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How I Keep Track of Gift Cards From Purchase Through Liquidation

Last month, I churned well over $300,000 worth of Visa and merchant gift cards. Let’s pause for a minute because while I don’t normally indulge in self-praise, I think it’s deserved in this instance. A lot of readers have been asking me how I’ve been able to keep track of all these gift cards, while family members have expressed skepticism that I haven’t lost any cards. I can’t say for sure that I haven’t because nothing is foolproof, but I’d like to think my system does prevent major losses. Here’s a step-by-step look at how I track all of my gift cards:

Step 1: Organize Emails. The first step in tracking gift card purchases is to create an email folder. I have three folders for each email account: 

  • “GiftCards”
  • “Merchant Gift Cards”
  • Staples Gift Cards

They’re pretty self explanatory: Giftcards.com order confirmations go into the GiftCards folder, any merchant gift card purchases (including those from Staples.com) go under “Merchant Gift Cards” and $200 – $300 Visa gift cards purchased from Staples.com go into the eponymous folder. I keep all emails in these folders – order confirmations, shipping and delivery notifications, and everything in between. When an order has been delivered, I delete all emails associated with that email.

Staples is a bit tricky because the order number they provide via email is different from the ones that come attached with the Visa gift cards. That’s because those gift cards come from GiftCardMall, which has a different order number. The way I handle this is by only placing one order per day under each person’s name. And if I place more than one per day, it’s not going to be in the same amount. For example, if I’m ordering six $300 Visa gift cards in a single order, I’ll only do it once. My second order that day will be for a different amount (i.e. perhaps $1500). It’s not a sophisticated system, but it works.

Step 2: Prepare Gift Cards for Liquidation. Once the Visa gift cards arrive, I activate them and then toss them into a plastic bag I keep for this purpose. I bring this plastic bag along with me to Walmart and after I swipe each card for my money order purchases, I toss them into my purse along with my receipts. 

Merchant gift cards are a little different – I type the card numbers into a Word or Excel document and don’t delete any information until The Plastic Merchant processes my transaction. This way, if there’s something wrong with a card number I’ve submitted, I can go back to my records and double check that the information is correct. 

Step 3: Double Check Gift Cards Against Receipts. After I return home from Walmart, I pull out the stash of gift cards from my purse and double check them against the receipts. Simon Mall and GiftCards.com Visa gift cards are always $500 (except for the Sunflower design cards, which are $450), and my Staples Visas all have their balances written on them. I check to make sure the $200 Visa gift card was in fact used for $200 towards a money order purchase and when everything has been verified, I toss the cards and their receipts into an empty box. 

Step 4: Toss Everything. I’ve already explained how I can’t keep a regular trash can anymore because it just doesn’t provide enough space since I can’t toss anything unless it’s been definitely liquidated (i.e. money orders have been deposited, checks cashed, etc.). I do the same thing with my merchant gift cards. I keep the cards and their packaging in a box until the sale has been completely cleared. Once it has, I toss out the boxes and delete all emails associated with these purchases.

Stray Cards. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you end up with a bunch of “stray” gift cards with odd balances on them. This happens to me sometimes when a card hasn’t been properly activated and I need a backup. I may use a $500 Visa to cover the remaining $200 balance on a money order purchase. I simply stick a piece of tape on these gift cards, write the remaining balance, and then make it a point to use these cards during my next money order run. It doesn’t always work out, so I may occasionally end up with several stray cards. I keep these in a separate labeled bag and try to either spend them down (depending on the balance), use them to buy money orders, or liquidate them through other means. 

Step 5: Pay off Credit Cards. This is the most important step. If you’re not paying off credit cards on time, you may as well not bother because the interest you’re paying is completely negating any rewards you’re gaining. It’s not enough to pay off cards by the due date. If you’re churning gift cards in large numbers, you should pay off your cards before the statement closing date to keep your card utilization rate low. I keep these simple tables with the following information to ensure all of this is done in a timely manner:

Cardholder Name

Credit Card Balance Closing Date Due Date Payoff Spending RequirementsProgress
Bofa Alaska$2,000September 30October 5- Paid $2,000 on 9/29$10,000- $3,000 in July
- $5,000 in August

That’s my fairly simple system for keeping track of gift cards from purchase through liquidation. I guess I could take it a step further and write down each card number, but that would be way too time consuming and my goal is to be as efficient as possible. 

