My ($23,500) Week in Manufactured Spending

It’s been a very effortless week of manufactured spending. A new CVS opened up in a convenient location last week and I’ve been going over there for my Visa gift card fix ever since. A new sushi buffet also opened up nearby, giving my brother and I the perfect excuse to grab lunch and get some manufactured spending done. Lunch was great and when we went to CVS to stock up on gift cards, we came across these Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift cards, which are not only PIN-enabled but $1 of each purchase is donated to Stand Up for Cancer. Gift card churning for a good cause – does ms get any better than this? 

Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift cards

Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift cards at CVS

I’m very open about stereotyping cashiers: 18 – 35 year old males are the enemy of gift card churners everywhere. While people are fawning over Alex from Target, I switch lanes and try to avoid interactions with his kind. They have an incessant need to follow and impose rules, which is really annoying and has no place outside of a nursery school or prison yard. I’ve had more than my fair share of run-ins with this demographic, but on this particular trip it was the middle-aged ladies at CVS who gave me a hard time. 

When my cashier decided to call a manger for help to ensure Amex gift cards were an acceptable payment form, another woman who worked at the other location I previously frequented (the one where someone was randomly stabbed two weeks ago) pipped in with, “Yes, you should find out” before turning to me with, “You buy these a lot.” Yes, I do – is there a problem? No, but a manager will have to approve the transaction. 

The manager at this location is probably the friendliest, most upbeat person I’ve ever encountered in their work environment. She really seems to love her job and is always joking with the customers and employees. She came over and looked at the Amex gift cards before confirming, “Yes, it’s ok as long as the register will accept them as payment.” The cashier proceeded to ring me up and when the transaction went through, the manager confirmed with both cashiers that Amex gift cards were ok just as long as the register accepted them. My brother and I happily walked out with $4,000 worth of MasterCard gift cards, $8 of which went to Stand Up to Cancer (I know, it’s right up there with The Giving Pledge).

During the weekend, my sister and I drove to Pleasanton for a hair appointment (side note: For the Gilmore Girls fans out there, downtown Pleasanton is Stars Hollow). As we got off the freeway, we stopped by a shopping center that had both a Safeway and CVS store (aka pretty much every shopping center in America). We had no problems using our Amex gift cards to buy $1,000 worth of Visa gift cards each. It did involve a cashier override, but nobody raised any objections. As we stepped outside, I did that antisocial thing I do sometimes which is speak a bunch of nonsense to my sister in Pashto so that the solicitors outside wouldn’t try to engage us in conversation (the ability to speak multiple languages does come in handy sometimes). I know it’s easier to just say, “Thank you but I’m not interested,” but some people are really put off by foreign languages, so my method might be the more effective one.

Visa gift cards at Safeway

Visa gift cards at Safeway

We made it to the CVS across the parking lot without having to discuss the dangers of drug abuse with the D.A.R.E representative outside of Safeway. It was time to switch gears and try to charm the gothic-chic cashier ringing us up. I made some snarky remark about the PIN pad being a mile away from the register and that seemed to do the trick, distracting her temporarily while she rang up my transaction and commiserated about the distance of the PIN pad. She hesitated when I handed her the Amex gift card without a name on it, but typed in the last four digits of the card anyway. She did remark that, “I’ve never seen these before. Weird,” I thought for a second the jig was up. But she processed my sister’s purchase without incident and we left, relieved. 

After my sister’s appointment, we headed home but stopped at yet another Safeway store on the way. This particular location had been good to me in the past, so I didn’t anticipate any problems. I even let my sister have the young, apathetic-looking female cashier while I took a risk with the matronly one myself. Sure enough, my transaction was ok’ed while my sister got turned down! That’s what I get for stereotyping.

We stopped at a Target store where my sister and I took turns loading the same three Redbird cards (I’d left my other two at home), totaling $3,000. A few days later, my brother did another $1,500 for me at a Target store on his way to work. 

Then came Monday, when my dad decided he wanted to take the family out to lunch (minus my little sister who was at work) and I got to pick the place. I chose an Afghan restaurant that all of us love and my brother made a snide remark about how I only picked it because it was across the street from the new CVS store. That’s probably 40% true. After a hearty meal of Chapli Kabob, we drove across the street and walked out with $8,000 worth of Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift cards. I normally don’t do this (have everyone go in at once), but this store is so easy I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The only issue we encountered was when my brother’s license couldn’t be read. Eventually the cashier typed it in and it was fine, but clearly he needs a new one. 

Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift cards

Vanilla MasterCard Priceless Causes gift card haul

Next, we stopped by a Target store where I sent my brother off to do some Rebird loading. He came back with a line that used to be a joke (an unfunny one at that) but is quickly becoming the norm: “They wouldn’t let me use a gift card.” Sure enough, it was the 18 – 35 year-old male cashier who inspected the card and told him it wasn’t an acceptable payment form. 

This was quite a successful week, with $23,500 worth of gift card churning completed. For those wondering if I finally got around to updating the Newbie Guide to Manufactured Spending, I did! It was probably the most depressing rewrite I’ve ever had to do, with half the tools that used to be lucrative becoming obsolete since the publication of that series. Here’s hoping new ms opportunities will present themselves soon.

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. You make me jealous everytime you post something new with MS. Now that I am back to India after 5 years stay in US, the most thing I miss is my trips to WinDixie for buying VISA Gift cards and then to Family Dollar for loading to Serve. My wife use to enjoy those rides.
    Here in India, the banks are not so generous when compared to US. I was able to earn only 10k miles in my last 6 months when compared to around 500k+ miles during previous 6 months.

    Anyways, I love reading your blog posts, keep up the good work. 🙂

    • i see people often ask on blogs about MS opportunities abroad (outside the US) and usually the answer is “no”. Good to know you can MS in India. Maybe you can start blogging about that, especially if there’s a void in the MS blogosphere about it.

  2. Hahahaha! I know exactly which plaza you’re talking about! I have MSed there myself before. It’s very YMMV though. One time the girl at CVS let me use AGCs to buy GCs after calling her manager over to OK it (he did) but another time she didn’t let me, so of course I didn’t push it. I now stick to personalized AGCs.

  3. For your brother’s DL issue – CVS scanners will read the barcode on the back if the magnetic stripe doesn’t work. I do this all the time as my stripe is worn out.

  4. Have you used giftcards.com? Seems like they’ve had free shipping codes recently, and their own rewards program seems to make it almost equivalent to AGCs.

  5. When purchasing the AMEX gift cards, have you used AMEX SPG or another AMEX branded credit card? According to the T&C of SPG AMEX, gift cards do not count towards purchases. Since the AMEX gift cards are purchased directly from AMEX via the portal, I would imagine using an AMEX branded card does not accrue points Thoughts?

  6. I don’t understand. How is this churning? You still have gift cards that you need to liquidate. You just matched to change the AGC to VGC. They are not yet on serve on redbird?

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