Don’t Pay, Do Play

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In the field of manufactured spending one of the most common metrics is “cents-per-mile-earned.”

The idea here is that if you’re doing manufactured spending, there are always some costs associated with the exercise, and those costs can be quantified if you divide the total cost of the manufactured spending in cents by the total number of miles earned.

As an example let’s say you bought $2000 in Vanilla Reload Cards at a CVS with your Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

Each $500 vanilla reload card costs $3.95 in activation fees. There’s no category bonus on spending on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card at drugstores, so each dollar spent yields one Ultimate reward point.

So the calculation goes something like: (395 cents X 4) /2000 Ultimate reward points = .79 cents/per Ultimate reward point earned.

Not bad. But can we do better?

As you may have picked up by now, I’m not just a miles enthusiast. I’m also an early retirement enthusiast.

So the idea that costs (even those less than 1%) matter in the long run, is something that I feel deep in my bones.

Because of this heartfelt belief, I do everything I can to avoid paying anything at all for manufactured spending.

There are undoubtedly thousands of ways to manufacture spend for free, but I will highlight the ones that I have used myself.

1. Fuel Points.

This summer QFC supermarkets in my area ran a promotion where for each hundred dollars you spent in store, you received 10 cents off per gallon of gas at Shell stations (up to one dollar off per gallon.)

Fortunately visa gift cards counted towards fuel points. So each thousand dollars of spend on Visa gift cards cost me about $12. But I then got one dollar off per gallon on a fill up. With my 18 gallon tank this netted me six dollars positive for each thousand dollars of manufactured spend. In other words I was making .6 cents-per-mile-earned!

woohoo2

WooHoo Fuel Points!

2. Gift Card Mall through a cash back portal.

By going to a portal finder like cashbackmonitor.com, you can find cashback on Visa gift card purchases from portals such as topcashback.com for outlets like giftcardmall.com .

The cost of manufactured spending usually hovers around one cent per mile, but there is a cost to having gift cards sent to you. So anytime you get more than 2% cashback on such a deal you will likely come out ahead.

The main downside of this strategy is that there is a lag time between your purchase and receiving the gift cards. Kind of a hassle.

3. Subsidizing your gift card purchases with the concurrent purchase of gift cards with a cashback credit card. 

This is my current strategy.

At the time of my last credit card churn I applied for a seventh card, not for the sign-up bonus, but for manufactured spending purposes.

I was approved for the Wells Fargo Cashback credit card which gives me 5% cashback on purchases at drug stores, grocery stores, and gas stations for the first six months.

So each time I go to put manufactured spending on my credit cards, I will buy $1-2000 worth of gift cards with my cashback credit card.

Each thousand dollars I spend in this manner yields $50 in cashback. This is more than enough to cover the purchase of $4000 worth of gift cards with my other miles earning credit cards.

And these examples just scratch the surface of what is possible. The sky is the limit.

It is worth pointing out, however,  that there are some additional considerations.

The idea of cents-per-mile-earned is only valid if you’re manufacturing spending simply for the sake of manufacturing spending.

If you’re manufacturing spending to hit a credit card sign up bonus then the cents-per-mile-earned become much cheaper.

You see, the consequences of not hitting your spending targets and missing tens of thousands of miles in the form of a signing bonus, means that you are actually earning far more than the calculated miles per cent from the above equation.

Simply put, manufactured spending is far more valuable when it enables you to hit credit card sign-up bonuses.

On the other side of the ledger there are additional costs of manufactured spending that are not accounted for in the above equation.

Gas is not free.

More importantly time is not free. If you don’t enjoy the exercise of manufactured spending, you’re probably better off just spending your free time with your loved ones or participating in your favorite hobbies, rather than spending extra time to offset the costs associated with manufactured spending.

As hard as it is for me to understand, I admit that not everyone gets their kicks out of buying gift cards and designing model investment portfolios.WoodyAllen

Naturally I’d like you be just a little more like…. me.

That being said, I hope this is an instance where you can gain some valuable insight from someone else’s fanaticism.

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4 Responses to “Don’t Pay, Do Play”

  1. David S. March 8, 2014 at 7:52 am #

    Any issues w/the Wells Fargo card w/gift card purchases? They seem to indicate that they won’t honor it in the fine print.

  2. Miles Dividend M.D. March 8, 2014 at 9:50 am #

    David,

    No issues at all. I have personally offset every nickel of manufactured spending fees in the past four months with this very card. The fact is that credit card companies have no ability to see what you have bought at a retail outlet.

    This could be an issue if you bought gift cards from a retailer that sold only gift cards.

    There are no guarantees in manufactured spending, but this method has worked very well for me.

    Alexi

  3. Jay September 11, 2014 at 10:34 pm #

    What’s your plan now that your 6 months of 5% is up? What happens when the 5% promo period is over anyway?

    Thanks, love your blog!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. September 11, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

      Jay,

      I moved on to the Amex Old Bluecash card (http://freequentflyerbook.com/blog/2014/1/3/5-cash-back-is-back-for-now) which gives unlimited 5X cashback at drugstores, gas stations, and grocery stores after your first 6500$ in spend each year.

      There are always opportunitues. You just have to keep moving…

      Thanks for checking out the site!

      AZ

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