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This CEO’s Six-Figure Salary Hack: Credit Card Cash Back

Fortune MPW NextGen 2018Fortune MPW NextGen 2018
Christina Stembel, founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, speaks at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit on Dec. 11, 2018 in Laguna Niguel, Calif.Stuart Isett—Fortune

If you’ve ever started your own business, you may wonder how much you should be paying yourself.

Christina Stembel, the founder and CEO of Farmgirl Flowers, was asked just that question this week at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, and her advice may come in handy for all kinds of entrepreneurs—or just anyone who wants to give themself a raise.

“I have a little bit of a hack,” Stembel said at the conference, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Here’s how it works: While she only takes a paycheck of $60,000 a year—a pittance compared to the average CEO salary—she charges business expenses to the Capital One Spark credit card, which offers 2% cash back. She then pockets those rewards herself.

“I pay myself with credit card cash back,” Stembel explained. “I made more than my husband last year did at Facebook, in just cash back.”

While she didn’t specify exactly how much her husband takes home, the average annual salary at Facebook is $116,000, according to PayScale.

Stembel is particularly thrifty as she has bootstrapped her San Francisco-based flower delivery service from the start, using $49,000 from her savings account to get up and running. Today the company is profitable, with $23 million in revenue, she said.

Eventually, she says, she hopes Farmgirl Flowers can take a bigger chunk of the $3 billion flower industry. Still, the business is particularly challenging because of the short life span and fragility of flowers once they are cut from their roots—allowing just three days to get them to customers before they wilt.

“I’m never going to de-risk it enough to be a safe bet,” Stembel added. “We’re a perishable product company. Perishability is really, really hard.”