If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comment section.

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Ariana Arghandewal

25 Comments

  1. Have you ever considered using some sort of double entry accounting system to ensure 100% accuracy?

    Double entry requires a bit of a learning curve, but once you understand the concept it’s really no more work than using an Excel spreadsheet. The benefit is that the system itself prevents you from accidentally overlooking anything, because every transaction must have an equal and opposite transaction. If any mistake is made the imbalance will either be glaringly obvious so you can fix it, or the system will not let you enter a transaction until the imbalance is corrected.

    Glad you’re back posting!

  2. Having only done a card or two I may not know what I am talking about on a large scale, but wouldn’t having some sort of scanner you can swipe that would enter a card into a spreadsheet and a 2nd swipe after using it show funds deleted. It would just seem there is some sort of technology that would help the organization of so many cards.

    I think another good story would be on how you can get the credit card companies increase the balances on the cards you need a big balance.

    Also, is your bank local where you deposit your money orders?

    • I believe The Plastic Merchant lets you scan cards now, something I’ve been meaning to look into. Having a system like that would certainly make things easy for the merchant gift cards.

  3. I adopted the same method to keep track of my paltry amount of gc purchases. I was just double checking my vanillas that I used at the PO to MO’s before discarding them. I verified by phone and online, and found that there are 2 X $500 cards that should have been depleted, but still have $500 still on them 4 days later. Has this ever happened to you? What happens when you take those cards to the PO again?

    • That happened to me once at Walmart. They were having issues with their money order machine and a couple of cards didn’t get the balance deducted for whatever reason. The cashier/manager seemed unsure how to handle it but said he’d let me know if they needed me to make up the difference.

  4. That’s a great system! Quick question: which cashback, or points, portal do you use for Staples purchases? Thank you!

  5. Regarding the GiftCards.com cards – why put $450 on that last card when you can do $465 and still be below the $2500 limit and $7.45 shipping? The extra 15 points with each order adds up 🙂

  6. I highly recommend everyone to retain cards/receipts for up to a year even if they have been liquidated. Over the years I have had occasions of issues/refunds back to the card even months later. Better safe than sorry and it doesn’t take any more effort.

    • I see you point here but with large amounts you will run out of space. Also I wonder how do you dispose the used cards. Do you shred each and everyone or just throw it in trash

      • If you get a large rubbermaid and put it in the corner of a closet it doesnt take too much space when you stack them inside. Even if you dump every 3-6 months it’s better than nothing. Also, I don’t tend to shred after a year since at that point all they can get from the card is publicly available information.

  7. How do you find the time and all the walmart/post office stores to liquidate so many gift cards in one month? I’m fearful to try more than $1-2K with at one location at one time as I always get questions about splitting up the payments into $500. What’s your response to pesky questions from the cashiers? Post office always seems to be more nosy

    • I actually have one really good Walmart store that lets me buy $10k per day, plus another $10k in bill pay. That goes a long way in allowing me to liquidate tons of cards without having to visit multiple stores. It took some time to build trust, but now I know all the cashiers/managers at this store and they’re cool with what I do.

      • Wow that’s awesome. Does every Walmart have a bill pay and money order machine? I want to start buying more simon gift cards but want to make sure I’m not stuck with a ton of gift cards unable to pay off the balances on my credit card. I’ve been using my Coin to load 4 gift cards at a time on there to avoid questions but I still have to split the payment into $500 increments which alarms the cashier always. Should I just tell them what I’m doing?

      • How do you have them ring up the 10k? This week a did a 3k run at WM and the casher rang up three MO’s for 999.30. When I got to the 2k mark the next card erred out. It took a second for panic for me to realize that I had hit the four swipe limit, which they were all unaware of. Do you just keep doing one MO at a time and continue asking for another? This seams like it could bypass the 3k limit for filling out the form, which could be seen the wrong way.

        • Usually I split the $10k purchase into five transactions of ~$2k each. I do fill out the form. My local WM is ok with this since they know what I’m doing it for.

  8. Do you have any backup plans if Walmart sale system starts rejecting gift card debit transactions for money order swipes, similar to how the Vanilla card used to work as debit, but doesn’t any longer?

  9. What is Walmart Bllpay and how do you use it? Is this a machine or do you use Wlmart Billpay with a cashier?

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