Everyone has to eat. So, why not get a little something back for the expense?
Depending on their income level and ages of children, a family of four spends an average of $545 to $1,235 a month on food to cook from home, according to March 2012 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Restaurant spending adds an average of $2,505 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest figures.
Restaurant coupons and deals are a good way to start cutting back on your food bill, but foodies in search of savings may also want to consider paying with the right plastic for their grocery and restaurant purchases.
But first, a word of caution: credit card experts say it isn’t smart to chase rewards like these if you can’t pay off your balance in full each month. One point or mile, or 1% back for every dollar, works out to about a penny in rebates or even less, by some sites’ estimates, depending on which rewards you redeem them for. That’s easily outweighed by interest rates that start at 12.99% and can run much higher if your credit isn’t spotless.
Even if you’re not in the market for a new credit card, there are plenty of ways to enhance the ones you have for food-focused spending. Register credit and debit cards at iDine.com, which offers 5% to 15% back at some restaurants, depending on how often you visit. Groupon’s new rewards program tracks spending at participating local places — like your favorite restaurants and specialty food purveyors. You can also register credit and debit cards to unlock extra Groupons for additional savings.
There’s also Upromise.com, which gives back up to 8% on restaurant spending with linked credit and debit cards, and up to 10% back on select grocery items when you register a store loyalty card, too. All the cash goes into a savings account that can be redeemed for paying off student loans and other qualified education expenses.
And if you are in the market for a new credit card, we checked CardHub.com, BillShrink.com, CardRatings.com, NerdWallet.com and Credit.com to find great rewards programs for grocery and restaurant spending.
Blue Cash Preferred from American Express
Cardholders get 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% at gas stations and department stores, and 1% on everything else. Right now, the card also offers $150 cash back after $1,000 in spending during the first three months. There’s a 0% purchase APR for 12 months and rates are as low as 17.12% thereafter. Unfortunately, there’s also a $75 annual fee, but by NerdWallet.com’s estimates, $25 in supermarket spending each week is enough to knock it out in rewards.
Blue Cash Everyday from American Express
If you’re not sold on Preferred’s fee but like the benefits, Everyday offers similar rewards. CardRatings.com and Credit.com have it on their lists for the 3% back at supermarkets, 2% at gas stations and department stores, and 1% on everything else. It also comes with a $100 bonus after $1,000 in spending over three months. Finally, there’s a 0% purchase APR for 12 months and rates are as low as 17. 24% thereafter.
Hilton Honors Visa
Even if you’re not a frequent traveler, this card is still pretty rewarding on regular spending. Users earn six Hilton Honors points per dollar on Hilton purchases, as well as spending on gas, groceries, drugstores and cable/Internet/wireless bills. You can also earn three points per dollar on everything else. (NerdWallet.com estimates each point is worth about half a cent, which means the 6 Hilton Honors points are the equivalent of a 3% cash-back rate.)
The APR starts at 15.24% and if you’re a Hilton devotee, there’s also a premium version of the card that charges $75 a year for extra Hilton rewards (nine points per dollar), but foodies don’t see an uptick in grocery and drugstore perks.
Chase Freedom Visa
It’s one of CardHub.com’s picks for offering 5% off $1,500 in quarterly spending in rotating categories. Through June, they say, the categories include grocery stores and movie theaters. (Restaurants also sometimes pop up as a bonus category.) Everything else earns 1% back.
Right now, there’s a $100 bonus for spending $500 in the first three months. There’s a 0% purchase rate for 15 months and ongoing rates starting at 12.99%. Just keep in mind that rotating categories means that for months at a time, you’re getting the minimum 1% back on most of your food-related spending.
NerdWallet.com likes this one for its five points per dollar on restaurants, books, movies and music, and one point on everything else. Currently, there’s a 10,000-point bonus (worth $100 in gift cards) for signing up for paperless statements and spending $650 in the first three months. There’s also 0% on purchases for up to seven months and rates starting at 12.99% after. Pay on time, and you can knock the APR down even further.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.