Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Oren's Money Saver Beginner's Guide Part 1 - Introduction - Extra Cash and Savings In Your Pocket

Check Out the Other Posts in this Series:

Part 2 - Maximize savings through Credit Cards
Part 3 - Maximize savings without Credit Cards
Part 4 - Manufactured Spend

Some of my reader's have pointed out that the site can be confusing for the novice and recommended something to get started.  You are expected to know too much to just jump in.  Therefore, I've decided to write a Beginner's Guide to help everyone learn the basics of what they need to know to understand most deals.  The idea is for this to be a permanent series of posts that can always be accessed.  So, here goes:

Oren's Money Saver is here to help you do accomplish 2 things, just about everything else I talk about is related to those 2 goals:

What You Can Gain From Oren's Money Saver

1)  Extra savings on purchases

2) "Free" and, hopefully, easy money

Let's talk about each of these in more detail:

Extra savings on purchases

You are spending the money.  You might as well get as much back as possible.  Here is the basic structure.

1) Using the correct credit card

Different credit cards give back extra cashback at specific types of stores.  If you use the correct credit card, you can get extra savings.

2) Discounted Gift Cards

If I have a $100 Walmart gift card I received as a gift, but I don't want it, what can I do?  I might be able to sell it online for $90.  The website can then resell it for $95.  That means that a third person can buy it for 5% off and everyone is happy.  Every retailer is different in how much of a discount you will get.

3) Shopping Portals

Many websites, referred to as Shopping Portals, will give cashback for starting at their site first and then going to the website you want to end up in.  Many times, you can stack these savings with previously mentioned strategies for a "double or triple dip".  Again, some examples in later posts.

4) Promo Codes

Just by putting in a promo code you find online, you can get extra savings.  The savings can range from $1 to 40% or more off

5) Credit Card Specific Offers

Many credit cards, including American Express, Discover and Bank of America have limited time deals at specific merchants.  You usually have to spend a minimum amount on your card at that merchant.  If you combine all of these different ways of savings, it can really add up.

"Free" and, hopefully, Easy Money

Why and how would I be getting free money?  Well, there is rarely someone giving out money for nothing.  Usually the money is an incentive to get you to do something that they think will make money long term.  Sometimes, the extra work is worth it and sometimes it's not.  Here is the structure of how it usually works:

1) Sign up for new accounts 

This includes credit cards, checking accounts etc.  These usually don't require much explanation and are constantly in flux.  I sometimes talk about these as they come up, especially if the sign up bonus is much better than usual or it is extremely easy, but it usually less of my focus.  If you want to check out the best current sign up bonuses for credit cards, I recommend Frequent Miler's page on the topic.

2) Manufactured spend

Basically, this means buying money for a price that is equal to or less than the value of that money.  For example, let's say your local bank was selling shiny new $100 bills for $100 and allowed you to buy them with a credit card for no fees (RIP U. S. Mint coins).  You could buy those $100 bills and deposit them in the bank to pay your credit card bill.  You would be left with your credit card points/miles and no out of pocket expenses. 

That would be nice, but let's say they were selling the $100 bills for $97 with no fees.  I think we can all agree that situation is even better.  Sometimes, it costs $97 and sometimes it costs $100, but you can get extra cashback from your credit card to be the equivalent of paying $97.

Manufactured spend is just like that except using more complicated financial instruments.  Concrete examples (nothing new to regular readers) to be explained in later posts.

We will start next time with using your credit cards effectively to maximize savings and go in order from there.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hotel Bonus Points Promotions

Hyatt - Check your email for a targeted offer from Hyatt - 2,000 Extra Hyatt Points for staying with them from September 1st to November 30th.

Hilton - 2x points during weekdays, 3x points during weekends.  August 1st through September 31st.  Register for the promotion here.

Marriot - 2x points after your second stay, up to 25,000 points.  Applies to stays from September 15th to January 15th.  Register for the promotion here

HT - Freequent Flyerbook

Monday, August 18, 2014

American Express Gift Cards 4.66% Everywhere!

Disclaimer: I receive a referral commission for the following link(s) and I greatly appreciate supporting the site: Top Cashback

For the next 6 days, Top Cashback is offering 3% cashback when you purchase American Express Gift Cards.

