Credit Cards, Gift Cards, Money Orders, Manufactured Spending, And The Walmartization Of America

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If you’ve read more than a post or two on this site, there’s one thing that you probably know about me.

I am not a Walmart fan.

Before taking up the miles game, I had never actually been in a Walmart.

But since then I’ve become well acquainted with it. In fact in many ways I now consider myself a Walmart connoisseur. 

When I was still using a BIuebird card to manufacture spend, Walmart was a necessary evil. It was simply the white trash bank I went to to load up my white trash Bluebird Card with white trash visa gift cards, purchased with my fancy miles earning credit cards

But aside from being elitist, this negative focus on walmart is not exactly fair. After all it’s not specifically Walmart that I object to.

It’s not as if I come from a family who made it’s millions by owning now defunct Woolworth’s franchises, after all.  (My family made its thousands in cabinet making, secretarial work, construction management, and architecture, thank you very much.)

Walmart is simply a handy metaphor for the cult of convenience. 

And I’m not a big fan of the cult of convenience.

Sadly, I’m the typical urbanite who idealizes the pastoral and the artisanal. 

My idea of a good shopping experience is a roadside watermelon stand in the country. A multi-generational family owned tofu shop on a back alley in Kyoto. A one dish Hainanese chicken and rice food cart in Portland.

Shilin_Night_Market_9,_Dec_06My kind of Mall


I like the inefficiency of it all. The rustic imperfection. The human scale.

But let’s get real. There’s nothing rustic about the miles game.

The miles game is an exercise in economic arbitrage. And when you play the miles game, you’re more like a bean counter increasing efficiency by “streamlining”, than an artisan patiently forming rough pieces of pottery from wet clay. 

Which is to say that sometimes the Walmarization if America can be a damned useful thing if you play the miles game.

You see, I read a couple of articles yesterday (this one, and this one) and they had me very motivated to try out a new-to-me manufactured spending technique: money orders. 

And in forming my plan it occurred to me that the grocery store across the street from the clinic where I work might be a perfect place for me to spread my money-order-wings.

Mind you, the supermarket of which I speak is not a simple supermarket. It is a Fred Meyer supermarket. (Which is to say it is one of the two flavors of local Kroger supermarkets.)

But that is not what makes it special.

What makes it special is that it is a Mega-Freddie’s. It’s a wannabe Walmart. It’s the type of monstrosity that a corporation builds when it feels threatened by the expanding dominance of another corporation (I.e. Walmart.)

I would estimate that the supermarket is at least 90,000 ft.². Sure, it’s got produce and laundry detergent. But it also has a polyester clothing line. A video store. A moneycenter. An appliance store. A jewelry store. An electronics department. A bank. A deli. A shoe section. You get the idea.

And by now you know where I’m going with this, don’t you?

After finishing my vegan burrito for lunch, I sauntered over to the local megamart.

I carefully chose a small container of cut pineapple, and two 500$ Visa gift cards with my credit card.

Munching on the cold pineapple chunks, I set the pin on my two Visa gift cards (using my smart phone,) and made my way over to the Moneycenter.

There, I purchased a $999.19 money order, which together with the $.81 money order purchase fee brought my total to $1000. 

I paid (of course) with my two just-purchased $500 visa gift cards.

Money order (and pineapple) in hand I made my way over to the in-store Chase branch.

There I deposited my signed money order into my bank account to complete my round-trip.

Walking back to clinic to see the remainder of my patients for the day it occurred to me that perhaps the Walmartization of America was not at all bad. After all I had just manufactured $1000 in spending in about 10 minutes. No car required.

Try doing that at a country farmstand.

(Plus, the pineapple was quite refreshing.)

Addendum:  A trusted reader informed me that there are reports on the internets of Chase bank shutting down bank accounts for excessive deposits of money orders.  She has not personally experienced this but makes the point that since chase has the best credit card offers, this would be an unwelcome outcome.  

