My Week in Manufactured Spending: Keeping Things Organized

I hope you guys a great weekend. I had my share of free time, having taken the past two weeks off.  That being said, I haven’t been slacking on the manufactured spending front (just writing about it). If you’ve been following me on Snapchat (username Pointchaser), you’ve probably noticed that  every manufactured spending day looks the same. That’s because it pretty much is – I’ve fallen into a nice, easy routine that has me earning miles and cash. If you’re interested in how I keep it all straight, here’s an overview:

Money orders manufactured spending

I’ve resorted to a simple system for keeping the huge number of gift cards and money orders I’m going through in order. This involves a coin purse, my car’s center console, and two plastic bags that the ladies at my local mall insisted I take when I purchased a large number of gift cards. In one plastic bag, I keep all of my brand spanking new gift cards after they’ve been activated and their PIN numbers changed (if they were purchased on Giftcards.com). This is also where I keep my money orders until I deposit them.

In the other bag, I keep the occasional “spare” cards that have odd amounts of change on them. For example, sometimes to make things easier (and if I don’t have any change to pay money order fees in cash), I’ll just buy a money order for $1,998 which leaves me with $0.60 change. This doesn’t happen often these days, but when it does I put the spare card in my plastic bag and later load it onto my Starbucks card. 

The coin purse is where I put my driver’s license and a stack of gift cards for immediate liquidation (i.e. right before I head into the store). When I’m buying large numbers of money orders at a single store, it’s generally not a good look to pull a bunch of gift cards out of a plastic bag. When I’m done, I walk back to my car, check the receipts, and start sorting the used cards: The ones with $0 balance go into the center console and ones with small balances go into plastic bag #2. . 

This is usually the point where I go to a local coffee shop to unwind, down a butter caramel latte (my favorite place is Common Grounds in Davis), discreetly fill out the money orders, and walk to a nearby Safeway to deposit them into my account. Where there’s a coffee shop there’s usually a grocery store with a Wells Fargo ATM, so I deposit them and pay off my credit cards as soon as the funds post. 

That’s pretty much it in terms of my manufactured spending routine. Though now I have to add dodging the pervert who is roaming around my local mall “inappropriately touching” random women he comes into contact with. My trusty SM reps showed me a photo of him from the security camera. I wonder if that bottle of pepper spray leftover from my college years still works…

How are you keeping all of your gift card churning activities organized?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. do you deposit your MOs using the Wells Fargo ATM? What is the option for that? I haven’t noticed a deposit MO option on the ATM screen… Do you deposit them as checks? Thanks!

  2. As far as organizing goes, do you use a spread sheet or anything to track online and/or in store purchases? Also, have you found any reason to keep the vgc’s once liquidated? Mine tend to go in the trash on the way out the door, but sometimes wonder if that could ever come back to bite me.

    • Just throwing in a random reader’s experience / practice..

      I have done upwards of $250-350k MS per year, for the past few years.
      The idea of an audit TERRIFIES me. So I keep all VGCs with receipts, PPMCs w/ receipts stapled, and Reloadits with receipts. I also keep all money order stubs stapled to receipts. I spend a few extra seconds here stapling and there putting things in their respective piles. Every couple weeks I spend ~10 minutes matching VGCs with their respective receipts and bundling them.

      This creates quite a pile, yessir!
      Each quarter I rubber band things together, put a Post-It with year and quarter, and put in a small/medium box. One box per year. Takes up a bit of room in my basement, but better than the potential headaches/taxes/jail of having no substantiation for all that money moving around.
      I do not use a spreadsheet… to much moving, too fast. I use a sharpie to indicate zeroed out after any given store run.

      • Thanks for the reply. You and one of the other commenters below have quite the systems worked out, as I know a lot of folks do. I’m in my 2nd year of heavier MS and save all receipts of money going in and out- all just thrown in a manilla envelope until years end. (Much like my accounting “system” for my small business…) I still don’t see a need to keep the plastic as the receipts will work for documentation purposes. The unlikeliness of an audit (at least from my online reading) justifies for me the use of the Albert Einstein pile system, although modified by the manilla envelope. If I someday have to go through them, I’ll deal with that mess when it comes. Fortunately, they are in a loose chronological order based on my front to back “system”.

