My Monday Money Games

By - November 7, 2014

Photo Credit: Rich Brooks on

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 Monday...

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).

Buy Money

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 below).

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): $4.00

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 $43.75

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 done!

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 for this.

Play Chess

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 account.

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 $5,000.

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:

Income: $43.75
Savings: $19.38

Total: $63.13

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.

Other Pages

Falling Wages

The Job Interview Answers in Your Head

Flying El Cheapo Airlines

My Money Games