She makes a good point.  Caveat Emptor!

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9 Responses to “Credit Cards, Gift Cards, Money Orders, Manufactured Spending, And The Walmartization Of America”

  1. Robert September 24, 2014 at 6:21 am #

    Brilliant! Nice way to manufacture spending indeed. Let us know if the credit card companies give you the miles for the spend, or if they freak out later.

    We disagree on politics, and I shop Walmart all the time for pricing and convenience in my area (does that make me white trash?). But I certainly am with you on the love of ethnic food markets and country farm stands! In fact, my wife and I are leaving next week for a month-long driving trip to see family scattered across the eastern part of the U.S. We’re taking our tandem bicycle to get in some nice fall leaf-viewing rides. One of the best parts will be riding around the countryside near my parents’ home in Michigan, scouting out farmstands. We’ll munch some wonderful apples and check other items. Then, before heading home, I’ll drive to the best stands we find and load up the trunk with apples, winter squash, etc., to enjoy for weeks afterwards. We don’t have that kind of roadside stand where we live in Texas, sadly. (Though we do have great ethnic food shopping experiences in Houston!). I’m looking forward to both the shopping and the eating experiences!

    • Miles Dividend M.D. September 24, 2014 at 4:54 pm #


      There’s no doubt that the credit card companies will grant miles for the gift cards purchased at a supermarket. I have done this, and received miles many, many, times.

      Most people who shop at Walmart are definitely not white trash. In fact, if I’m honest, the Walmarts in portland are far more diverse than the supermarkets that I regularly frequent. And while you and I haven’t met personally, I am sure that I do not suspect you of any white trash tendencies. If I were to pigeonhole you it would be more as “the man,” (but I really don’t believe that either.)

      The white trash comment was meant as a lampooning of my own admittedly liberal and elitist tendencies and bias.

      And while I would like to politicize and dramatize my own (honest) distaste for Walmart (chalking it up to their poor treatment of workers, and their relentless destruction of a more human scaled economy,) In the end, my problem with Walmart is far more personal and far less lofty.

      I hate the physical space. I detest the shopping experience. I feel miserable when I am there. It smells bad. It’s just so ugly and inhuman and depressing to me.

      On the other hand the leaf viewing/back riding/farmstand shopping that you have planned in your upcoming travels are right up my alley.


      • Robert September 24, 2014 at 7:58 pm #

        Sorry. I should have put a wink or other icon in there. I didn’t seriously think you were accusing me or other Walmart shoppers of being white trash, and read the remark as you intended. Just couldn’t resist asking the question! Walmarts do vary by location and demographics; a Walmart in my neighborhood may have different shoppers and layout and to some extent content than one in your neighborhood. But there’s no question that it caters to the lowest common denominator shopper. I prefer fresh foods to processed foods. Buying a Libby’s can of stuff at Walmart is the same as at Kroger–same can, same quality, just lower price (sometimes). On fresh foods, the selection is less than at top tier grocery stores, the quality is sometimes poor, and the crowds are fond of damaging the produce by poking, dropping, rolling it around, etc. On the other hand, I find that for some items, freshness is higher than at local Krogers because the turnover is so high at Walmart. Lots of shoppers = high throughput.

