Turn 30 Minutes into $15,000 (No smoke and mirrors, just math)

Yep, another clickbaity headline, but hear me out. A couple of months ago I wrote my last clickbaity headline, How to Make $2,000 in 30 Minutes (For Real), which described how you could make $2,000 in an (arbitrarily chosen) six years by getting the American Express Blue Cash Preferred Credit Card (that’s a referral link – if that bothers you, sign up without the referral). Please read that post for more context but, for many folks, I think that’s an excellent credit card to get. Now I want to talk about your possible next credit card.

Before we go any further, I have a very important caveat. This is only a good idea if you use credit cards responsibly. If you know from past experience that if you get a new credit card it will encourage you to spend more money and/or spend so much that you carry a monthly balance on it and have to pay interest, this is a bad idea and you shouldn’t do it. Stop reading now. But if you simply use credit cards to pay for things you would be buying anyway, for example cable, internet, streaming and restaurants, then you definitely should keep reading.

With the above caveat in mind, there’s no reason you have to stop at the American Express card. There are lots and lots (and lots) of cards out there, all with advantages and disadvantages. A card that I recommend as a second card to a lot of folks is the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card (not a referral link, in case that makes you trust this more). This card offers you a $200 signup bonus (when you spend at least $1,000 in the first four months), and offers you 5% cash back on purchases in two selected categories, 2% on purchases in one selected category, and then 1% on everything else. Here are the categories you can choose from.

You do have to select those categories each quarter, which is slightly annoying, but it really only takes two clicks, they’ll send you a reminder if you ask, and that second click can be just to re-use the same categories you used the previous quarter – maybe 60 seconds once every three months. Which categories you select obviously depends on what you spend money on and, for some folks, it might make sense to occasionally switch categories if you know you are going to make a large purchase in the upcoming quarter in a different category. But I’m going to suggest a simpler approach, where you truly can just spend about 30 minutes and get the benefit mentioned in the blog post title.

Most people I know have cell phones, internet, and some combination of cable and streaming services, which are the two 5% categories I suggest you consider selecting (and then sticking with). How much folks spend on that varies tremendously but, as a representative amount, $200 a month seems reasonable. Obviously how much you spend combined in these categories could be more (sometimes much more) or less than this, but this seemed like a reasonable ballpark estimate for the “average” American family. If we use $200 a month, then 5% cash back gets you $10 a month. Since we’re comparing this to a typical 1% cash back credit card, that’s an extra $8 a month by using this card.

For the 2% category, it again depends on your spending habits. For some folks, that might be gas (and charging stations!), for others groceries (although if you already have the American Express card that gives 6% back on groceries, you might not use this card for groceries that often), and for others restaurants. Again, how much you spend in one of these categories per month is going to vary tremendously by individual family, but I’m going to use $200 a month as a reasonable amount (for gas or restaurants). At 2% cash back, that’s $4 a month but, again, only $2 a month more than a typical 1% cash back credit card.

It could be a lot more than that if you choose groceries. My assumption was that perhaps you were already using the American Express card for 6% back on groceries. But, if you spend a lot on groceries, you will max out the yearly cap on the American Express card, which would then make this card even better because you could use your 2% on groceries for part of the year, which would presumably get you more cash back than gas or restaurants. You might also choose groceries for the first quarter or two while you are making your minimum spend to get the $200 signup bonus.

So, you apply for the card and, once you get it, setup automatic payments for the card from your checking account, automatic payments to the card for your cell phones, cable, internet and streaming services, then use the card when you dine out (and you can also set the card up as your default card for things like DoorDash, UberEats and similar food delivery services), or get gas or groceries (depending on what you pick). Yes, you do have the two clicks each quarter to choose the categories, but that doesn’t take much time, so somewhere on the order of 30 minutes to set all this up. And then you just sit back and watch the money accumulate.

At this point, some of you are thinking, “Well, yeah, but other than the $200 signup bonus, the numbers you’re using add up to an extra $10 a month. Big whoop.” But, as Pete says, we need to respect ten bucks again. Because where some folks see “only $10”, I see much, much more. Because if you take that $10 “extra” you are getting each month, along with the $200 signup bonus, and invest it in a low-cost, diversified equity index fund, it will turn into over $15,000 in thirty years. Thirty years may seem like a long time, but keep in mind you only spent about 30 minutes on this process (plus another 60 seconds once every three months), and these are things you were already going to be spending money on. If you are going to have a cell phone, and internet, and cable/streaming, why wouldn’t you want to get a 5% discount just for 30 minutes of one-time work? With the bonus of getting 2% when you dine out, or buy gas/charge your EV, or get groceries. As Pete says, it’s these “$10 decisions” that often make the difference between being comfortable financially and just making ends meet.

One more thing – cash back on credit cards is not subject to taxes. So if you were able to take this money and invest it in a Roth or HSA, that $15,000 would also be completely tax free. It’s like turning 30 minutes worth of work into $15,000 (potentially totally tax free). Seemingly small (and easy) moves like this can have a big long-term impact.

There may be other cards that would be a better “second card” for you, but I like this one because of the simplicity of it and the fact that just about everyone has these regular, monthly expenditures. No need to change your habits, just change your automatic billing and be done with it. There are no smoke and mirrors here, just math. Are you willing to spend 30 minutes to make $15,000?

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