with what you're comfortable with.

    So now that you've seen my personal reward-stacking formula, I'm super curious to know what you use to get deals and cash back when you shop. Share your favorite pointers in the comments below!

    And for more money tips and tricks, check out the rest of our personal finance posts

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