I spent the better part of a year dropping our grocery budget to $200 a month. I wore that number like a badge of honor. That’s why when I told my husband I wanted to spend $1000 a month at the grocery store, he thought I was joking. What I’m really trying to do is learn how to put some low-risk manufactured spending into action.
Why Manufactured Spending with Discover Cards?
Discover is one of the only credit card companies than offers 5% cash back on grocery store purchases up to $1,500. That means that hitting that bonus spending threshold equates to an extra $75. Since we have two cards, that means that spending $3,000 gets up $150 in cash. The catch is that it’s a quarterly bonus, not a year long thing. It’s probably a good thing, though, because I’m not entirely sure I want to play budget gymnastics year round.
Related Post: How We Hit Our $200 Grocery Budget
Now, let’s be clear here. This isn’t going to make me rich. This isn’t going to get us fancy seats on a plane (who am I kidding we fly Southwest where every seat is the same — sing it, Alanis!). But what this is going to do is put me closer to my goal of paying for all Christmas-time expenses with mobile app and cashback rewards. The added bonus is that even though our grocery budget is so low, spending at the grocery store actually gives us access to many other parts of our budget.
Using Gift Card Mall for Manufactured Spending
If your grocery store has an end cap littered with different gift cards, you have hit the manufactured spending jackpot. Of course, I could simply buy grocery gift cards. But as someone who normally keeps a low grocery budget, $3000 in grocery gift cards would take me clear through the next calendar year. Or I could do some serious damage to my budget and my waistline and blow it all on Halo Top ice cream.
Since I’m not willing to exercise that kind of willpower (and I don’t want my money tied up for longer than it needs to be nor am I willing to risk losing thousands of dollars by misplacing a grocery gift card), I’m hitting up the Gift Card Mall. Here are my picks if you need a little inspiration.
Amazon. We have several weddings and baby showers this summer that are tied to Amazon registries. I’m buying several gift cards and setting them aside for shopping. Also, Amazon Prime is the coolest thing to happen to the Internet since my mom discovered the ever-changing Google Doodle. Instead of actually popping for Prime for herself, though, she simply texts me her orders and pays me back.
Target. In addition to having several registry options tied to Target, this is my go-to store for all things baby-related. Honestly, if it were for Target and their amazing gift card promotions that work with coupon stacks, it would be really tough to swing our $100 monthly baby budget. But after a little practice, we do it with ease. Since I don’t see potty training in our son’s immediate future (Potty trained at 11 months! I could be an Internet millionaire! Come on HP!), I don’t mind buying a couple hundred dollars worth of these gift cards. Plus, this is where we pick up a lot of our household supplies.
Bed Bath & Beyond. My mom and I were giving a gift card as a housewarming gift. I bought it here. Easy enough.
Home Depot. We allocate $175 for home repairs in month in our budget. On good months, that figure is a lot lower. But it’s summertime, and that is when we work through the backlog of things that we will do another day.
Visa. The only way that I can get one of the grandmas to accept payment for childcare is through a gift card. Though there is a fee that does reduce the cashback glory, it’s important for us to do this. Hashtag grateful.
Other Ways to Manufacture Spend at the Grocery Store
Many of our local grocery stores also have gardening centers. Oddly enough, their annuals and vegetables are usually just as cheap if not more so than Home Depot or Lowe’s. Since this grocery store bonus has been active since April that means that my birthday flowers (annuals for my planters!) and my Mother’s Day gifts (hanging baskets for our front stoop!) counted, as did the parts of our gardens that we did not start from seed.
Related Post: Money Lessons from My Garden
We also restocked some of our home items when they were listed as loss leaders or part of fairly competitive weekly sales. We grabbed batteries, toothpaste, hand soap, and deodorant. I also found a fantastic deal on a pack of paper towels. Still, I remembered the name of the game was to not get burned by this manufactured spend, so I only bought one pack. Which is probably enough to last us until 2019 or beyond given how infrequently we use them.
Finally, we are hosting a few informal backyard dinners this summer and HP’s first birthday palooza. As a result, we are stocking up on a lot of alcohol
so I don’t notice how up-for-grabs my house is to serve our guests. As an added cashback bonus, there are also tons of summer deals on alcohol on Ibotta.
Related Post: Will A Little Bit Always Matter A Lot?
Is Your Manufactured Spending a Hack?
Here’s the caveat. If manufactured spend takes up a lot of time and mental real estate it isn’t worth it. If you spend hours upon hours and days upon days, hacking airline miles, hotel stays, or grocery cashback bonus points, you’re not hacking anything. The point of a hack is optimization. Figure out what your time is worth, and plan accordingly. For instance, I could find a tutoring gig for $40 or $50 an hour. That means that in order for this grocery deal to be profitable, I can’t spend anywhere close to 2-3 hours outside of my normal shopping time. (Though, if you count this blog post, I clearly lost out.) Repeat after me: if it takes up too much time, just say no.
