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Millennials say they spend about 15 percent more per month on groceries, gas, restaurants and cellphone service than older adults, a new Bankrate survey finds. But this age group’s reluctance to use credit cards to pay for everyday essentials might mean they’re missing out on savings.

“As long as you pay the balance in full every month, using a rewards credit card amounts to getting a rebate on purchases you’d make anyway. The card issuer is paying you to use their card rather than another method of payment,” says Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s chief financial analyst.

Money back into your wallet

If everyday spending is devouring your budget, the right cash-back credit card can put money back in your pocket you might not have had otherwise.

Take the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card. It pays:

  • 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases, then 1 percent after that.
  • 3 percent cash back at U.S. gas stations.
  • 3 percent cash back at select U.S. department stores. Terms apply.

If you’re spending $250 or more a week at the grocery store, you’ll earn back at least $430 annually, or enough for nearly two free weeks of groceries. Blue Cash Preferred includes a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year of card membership, then $95.

A more straightforward option is the no-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited, which pays a flat 1.5 percent cash back on all spending. If you’re shelling out at least $250 every week at the supermarket, you’ll earn about $195 back over the course of the year, plus whatever else you earn back on your other expenditures.

Savings you’ll eat up

There are few one-size-fits-all credit cards, so you’ll need to look for a card (or cards) that offer the top rewards in the areas most important to you. Big restaurant spenders should consider the Capital One Premier Dining Rewards card, which charges no annual fee and pays:

  • An unlimited 3 percent back on dining out.
  • 2 percent on groceries.
  • 1 percent on all other spending.

If you spend an average of $200 a month on meals made by someone else, you’ll earn about $72 back over the course of the year — enough to splurge on a meal at that new farm-to-table restaurant that just opened in your neighborhood.

If your restaurant budget rivals your entertainment outlay, the Citi ThankYou Preferred card pays an unlimited 2 points per $1 spent on dining out and entertainment, which includes concerts, movies, museums and even some types of streaming media.

With an average savings of about $48 per year on dining, plus whatever additional points you’ll earn back from other spending, it might be easier to justify those game-day tickets. Using a rewards credit card for routine spending that you may never have considered charging, like your monthly cable, satellite or Hulu bill, also can put more money back in your wallet.

Fill up and keep costs down

To lessen the bite of fueling up, consider a card that earns big rewards on gas.

The PNC Cash Rewards Visa pays:

  • 4 percent back on gas station purchases.
  • 3 percent on dining, including fast food.
  • 2 percent on grocery store purchases.

There’s a combined $8,000 cap on these high-earning categories, after which you’ll receive 1 percent cash back. If you dedicate this card solely to pump purchases, you’ll get cash-back earnings of up to $320 when  you max out the $8,000 limit.

If you don’t want to be bothered tracking your spending, a flat-rate cash-back card, like the Citi Double Cash, can still help you save. The Citi Double Cash pays 1 percent back at the time of purchase and another 1 percent when you pay your bill.

Remember, though, that no matter the rewards card you choose, the earnings are most meaningful if you pay your bill in full every month. Otherwise the finance charges will outweigh the value of the rewards.

This editorial content is not provided or commissioned by any of the referenced financial institutions or companies. Opinions, analysis, reviews or recommendations expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any financial institutions or companies, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such entity. All products or services are presented without warranty. Bankrate.com is an independent, advertising-supported publisher and comparison service. This post contains references to our partners, and Bankrate may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on certain links posted on this website.

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