If you use your American Express Fidelity to pay, you will get 4.66% cashback on a $5,000 purchase of gift cards after all fees.  That is pretty good.

I use AMEX Gift Cards for my everyday spending, unless I can get more than 4.66% cashback.

American Express is no longer fulfilling portal payouts when coupon codes are used, as has been publicized in the Blogosphere by Frequent Miler and Doctor of Credit, among others.  However, when you don't use a promo code you will still get your cashback (confirmed myself).

Promo codes were great to take off the purchase fees or the shipping fees.  Since you can buy $5,000 worth of American Express gift cards with just $8 in purchase fees and $9 in shipping fees, your total fees will come out to 0.34% of the total purchase price.  While this is tragic, it is certainly not devastating and doesn't change my plans, American Express is just giving me as little less money than usual.  I'm crying inside.

Remember that if you signed for a free shipping plan ($99 a year), the free shipping will not void your cashback.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Paypal Business Debit, Old Amex Blue and Serve - The Power Trio!

A word of caution before this plan is laid out:  Paypal is known to shut people down for manufactured spending activities.  Normally, it involves withdrawing directly to your bank account or logging in from outside of the country, but this manufactured spending gem will likely get you shut down.  You also make get a Financial Review from American Express if you continuously spend a lot of money on any one of their cards.  You are forewarned.  You can now enjoy some fictional reading.

The New Power Trio

The following accounts are necessary for The Power Trio:
  1. Paypal Account with a Paypal Business Debit Card
    1. You will get 1% cashback on signature transactions (non-pin transactions).  You need to activate the 1% cashback from your Paypal account or you won't be eligible.
    2. No hard pull, no maintenance fee.
  2. Old American Express Blue Credit Card
    1. Unlimited 5% cashback at Pharmacies, Grocery Stores and Gas after you spend $6,500 at these categories.  The first $6,500 of the year will be 1% cashback, the rest of the year will be 5% cashback.
      1. If the application doesn't load, try browsing incognito.
  3. Serve Prepaid Card
    1. The relevant point for our discussion is that you can load funds onto Serve via a Debit Card and use those funds to electronically pay your credit card bill.  I think I see where you're going here ;)
How it Works

It's actually relatively straightforward.  Here it is step by step once you have all the accounts.

  • Go to a Pharmacy (like CVS) and buy a Paypal Reload Card with your old Amex Blue.  They cost $3.95 for a $500 card.  Let's talk about buying $1,000 at a time for round numbers sake.
    • Cost = $7.90
    • Rewards = $50.39 into your American Express account
  • Load the funds onto your Paypal account.  You now have $1,000 in Paypal
  • Load money onto Serve from your Paypal Business Debit Card, which you can link at Serve's website.
    • Cost = $0
    • Rewards = $10 from Paypal for signature transaction on your Business Debit Card.
  • Pay your bills
    • Cost = $0
    • Rewards = $0
Total Cost = $7.90
Total Rewards = $60.39

Net Profit = $52.49 per $1,000 spending.  Let's call it $52.50 for simplicity.  That's 5.25% cashback on your original $1,000!  Not too shabby!
As you see, you only have to go into one store.  Everything else is done online.  That is key to me.

How Much Can I Make?

There are two limiting factors, Paypal and, more significantly, Serve.  You can only load up to $1,000 a month from your Paypal Debit Card to Serve without ISIS.  Therefore, you are limited to $52.50 per month.
You can load up to $4,000 a month onto paypal.  You can be more creative at withdrawing the money from Paypal.  You can buy Money Orders using the Business Debit card in stores that allow Money Orders with Debit Cards.  The advantage here is that the Debit Card has your name on it and it doesn't say Gift Card on it so sales associates are likely going to be nicer to you.  If you max out at $4,000 a month, you will be getting $210 every month!  If you have a spouse and/or have access to another Paypal account, you can make $420 every month!  Not too shabby indeed!

You can even go further, you can buy plain Visa Gift Cards once you reach your Paypal limit.  Use them to load onto Serve at Family Dollar (Serve has a different set of limits for "cash reloads"), use Evolve Money, Amazon Payments or Money Orders as a Debit Card.  These all require an extra trip to a store so the time to money ratio is not as favorable, but you can still do well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bank of America Preferred Rewards - 75% Bonus - 5.25% Cashback on Gas!