    • Robert September 24, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      Back your topic, this is not something I’ve ever done (I haven’t even done Vanilla gift cards; just haven’t needed to MS to reach my goals). But a few comments/questions:
      1. I read the two links you included in the post, and also a lot of the comments to those, which led to other posts, which led to articles about ‘structuring’ etc. Some really draconian laws out there! Scary what a police state we’ve become. I suggest reading here: Especially the comments from IkeEsq and diburning on 2/19/2013. One has to be very careful about handling cash and cash-equivalents in large amounts, or even modest amounts. And one also has to be especially cautious about being cautious! Especially if one knows one has to be cautious! (If you are puzzled by what I’m saying, then time to read the rules on ‘structuring’ in more detail).
      2. Some folks use Kroger and get fuel points as part of the deal.
      3. Help me understand the value of your transaction. You spent 2 x $4.95 + $0.81 to do this. That’s $10.71 in fees per $1000 of MS. If you bought $25,000 worth of money orders this way, that would be $267.75 in fees. 25k miles would get you a roundtrip domestic ticket on super saver rates on many airlines. But for $267 you could buy many roundtrip tickets, so the value would depend on if your destination was more expensive than that. If you are using this for meeting credit card bonus requirements, then the payoff might be worth it. But if not that, then is this really worth doing? (I’m a small player in this game, obviously, as my relatively modest spending is enough to handle the bonus requirements on the couple cards I get every few months).

      • Miles Dividend M.D. September 24, 2014 at 11:05 pm #


        1. It is important to keep manufactured spending somewhat modest. And it’s useful to know what could possibly trigger suspicion.

        The key point for me is that manufactured spending involves nothing which is illegal.

        I’ve considered the ethics and have no reservation about manufactured spending at the level at which I engage in it. To each his own.

        The final point is that while manufactured spenders me sometimes look like they are laundering money, they are not , In fact, laundering money.

        It is always useful to lay out the playing field.

        2. Fuel points fantastic and while my local Fred Meyer’s does not grant them for gift card purchases, That alone will pay for the fees associated with this maneuver.

        3. In terms of the math. Your numbers are pretty close. This is really all about meeting signing bonus spending requirements like $10,000 in three months which, for me would be very difficult.

        Also, as detailed in my post “don’t pay, do play” it is very easy to pay for your fees by putting some transactions on a five times cash back credit card like my “old” American Express blue cash card.


        • Robert September 25, 2014 at 6:45 am #

          Not accusing you of doing anything illegal. I just found the comments online very sobering. The law was written to prevent money laundering, but it is now being enforced to punish those who do structuring even if they aren’t money laundering. And it is like being on the do-not-fly list: your money is taken without warning or explanation and you have no appeal or opportunity to explain. You have to hire an attorney with typical costs for these cases in the $50-100,000 range and no guarantee of winning. It is killing some small businesses that have gotten caught up in it. Because structuring involves breaking up transactions into multiple deposits or withdrawals under $10,000, it can be triggered even with multiple transactions of just a few thousand. Furthermore, the suspicion of structuring is subjective and can vary from bank to bank (or other institution). If I were doing a lot of this, I think I’d use a separate bank and bank account with a low balance so they couldn’t take all my money. Again, this has nothing to do with legality or ethics; it has to do with the fact that we live in a nation where trampling on the rights of innocent people to capture a few criminals is increasingly OK. And, where police are motivated to impound assets because they get to keep them for their own use/budgets. With the ability to assume ‘guilty until proven innocent in a court at their own expense’, what is to prevent police/IRS agents/etc. from grabbing money and daring you to challenge them? At this point, it really isn’t a matter of legality. It is about avoiding any suspicion of illegality unless one is prepared to risk all assets in the account or large legal fees.

          • Miles Dividend M.D. September 25, 2014 at 7:45 am #


            I share your concerns regarding civil liberties these days.

            I also agree wholeheartedly that it is better not to run afoul of the law.

            The take-home is not to deposit more than $2000 in money orders in a single day, or $10,000 in a month.

            The patriot act introduced numerous incursions into our personal liberties in the name of preventing terrorism.

            There is nothing unique about this tension between civil liberties and international security during a time of conflict. But it is always wise to turn a wary eye towards The government when it begins to encroach on our individual rights. Constitutional rights are a national treasure to be preserved.


        • Robert September 25, 2014 at 6:50 am #

          A couple useful references:

          Note that you don’t have to be money laundering to fall afoul of the structuring provision and apparently to not only lose your bank assets but potentially face multiple years of imprisonment.


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