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 kept track of all these gift cards. Meanwhile, 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:
- “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 Gift Card Mall, 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). 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, then make it a point to use them 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, the interest you’re paying is completely negating any rewards you’re earning. 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:
Credit Card Balance Closing Date Due Date Payoff Spending Requirements Progress
Bofa Alaska $2,000 September 30 October 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. My goal is to be as efficient as possible.
If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comment section.