Final Thoughts on Manufactured Spending
While only time will tell how truly successful this manufactured spend was, I can say that I’m pretty pleased with my progress. It has been relatively low risk, and it doesn’t seem that it will lead to any waste. Most importantly, a few strategic swipes of my Discover card should optimize my time and my money.
So Tell Me…Have you ever tried your hand at manufactured spending? What are your tips or reservations?
Psst – If you’re interested in joining me, here’s my referral link for Discover. I love credit cards for all they offer, but if they aren’t your thing or you don’t think you can pay them in full each month, definitely don’t sign up. No hack is worth consumer debt!
Every time you post about the $200 per month grocery bill, I’m so amazed. We’re going to have an Aldi close to us in our new house, though. You better believe that I’m doing a shopping experiment to see how little we can spend by just shopping at Aldi! I mean, could we get sub $500 for our family of four hungry humans? I don’t know. I can’t even imagine it. But we’re going to try!
We used to have a Citi card with bonus categories, so I’d manufacture spending, but I ultimately decided it was too much work so we now just use our Barclay and get 2.25% back on all our expenses. I may investigate the Discover this summer, though, since I’ll have some more time.
I probably should do a breakdown of our shopping. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve gotten a little lax and we’re hovering around $225 now. Though this month looks like it will be significantly lower. Possibly even sub $200 because we’re both home to eat more cooked meals. I’m so pumped for you that you’re close to Aldi!
If you do decide to investigate Discover, I just added the upcoming 2018 categories to this post!
I haven’t done much in manufactured spending yet but taking note of this hack!
We have been focused on travel cards so far and haven’t done much cash back hacking yet – looks like there are some good bonuses out there so I’m sure it will happen sooner than later
If you shop on Amazon or at Costco/Sam’s, the fourth quarter could be awesome!
This is so interesting! My husband and I are waiting to pay off my student loans before we get a CC. That way I can do research and make sure that we’ll be good if we accidentally overspend. That’s my biggest worry with them, and why we’re waiting for the extra cash flow being loan free will give us before we experiment. But I love this idea of manufactured spending! It’s so cool how you used it, and that you have a goal for where the money is going.
Props to you for waiting! And major props for working on paying down your student loans! Woohoo!
Like the little granny-in-training I am, I balanced a checkbook until a few years ago. So I would deduct every CC purchase as if it was a check or a debit swipe. That way, I knew exactly how much I had! It helped so much knowing that I could pay my bill at the end of each month. I think there’s so much good that comes from using a credit card *if* it’s right for your situation.
Erin | Reaching for FI
Ohhhh Penny this is genius! I was thinking of buying grocery store gift cards before the end of the month on my Discover card, but same here in that it would take me ages to go through those gift cards because my grocery spending is pretty low. I think I’ll add some Amazon cards into the mix as well!
I’m absolutely not going to max out the $75 cashback this quarter (doubled because I’m still on my first year with the card so I get the match) because $1500 is a lot for me, but every bit counts, and best of all this is EASY manufactured spending, which I don’t usually do (other than strategically opening cards when it’s time for annual charges).
Yup! Amazon is a great filler. I’m super pumped for the October-December category. My mom has a Sam’s membership, and I know they sell discounted gift cards (we like to give gift cards for Christmas gifts). And Amazon is so useful!
Britt | Tiny Ambitions
I can honestly say I had never heard of manufactured spending before reading this post. It sounds like an interesting though! I’ve never gotten into the travel hacking game, but that might be because the credit card landscape is different in Canada than the US (and because the thought of owning more than one credit card makes me nauseous).
I’m already down the bazillion credit card rabbit hole. I do think that we are lucky (if you can call it that!) in terms of the offers that are available to us in the States.
I got dropped by Discover, but rarely used the card since I got I to travel hacking. My Chase Freedom has the 5% grocery category this quarter, too, so I’m trying to max out the $1,500. Beat part, the “cashback value” I earn can be transferred to my Chase Sapphire Reserve and increase that value! Gonna stock up on gift cards before June 30, because gas stations (and the convenience stores connected to them!) are Q3 on Freedom! Woo hoo
Lily | The Frugal Gene
“$3000 in grocery gift cards would take me clear through the next calendar year”
Yeah us too haha. We need more humans in this family to help us eat!
This is one reason why we can’t churn as much as I would like. I did find out you can prepay on your utilities in the PNW and that’s another way to manufacture spending.
For Discover, don’t they double your rewards the first year you sign on? It’s basically 10% whatever you get if you get it at 5%. Soooo juicy *_* but it’s only for new sign ups.
You’re right, Lily! I think they do that now. Sadly, we had a Discover card before they created the Discover It card, so we didn’t get all of the perks. That’s awesome that you can prepay your utilities. I should look into that for other churning!
Sad to say, but our local discount grocery store requires cash to buy gift cards 🙁
That’s such a bummer! But I can definitely see why. I just get carded LOL I have to show an ID any time I put more than $50 on a gift card (Visa gift card or regular store cards!).