My Week in Manufactured Spending: When Life Gives You Lemons, Buy Money Orders

Before going on a downhill spiral, my week started off on a positive note with news that Office Max was offering discounts on Visa gift card purchases. I went to the nearest Office Max store, where all they had left were four $200 gift cards. I bought them all and was happy to get $10 off each card. The savings covered the fees on the $1,500 worth of gift cards I purchased at the Safeway store next door. Next, I walked to the Rite Aid store down the street. In the past, this location allowed me to purchase PayPal My Cash  Reload Cards with a credit card. This time, the cashier said it wasn’t allowed and confirmed it with a manager. While this was disappointing, I do have plenty of other sources for gift cards, so it’s not a big deal. On my way home I went to a Walmart store, where I purchased a $700 money order for $0.55 cents before calling it a night.

Office Max

Office Max

Later that week, my sister and I took a trip to Palo Alto to visit a family member in the hospital. We stopped at a Walnut Creek Office Max, which unfortunately was all out of gift cards. My sister is very supportive of my manufactured spending activities and was willing to make multiple stops on the way, but it was important for us to get to our destination, so I decided to do the considerate thing and put all ms activities on hold until we made it to Palo Alto.

During the drive, I did learn something invaluable from my sister – she showed me that the Google Maps app lets you essentially build a manufactured spending route. You enter a destination along with any stores you’re looking for on the way there (i.e. Walmart, CVS, Office Max). The app will then map out all the stores on the way to the destination, along with directions. 

After our visit to the hospital, we stopped at a Menlo Park Safeway store. My brother had accidentally purchased two Vanilla Visa gift cards, which I couldn’t unload other than to use them to purchase Metabank Visa gift cards. The cashier at Safeway wanted to see the card I was paying with and hesitated when he noticed it didn’t have my name on it. I assured him it was fine since it had a PIN number and he reluctantly ok’ed it.

Next, I walked to the CVS across the parking lot, where I picked up two Paypal My Cash cards. I told the cashier I wanted to split the payment across two cards, intending to pay with the remaining Vanilla Visa gift card along with my Alaska Visa Signature credit card. I opted to use the Vanilla Visa as a debit card, but that transaction didn’t go through and the cashier informed me it was because Paypal My Cash cards had to be purchased with either cash or credit, which was the first time I’d ever heard that.

She let me run the card as credit, which worked fine and she had no objections to the fact that my name wasn’t on it. After swiping the Alaska Visa for the remaining amount and showing it to her, she exclaimed, “You should have used this for the entire purchase so you could earn more miles!” I loved that for once the cashier was calling me out for not using a credit card for a gift card purchase. It was getting late, so CVS became the last stop on my manufactured spending route that day. 

Thanksgiving happened (tons of food + 50 people = lots of dishes for me to wash because I’m otherwise useless in the kitchen), followed by three days of hell. I woke up on Friday to find my laptop wasn’t working. I called Apple support and wasted several hours on the phone until they told me to go to the Apple store. The closest Apple stores didn’t have any appointments until Tuesday, so I headed to Roseville instead.

I figured I could fix my laptop, visit my sister, and make a few Walmart runs. That is, until the Apple store employee told me my hard drive had failed and the tech guy he referred me to wanted $500 -$3,500 to recover the data. I found a local place that offered to do it for a fraction of the cost and they picked up my laptop an hour later. 

When the technician later asked me to drop off my new laptop in Natomas so he could do some more troubleshooting, I figured I could stop by a few Walmart stores in the area. After dropping off the laptop and making two Walmart stops, I was informed it would take six more hours to recover all of my files. At this point, I used the Yelp app to see which Walmart stores I’d encounter on the way home and there were a lot of them. When the GPS guided me to a creepy, unlit backroad, I decided to call it a night and drive straight home. I’m practically blind at night and misplaced my glasses about five years ago, so it was the responsible thing to do. I also thought I had a flat tire and with the universe already conspiring against me, I didn’t want to add being found in a roadside ditch to my list of recent misfortunes. 

That pretty much explains my lack of manufactured spending and being MIA for nearly a week (along with a second hospital trip over the weekend). What have you all been up to?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. You mainly purchase MO from WM with your VGC, yeah? Do you load Serve at RA, FD, or WM? You mentioned your brother accidentally bought VVGC and you couldnt use them. Have you not had success loading VVGCs to Serve?

    • I use Metabank gift cards for WM money orders, since you can’t use Vanilla Visas there. I need to wait another week before I can apply for a Serve card, but since Vanilla gc – Serve loads have been reported successful at Riteaid, I’ll do that going forward.

      • Again, another awesome tip! Thank you. I buy my GC from either Staples using INK or from Simon Mall (Stoneridge in Pleasanton or Great Mall in Milpitas) in bulk for MS. Wonder if you know if Simon Mall GC is a Vanilla GC or Metabank GC? Where do you typically buy your Metabank VC? I may have to start purchasing MOs now. Thank you Ariana!

  2. You can load VGC at FD to Serve, $500/day. I haven’t tried over $500 because of posts it doesn’t work.

  3. Just impressed w your MS strategy. After WMs in Fremont, Union City, Milpitas, Hayward and San Leandro practically banned anyone from doing any loads, I’ve virtually stopped all MS. It was humiliating to be accused of money laundering repeatedly at these stores while I held the line. The nearest WMs that allow it near my area are Pleasanton & Mountain View, but that took a lot of effort factoring the commute. I need to venture out to RA (not sure what FD stands for) and explore the MO route. Essentially, your blog inspires me to get back in the game again. Thank you.

    • I’m with you GlobetrottingPinoy. I have gone to almost all the Walmarts in the Bay area and they are useless if you need to unload on a kiosk Either they are stuck on the approval screen, lane closed, machine unplugged, out of paper or closed lane; it is no longer MS friendly. I would always go to the cashiers but now all ask for a debit card in your name. I even made it out to Walmart in Temecula on a business trip where the machine was working until I entered the pin. It asked for a secondary pin. I will need to see which neigborhood Walmart stores allow purchase of MO.

      Anyone try loading on the self self registers. There is button to load your card but I could never get it to work.

      • Rite Aid might be a solution for some of you having trouble with this. I hear the Richmond WM (inside the mall) occasionally has a working kiosk. Also, try Neighborhood stores – I go there for mo’s and once loaded Bluebird without issues.

        • Hi Ariana,

          Do you purchase one MO for $993.30 and ask them to do a split payment? How many MO have you purchased from one cashier before they ask questions?

          Thanks in advance

          • I’ll usually do $999.30 across two cards or $1,000 and pay the fee cash. I’ve done as many as three ($500 and two for $200 each), but I normally do two and that hasn’t been a problem.

          • Just be sure to verify the cost of the MO before you make your request (if using this approach). I’ve seen it vary at WMs from 25c to 70c.

    • Thanks! I’ve never done a prepaid load in that area, but mo’s may be the way to go. Yeah, I’ve gotten accused of doing shady stuff before but I shut that nonsense down. I’m a customer buying a product and following all procedures (assuming they don’t care about the payment method). They have no business asking what it’s for or accusing you of doing something illegal.

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