I’m always looking for new ways to use money to make more money, or to spend less.
I have 11 bank accounts, 21 credit cards, 12 store loyalty cards and a pile of gift cards — and I use them all in one way or another to make or save money.
For me, playing with money is a game — one that’s legal and profitable.
Then there are the routine cash-back and reward points, and I’m not counting airline or hotel perks I haven’t used yet. (At the moment, I’ve got four free flights anywhere in the U.S. and several free hotel stays.)
But before you jump in the game, you should know it takes work, organizational skills and some money, too. I have thousands of dollars tied up in all those bank accounts.
Every Sunday, I plan my week by reviewing a bulletin board with index cards. I don’t want to miss a deadline for a required “spend” on a credit card (what you need to charge to earn a bonus) or forget to use a bank debit card enough to qualify for a new account bonus.
As an example of the work involved, here’s what I did on a recent Monday…
Earned Money Over Breakfast
I went online and discovered a post about a Santander bank bonus. I made a note to open an account there by the end of the week to earn a $150 new account bonus.
Like most Mondays, I planned to head to the public library to play chess at noon. I love chess and cheap entertainment, and this costs me nothing but the gas to get there.
Used an Amex Offer
On the way to chess, I stopped at Dollar General and bought a $25 gift card for Olive Garden (my wife and I both enjoy their unlimited soup and salad deal).
I paid with an American Express card I had loaded with one of the recent Amex Offers. In this case, I got a $5 statement credit for spending $25 at Dollar General, effectively a 20% discount on our next meal at Olive Garden.
Ate Lunch for $2.67
Then I stopped for a veggie Subway sandwich. Thanks to a coupon for a six-inch sub for $3, it came to just $3.21 with tax.
I paid with a Subway gift card I bought on sale for 15% off. I had paid for that with a 2% cash-back credit card, so my real cost for the sandwich, after deducting 17%, was only $2.67.
Doubled Up on Gas Savings
Afterward, I stopped for gas at the cheapest place in town.
The gasoline was $2.13 per gallon, but my Fuel Rewards Network card knocked off 3 cents per gallon.
I paid with a Shell gift card I bought at Home Depot using my Discover card. Discover was paying 5% cash back on home improvement store purchases and doubling all cash back awards at the end of the year for new cardholders like me.
So I saved 10%, bringing the cost down to $1.89 per gallon — a total savings of $2.88 on the 12-gallon fill-up.
Worked on a Bank Bonus
Inside the station, I bought a large soda for 79 cents — a dollar less than a small drink at Subway. I paid with my Seacoast Bank debit card, because I need 15 purchases on it within 60 days to get my $200 account-opening bonus.
I use this card for small purchases so I don’t waste “spend” that could be earning valuable points on my reward credit cards.
I used to make money playing chess, but, sadly, nobody here likes to bet on games.
Liquidated Debit Gift Cards
On the way home, I stopped at Walmart to liquidate Visa debit gift cards.
To “liquidate” cards is to spend them on necessities or convert them back into cash. You buy them to earn points, cash back or promotional gifts.
I loaded five $200 cards onto my Bluebird card account using the automated kiosk. (There is no fee to do this.) I bought them a few days earlier at Sears with my Discover card at a total cost (with a $6.95 fee each) of $1,034.75.
Discover was paying 5% cash back at department stores that quarter, and doubling everything after my first year with the card, so I’ll get 10% back, or $103.47, which gives me a profit of $68.72 after fees.
Discover 5% categories are only good for up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, so I have to watch what I spend.
Had I already spent that much, I would have received just 2% cash back (1% this month and 1% more at the end of my first year), in which case I would have lost $14.06 on the transaction. It’s easy to make a mistake like that.
Used PayPal to Earn Plane Tickets
At CVS, I bought two $500 PayPal My Cash cards for $1,007.90 (the fee is $3.95 each). That finished off the $2,000 spending requirement on my Southwest Airlines Visa, earning me a bonus of 40,000 points, good for about $700 toward airfare.
I loaded my PayPal account with one of the My Cash cards that night and another the next day, since there’s a $500-per-day limit. Then, I used my PayPal debit card to pay a water bill, earning 1% cash back on that transaction.
Saved Three Ways on Pizza
That evening, we bought pizza at Dominos. They offer a large, three-topping pizza on weekdays for $7.99.
I paid with a gift card I bought for a 15% discount with a 2% cash-back credit card. The total cost after taxes, a buck for the kitchen crew and a 17% discount, was $7.92 instead of the normal $14 or so without the promotion and discounts. Plus, we get two meals out of a large pizza.
Moved the Money
I logged onto my Bluebird account that night to be sure the loads went through properly — no problem. I used Bluebird Bill-Pay (no fee) to make a payment of $1,147.39 on a credit card.
As you can see, the money just keeps moving around, making a little more along the way.
And I never pay interest because I always pay my credit card balances in full every month.
Well, unless I have a zero-interest card. In that case, I leave the money in the bank earning 1 to 5% interest and pay the minimum on the card.
Made 5% on Savings
I spent a few minutes checking out various other accounts, and moved $4,500 from a checking account to a savings account connected to my NetSpend card.
Now it has $5,000 in it, which is the maximum for the 5% interest rate. The NetSpend “pay as you go” plan has no monthly fees, and I don’t use the card, so I pay no other fees.
I just have it order to qualify for that 5% interest savings account ($250 per year, on even that small balance).
Watched Cheap Movies at Home
I used my Discover card to pay, because Amazon.com was one of the 5% cash-back categories. Since that’s doubled, my net cost for Prime is about $60, or just $5 per month for all of the benefits it offers.
After a year, I’ll cancel and wait for another sale.
Is Playing With Money the Right Game for You?
Here’s some of what I did on that Monday (it’s my busiest day for these activities):
- Earned a $5 statement credit for buying an Olive Garden gift card
- Saved $4 on a sandwich
- Saved $3 on gas
- Used a debit card to help meet the requirements for a bank bonus
- Made $69 buying and liquidating Visa debit cards
- Made $700 toward airfare by finishing a credit card spending requirement
- Saved at least $6 on pizza
- Finished funding a savings account that pays 5% interest to make about $195 per year more than in the 1.1% account the money came from
If I tally just the finished “projects,” I made $774 and saved $13 on that Monday.
I aim for $100 in profits and/or savings each week with my little money games, and I beat that goal by 50% most weeks. I probably earn $40 to $50 per hour chasing bank and credit card bonuses, but closer to minimum wage for small money-saving schemes.
In any case, it’s a profitable hobby I treat like a chess game. I happen to love making money from home doing something I like.
And then I get paid to write about it — something else I enjoy.
Your Turn: Do you like playing with money to make more and spend less? Or do you find the process too tedious?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).