My Monday Money Games
By Steve Gillman - November 7, 2014
Photo Credit: Rich Brooks on Flickr.com
This year I've made money dozens of ways and
used dozens of strategies to cut our expenses. The bills get
paid and we save money. But I make it a point to enjoy most of
what I do, which is why I'm not getting rich.
The self-help theory found in many books that
says you should "Do what you love and the money will follow"
is largely nonsense. Well, unless you happen to love sales and
marketing and self-promotion as much as the authors of those
books -- in which case the money often does follow. Otherwise,
I figure if you enjoy your work and can pay the bills, great
-- and if you hate your job, well, make enough money to do what
you love even if more money doesn't follow.
What I love to do is play money games,
but on a small scale. I enjoy chasing credit card points, getting
bank bonuses, and using intricate savings strategies, like "stacking
savings. An example of the latter: I recently bought our cat
food for 50% off by buying it on sale, using a coupon, and paying
with a discounted gift card that I bought using a 2% cash-back
credit card (that's four strategies on one purchase).
It all adds up to only a few thousand dollars
extra each year, but it's like a complicated chess game, and
I love playing chess. To explain further, here's what I did on
Pay the Bills
My Monday routine starts with writing an article
for a client. That's as close as I get to a "real"
job. I don't actively look for new clients, because that would
mean writing more than the three articles weekly that I currently
do. But I do have to pay the bills.
Once that was done I looked over the list
I put together on Sunday, and gathered what I needed. With pockets
full of credit cards, coupons, and the other "tools of the
trade," I headed out to play chess at the library, ten miles
away, stopping along the way to do my deals.
Go to the Bank
The first stop was my primary bank, where
I deposited 4 checks from other bank accounts. I had to move
money back to my primary checking account from accounts I had
opened in order to earn signup bonuses. I'll make close to $2,000
in bank bonuses this year, and I have at least $8,000 tied up
in those accounts at the moment (you typically have to keep the
account open six months or you lose the bonus).
My next stop was Staples, where I bought two
$200 Visa debit gift cards to get a promotional bonus of a $20
Visa debit card. I paid with a credit card that gives me 5% cash
back when used at office supply stores. The fee was $6.95 for
each card, so the total of $413.90 generated $20.69 cash back
(plus I got that $20 Visa debit card). The total profit after
fees would be $26.79, but I don't tally the profit until the
cards are actually liquidated (and you'll see how that's done
I also had a $5 gift card that Staples gave
me for being a loyalty card holder. I used that to buy a big
package of paper towels that were on sale for $6.99 (normally
$8.99). Savings (based on the $5.99 I would have paid at Walmart):
Time for Breakfast
I crossed the parking lot to McDonald's. The
Egg McMuffin, which normally sells for $3.29, was on sale for
a two for $3. My order came to $3.14 with tax. I paid with my
Seacoast Bank debit card because I need 15 debits within 60 days
to get a $200 bonus (I also had to set up direct deposit). Savings
(versus two at the regular price): $3.90
Do Some Manufactured Spending
Across the street at Walmart I loaded two
$500 debit cards onto my Bluebird Account. I had purchased the
cards a few days earlier at Winn Dixie, using a Sun Trust credit
card that pays me 5% cash back at grocery stores the first year,
and 10% more if I have the cashback deposited into my checking
account (which I had opened to get a bonus). The fee was $5.95
each, and the cashback on the $1,011.90 total was $55.65. Profit
Buying cash equivalents with credit cards
to get points or cash back, and then "liquidating"
these purchases (turning them back into cash) is referred to
as "manufactured spending." I'll cover this topic in
more detail in the near future.
The CVS pharmacy was almost next door, so
I went there next. I bought a $500 PayPal MyCash card to help
me meet the spending requirement for a credit card bonus. The
fee was $3.95. Once I used the card to load my PayPal account
I could move the money back to my primary checking account, or
spend it using my 1% cashback PayPal debit card.
Save Some Money
I had forgotten to buy hot sauce earlier in
the week, so while in Walmart I bought a bottle for 79 cents,
using the Seacoast Bank debit card. Have to get those debits
In CVS I bought a whitening-toothpaste on
sale for $3 and, because I used my "ExtraCare" card
I got $1.50 back in "ExtraBucks." I used my Seacoast
Bank debit card to pay.
I put the toothpaste and PayPal MyCash card
in the car and went back in to use the ExtraBucks. I bought mixed
nuts that were normally 7.99 but were on sale for $4.99, making
net cost $3.49 (paid for with that debit card). Savings (based
on what I would have paid at Walmart): $2.50
I stopped for gas and used my Winn Dixie card
to get a 5 cent-per-gallon discount off the $1.99 per-gallon
price (already the lowest price in town). I paid with a gas gift
card I previously bought at a 10% discount, bringing my net cost
for the 11 gallons down to $1.75 per gallon. Savings: $2.64
I went inside for my usual chess-day Diet
Coke because it costs just 79 cents for any size here. Of course
I got the largest size (caffeine helps my game), and I paid the
85-cent total using that Seacoast debit card.
Look for Opportunities
I stopped at Office Depot to see if they had
the $500 debit gift cards I had read about online. I get 5% back
at office supply stores with two of my credit cards, which would
be $50.69 on two $500 cards with a $6.95 fee each, leaving a
profit of $36.79 (if I had no cost to liquidated the cards).
The profit on five of the usual $200 cards (with a $6.95 fee
each) is only $16.98 -- not worth the trouble.
Unfortunately the $500 Visa debit cards they
carried were "Vanilla" brand, which do not load to
a Bluebird account, making them difficult to liquidate.
Fortunately the store was on my route anyhow.
