Speed Bumps

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My friend David just completed his first six card churn.

Like I did six months ago, he went all in. The bluebird is coming in the mail, as are five new credit cards.

He’s ready to manufacture some spend.

He’s very excited. And so am I. I can’t wait until he and his wife fly first class to India next year.

Buying gift cards and putting them onto bluebird cards in order pay bills sounds like drudgery I know. But it can actually be quite fun.

Aside from the Walmart experience, there’s a lot of pleasure to be derived from doing the manufactured spending dance.

I find that buying gift cards successfully with credit cards combines some of the rush one might feel when buying a nice set of shoes, with a bit of the exhilaration experienced when placing a big bet at the craps table. There’s a sense of achievement and illicit promise.


“Oh Ferdinand, I feel the need for another pair of….giftcards”

And from the standpoint of the early retirement enthusiast, the best part is that one gets the sugar rush of shopping without any of the calories (actual bills.)

But there’s even more pleasure to be had.

Take when you give a grocery store loyalty card to a gas station attendant and get one dollar off each gallon of your 18 gallon fill up in exchange for having bought $1000 worth of nothing (gift cards.) That’s pretty sweet! Amazingly, the gas station attendant will undoubtedly be genuinely excited for your big score. A bonding moment with your fellow man.

But full disclosure: sometimes you’ve got to put up with some stuff in order to play this game.

Last week I bought $4000 worth of VISA gift cards at a local drugstore.

When I made the drive out to Walmart that night I was surprised to find that the cards would not load onto my bluebird.

I called the My Vanilla customer service number on the back of the cards. The agent told me that the cards had been inadequately activated.

What followed was a tedious string of phone calls, emails, and faxes.

One week later when I had confirmed that I had, in fact, bought my cards legally I was told to go back to the drugstore to show my ID, which I did.

The drugstore had tagged me for suspicious activity, and had frozen the cards.

Once unfrozen I successfully loaded them onto my Bluebird cards at Walmart.

So the price of all of this was that I lost time, as well as access to my money for about a week.

Not the end of the world. But a hassle to be sure.

I think this experience exposes some good rules for manufactured spending:

1. Always keep your receipts. (If you don’t, your place of purchase will probably have an electronic receipt stored in their cash register, but this is definitely a hassle and not to be depended upon.)

2. Never do manufactured spending with money that you cannot afford to part with for a little while. (Up to a month.)

3. Keep in mind that if you do run into a speed bump, you will get your money back, as long as you’re not doing anything illegal. (Which you shouldn’t do in the first place.)

4. Don’t get flippant about the money. $4000 is a lot of money to almost anybody. It should be treated with respect. If you make a mistake and lose the money you will be unpleasantly reminded of it’s true value.

5. Always liquidate the money as quickly as possible. This diminishes the chance of your money getting stuck in limbo.

One final note, when I spoke to the manager at the drugstore today, and she realized that I was not in fact laundering money, she was very pleasant.

As I was getting ready to walk out the door she said “please come again, we would love to sell you more gift cards.”

The week before I’d been tagged as possible criminal. But I walked out of her store a valued customer. ¬†Quite a turn of events, I’d say.

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