      • Thanks for the reply. So many systems that folks have worked out. I’m in my 2nd year of heavier MS. So far I throw all receipts for money going in and out into a manilla envelope, which I store at the end of the year, or whenever it gets too full, with my tax info. (I have liked the pile system for a long time now, as did Albert E. I hear. It works for me for my small business as well. ) The receipts end up going in in a rough order, as I always put the newest receipts to the back. If I ever had to go through it all it could be a bit of a pain, but I’m banking on that being unlikely- I haven’t seen much of anything online to indicate that other MSer’s have had to deal with the gov on such things. Still don’t see the point in keeping the plastic myself- the receipts would be all you would need in an audit I would imagine. I was going to say “wow, that’s a lot of MS!”, but then I did the math on what I’m doing and if I keep it up at this volume, I’ll be doing that much by year’s end as well. Then there’s the fellow I bumped into at wallies who’s doing more than that in his average week, if I can believe his stories…

      • New to MS and just seeing if you could tell me best place way to purchase visa gift cards. You guys make it sound so easy but I’m confused how you even break even. The visa fees for purchasing the gift cards outweigh any cash back or mileage points. You can email if you want to keep it confidential. Thanks

  3. Could you share where you are purchasing your MO for amounts greater than $1000? Enjoy you posts. Gary

    • Given the math of having $0.60 leftover, I’d posit that she meant money order(S).
      $1000 + $998, plus 2x $0.70 fees = sixty-cent remainder from two $500 VGCs.

      I know of no place, in any city I’ve visited, that allows singular MO’s over $1k.
      Would LOVE to hear of such a place… I would consider moving there!

  4. Very cool! When I buy a set of GCs, I label each package/card with a letter and number. e.g A1-A6.

    I just keep the GCs in the “ashtray” of my car. Unused go in my back right pocket with my wallet. At Kate, I wait until it’s time to swipe to pull out a card, discreetly look at the last 4 as I swipe, quickly put it in my back left pocket, then enter PIN.

    That way I automatically know which stack was unloaded and which is still hot. Unused go back in the ashtray. Used and receipts stay in my pocket until I get to my bedroom, where I label the receipts with at least the letter. I bag the cards and box the packaging/receipts in reverse chron order.

    • Thanks for sharing- I like hearing all the different systems folks have worked out. I also like the pocket method. Seems smooth and discreet. By the way, what’s your license plate number? : )

  5. Hi, I’m just getting started in the hobby. Sorry if you’ve answered this before but how many credit cards are you using for the 40k/month MS?

  6. Hi Ariana! I love reading about your adventures and wish you continued success with all that you do! I have a question regarding GiftCards.com. How much are you purchasing in gift cards from GC and is there a limit to how much you can buy from them? A month? Year? I really appreciate your time and help! Thanks so much.

  7. “I expect an account shutdown any day now.”

    Ariana Afghanistan (yes, this is what we’re calling you now on FlyerTalk) please don’t take this as a hater’s comment, but I can’t wait until you get shutdown or it becomes extremely difficult for you to MS in your area. Your blog makes me cringe as you’re just another blogger who is at fault for causing MS avenues to dry up. I see how many newbies read your blog and ask questions and I wish you and all the other bloggers would just spoon feeding these people! Stop talking about MS and just talk about travel, credit cards, etc. But for the love of god, no more MS talk!

    • That’s a really clever nickname considering my name is Ariana and I’m from Afghanistan. Or is that supposed to be insulting? I would expect something less lame from someone who thinks of himself as better and more entitled than “newbies” who need to be “spoon fed.” Have a nice day, Michael Minnesota.

  8. You should take MMA lessons and just frolic around the mall all day until he shows up. Then you can throw him down onto the cold tiled floor, and beat his sorry ass. Was that too violent? Sounds like a good plan to keep him out of your “territory” though haha. 😛

  9. Ariana, why are you buying MOs instead of using BP at WM? Depositing MOs is very often seen as ML and will definitely shut your account down sooner or later. $40K a month is waaaaay too much with a big bank like WF! Are you not afraid of being reported by the bank to the Chex systems with “account shut down due to suspicious or fraudulent activities”? I had this happen a few years ago during the mint time, my account was closed and reported to Chex systems “account closed due to suspicious/fraudulent activities” and I was not able to open another account at any bank for a year! What would you do if you were totally without a checking account and possibility to open a new one? The reports in the Chex systems stay there for many years. I had to sue the bank. The report was eventually deleted but it cost me a lot of tears, time and money to a lawyer.

  10. How do I fill out the money order “to” & “from” section? To and from myself? Thanks.

  11. Where can I go for a beginners lesson in MS? I use to buy Vanilla cards and do the Bluebird deposits but that is long gone. I don’t know how to do it now. Thanks.

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