I try to make these activities fit my normal routes and routines
as much as possible so I don't spend too much time or gas money
on these money games. My Monday stops are all on my way to the
library, but at other times I do have to drive an extra mile
or two; I occasionally add $5 to my expense sheet to account
I like to play blitz games when I play chess.
Each player has five minutes on the clock. After three or four
hours of chess I headed toward home.
Time to Make and Save More Money
On the way home I stopped at Winn Dixie. They
were out of the $500 debit gift cards, but while I was there
I bought three bags of frozen vegetables on sale for $1 per bag,
putting the small charge on my Seacoast Debit card, the fifth
debit of the day and eleventh overall. Savings: $1.47
Once I have 16 debits on the card (one extra
for safety) I'll put the card away. I try to make these debits
small, so I don't waste valuable "spend" that can go
on credit cards earning bonuses or points. The 16 debits will
probably add up to less than $40.
At home I checked online to see that the Bluebird
card was properly credited, and then used it to pay one of my
credit card bills. I loaded the MyCash card balance ($500) to
my PayPal account, where I will spend some off using the associated
1% cash back debit card or will transfer it to my linked checking
After my wife was done teaching her Spanish
class that evening we went to Dominos to get a pizza to take
home. A large with three-toppings normally costs about $14 with
a tip, but we buy it only when the weekday special is running,
when it costs $7.99. I paid using a Dominos card that I bought
for a 15% discount with a 2% cashback card. The total after taxes,
a dollar tip for the kitchen crew, and a 17 percent discount:
$7.92. A large pizza is good for two meals for us. Savings (versus
the $12.79 we would otherwise spend on a pizza elsewhere): $4.87
In the mail that day I received a Brinks Money
card, a prepaid MasterCard that has no fees if you use it the
right way (leave it on the default "pay as you go"
plan and never use an ATM). I set up direct deposit of my business
paycheck/draw so I'll be upgraded in a week. Then I'll qualify
for an attached savings account that pays 5% interest on up to
I'll put in the maximum, taking it from a
savings account where it currently makes only 1.1%, or $55 per
year. At 5% it will make $250 per year. That's an extra $195
for less than an hour's work. It's the second account of its
type where I make 5% -- both FDIC insured.
While I was online I paid the minimum on my
Sun Trust credit card, because there is no interest charged the
first year. I'll run it up to a balance of about $6,000 and keep
paying the minimum, while the money sits in my account that pays
1.1%, or another one that pays 5%. I'll pay the balance off just
before the interest charges start up, having made an extra $60
to $200 for the year by keeping their money in my account.
Tally the Results
This is what I made and saved that Monday,
not including any of the projects that were incomplete:
I add the savings to income because in many
ways it's the same. I would buy paper towels no matter what,
after all, so if I save $4 on them it's like making $4 more.
And I try not to delude myself into thinking I'm doing better
than I am. For example, I base the savings not on the regular
price of $7.99 for the paper towels at Staples, but on the $5.99
I would have otherwise paid at Walmart.
My Monday gains may be small, but they add
up. Generally, no taxes are due on savings or earnings from
credit card points (the IRS considers them a discount on
purchases), so that total of $63.13 I made and saved is the equivalent
of about $77 of earned income (or $82 of my more-highly-taxed
freelance income), which isn't bad for the couple hours of "work"
(I find it fun).
Of course, there are better days, like days
when a $300 bank or credit card signup bonus comes through, or
when we use free hotel nights earned from credit cards. My wife
and I recently went to Colorado for a vacation and both the plane
tickets and car rental were paid for with credit card points.
Are My Little Money Games Worth the Effort?
You can't make a living with these schemes;
at least I haven't figured out how... yet. Other income that
Monday came from my freelance writing, my websites, my wife's
part-time teaching job, and interest from bank accounts and real
estate investments. But making an extra few thousand dollars
annually for doing something I enjoy is nice.
My goal is to make at least $100 extra each
week from my schemes, and to save an additional $100. That's
effectively like having job income of $12,000 annually before
taxes, except this is fun and takes less than 10 hours per week
of my time. And most days aren't this hectic.
I review my bulletin board on Sunday to schedule
tasks for the week. Monday I make a good route of my trip to
the library to play chess. I pass within a mile of at least six
banks where I have accounts I opened to earn a bonus (although
I prefer to do this online). I also pass by a Walmart that has
a working Bluebird ATM machine (a rarity), a CVS where I can
get deals on food and buy PayPal MyCash cards, and two office
supply stores where I can earn 5% cashback on at least two of
my cards (sometimes three).
Other days I work my games into whatever else
is going on. More than half the time I spend on these activities
is spent online, where I open bank accounts, apply for credit
cards, buy discounted store gift cards, and so on.
There is a certain synergy that happens when
you do enough of these deals. For example, Winn Dixie is more
expensive than Walmart, so I don't normally shop there, yet because
I stop there to buy debit cards I can take advantage of the few
great deals they have each week. I save money on an item or two
(I never buy anything at the regular price), and I also get credit
toward a discount on gas by using my Winn Dixie loyalty card,
which is how I saved 5 cents per gallon on that fill-up.
Of course, since I normally get a discount
of 3 cents-per-gallon using my Fuel Rewards Network card, this
additional benefit is limited. Still, by stopping at Winn Dixie
to do some manufactured spending, I also saved 22 cents more
on gas than I would have saved and I saved $1.47 on groceries
(versus buying the food at Walmart). The point is that wherever
my money games take me I try to take advantage of whatever else
I can do to make or save money.
And yes, I really do the math on all these
deals -- that's part of the fun for me.
And the photo I chose for this post? Yes,
I played Monopoly a lot when I was a child.