Here is the relevant thread in Fat Wallet that discusses this card if you are interested.

Bank of America Preferred Rewards is a program that Bank of America will be rolling out nationwide in October. If you have $100,000 with Bank of America or any of their affiliates (think Merrill Lynch), and an active Checking account, you are eligible for the highest brackets, Platinum Honors.


  • You get a 75% bonus on any rewards you accumulate with many of their regular credit cards. All of their miles credit cards are excluded from the bonus.

Let's take the Bank of America Cash Rewards card for example:

  • Normal rewards: 1% everywhere, 2% grocery stores, 3% gas, up to $1,500 a quarter for the bonus categories.  
  • Preferred Rewards Platinum Honors: 1.75% everywhere, 3.5% at grocery stores and 5.25% at gas stations, up to $1,500 per quarter for the bonus categories.

The Bottom Line

If you have 100k with Bank of America, this is great news.  If you don't, I probably would not start transferring money to them just for the extra credit card rewards that probably won't amount to too much anyways.

If you are someone who only wants one credit card, this is probably the card for you.  It isn't AMEX so it is accepted everywhere, has high rewards for any spending and has bonus rewards for the two biggest expenses for most people.


Until now, there was the Bank of America Platinum Privileges, which gave a 50% bonus if you had $50,000 with Bank of Americ and an active checking accoujnt, so this is a nice step up if you have the money with them anyway. Keep in mind that the actual Platinum Privileges credit card is not eligible for the 75% bonus, unless you are in the Platinum Honors tier ($100,000 or more).  If you are in Gold or Platinum (25 and 50k), you will need to downgrade your card to a regular Cash Rewards card from the Platinum Privileges card to essentially get the same rewards you get now.  Sound confusing?  It is.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Chase United Explorer Credit Card - 55,000 Miles + $50 Statement Credit

Chase has upped the sign up bonus for the United Explorer card.  You will get 50,000 miles for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months, instead of the usual 30,000 miles.  You also will get a $50 statement credit.

If you sign up an authorized user who makes one purchase in the first 3 months you will get another 5,000 miles for a total of 55,000 miles.

As always with this card, you will get a bonus of 10,000 miles for spending $25,000 in any calendar year.

No annual fee the first year, $95 the second year.  This deal will expire on September 2, 2014

What does 55,000 miles get you?  A round trip ticket for NY to Tel Aviv is 85,000 miles so you are getting 65% of the way there.  

Hat Tip: Doctor of Credit

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Manufactured Spend Habits

Accounts you will need to have to take advantage of these ideas.  Continue on to learn more about each one:

  1. Serve
  2. American Express Blue Preferred
  3. Bank of America Platinum Privileges Credit Card
  4. American Express Fidelity

I try to only post about stuff I actually do.  If I don't have personal, reliable information, I don't think it's usually worthwhile to write about.  There are plenty of other sites out there and I assume that most of my readers are reading them so they will probably read about it.

This is why you won't see me taking about the Nationwide Visa Buxx (see Frequent Flyer Book for more information) even though it is a pretty cheap way to manufacture spend if you have it.

The first thing you should know about me is that I have a full time job.  I don't have time to make a trip to the store to make $6.  I try to have a high earnings to time ratio.  Some of my friends might find that statement laughable (I'm looking at you JF), but everyone's line of time to money is different.

I also have no access to Walmart without the trip taking over an hour so I avoid going to Walmart.

So here goes my usual Manufactured Spend Habits.

  •  American Express Gift Cards
    • Lately, this has been my manufactured spend of choice since I can sometimes get as much as 5.8% cashback after fees (currently closer to about 4.5%). I never know how the portal deals will change.
    • Minimum $24,000 a year since I can use Amazon Payments for $24,000 a year to get the money back.  I also use them for my regular spending since 5.8% cashback is better than I get on almost any card.
    • Net gain about $1,100 annually

That's $72,000 of reliable manufactured spending a year, which nets me about $3,000 a year - not too shabby - I am going anyways to the grocery store and everything else except gas stations can be done online. 

This does not include category 5% bonuses or the automatic annual $240 I get from my 2 Bank of America Better Balance Cards.