Living Off Of Gift Cards Final Results
February is here, I made it out of January alive! Thanks all that have been following along with my wacky goal since the beginning of they year and made me smile with lots of good jokes after my mid month update. I will say that it was an interesting experience and one I am glad I did. I learned a few things about the gift cards, a bit about myself and noticed some things with our spending habits. I'll go through our final results and share some tips I learned along the way, plus how I think this helps us in the future.
My End Of Month Gift Card Balances
First things first. Let's take a look at what I started with, where we were at in the middle of the month and what we ended with.
|Gift Card / Store Name||Starting Amount||Mid Month Balance||End Of Month Balanc|
|Buffalo Wild Wings||$50||$50||$25|
|Visa Gift Card||$200||$80.28||$7.93|
How We Pulled It Off
I am surprised we ended up finishing with some balances, especially DoorDash. To be honest we were doing so well that we kind of went full out the last 4-5 days eating at On The Border, Maggiano's and loading up on groceries at Target. I knew we would be fine on the food side of things after we got past the midway point. What I was really worried about at that point was gas. We were down to $25 in BP gift cards with a few weeks left and only $80 in Visa Gift cards. I had some Speedway points, which helped, but it wasn't going to be enough. That is when I had an aha moment, or, more like I thought to myself, Mark how can you be so stupid! That happens daily by the way.
After chewing on what to do about gas shortage for a bit the solution finally hit me, Meijer was the answer. We had enough Target left to cover groceries, and DoorDash as a back up, that meant we could use Meijer gift cards at their gas stations. I should say I assumed they would work there. I didn't know for sure until I tried it one cold morning. You would be surprised how much joy I felt swiping that gift card and having it work at the gas pump. That was about the time that my back up plan was mountain biking through the snow, the goal comes first after all! We used a some of the Meijer balance on groceries but the majority covered our fuel needs for the remainder of the month.
Some Pointers I Learned Along The Way
I wanted to share some things I learned while using these programs and deep diving them a bit. Some of these were shared last time around, but are included again in case you missed them last time around. I also added some new stuff to it as well.
I am a bit surprised by this but figured I should share. I have gotten a few comments about the Chili's gift cards and why I have so many. Chili's gift cards work at On The Border (one of our favorites) and Maggiano's Little Italy. We won't be spending any of them actually at Chili's. So if you like either of those two places and always see Chili's gift cards on sale, snatch them up!
While Maggiano's is not the cheapest place, we do think it is one of the better chain restaurants out there. They offer a chance to buy a signature entrée to go for only $5 if you purchased one while there. It comes out cold and you heat it up the next day etc. You get a large portion for only $5, which is pretty amazing and one of the best deals around. We made sure to take advantage of this and ordered a few to go and cover lunches / dinners the next few days.
I should also note that you can tip on gift cards. My waiter at Maggiano's, who appeared to be new, wasn't aware of this. He chased me down the hall thinking we stiffed him since I filled it out and signed the receipt without paying with a credit card. It all got figured out when a co-worker showed him how to do it. If you are buying these at a discount then you might as well save some money on the tip too after all.
Uber Eats / DoorDash
We were able to stretch out our Uber Eats balance because we were targeted for a couple $10 off $25 promos. We try to select pick up for the food delivery apps too since it cuts down on the fees and tips. Doing pick up will often lower the prices of the individual items too. It is a useful way to stretch your funds with both programs.
It is kind of annoying, but Chipotle only lets you use one gift card online per order. I ended up putting the overage from our order on the Visa gift cards. I could have split the orders into two to burn most of both cards but I didn't want to get stranded with two low level gift cards. That would have made it much more difficult to get the value out of so I decided to go this route.
McDonald's probably has the best fast food app in my opinion. They have a ton of coupons and a decent points program. They also give out freebies often like fries on Fridays or 6 nuggets for the McNuggets 40th birthday. The problem has been that you can not use multiple coupons on one order. They even fight the double dip by giving you a time out when you use one. That stops you from using self kiosks for two orders. The work around is having two people there with accounts though. Sometimes that isn't possible though. This rule does not seem to be in place if you redeem points for an item and order it and then follow that up with a coupon order.
If you order twice within a week then you can use their $3 off for picking up your order offer. I was also targeted for a free bread when redeeming half the normal points which was nice. I had to order that separately since it wouldn't stack with the deals on the bigger order. Don't sleep on their cheesy buffalo chicken appetizer either!
Buffalo Wild Wings
I love B-dubs program. The fact that I had a nice stash of points is helping this month for sure. The really cool thing I figured out is that coupons on your account stack with points redemptions. I had a $5 off of $15 offer but our bill dropped below that amount since I used points to cover the chicken. Even though the bill was like $12 it still triggered the $5 off. The same thing happened the next week with a bonus points for spending over $20 offer. So that money wiped off by points still counts towards those spending offers.
Be sure to activate your Target Circle spending offers each month even if you don't think you'll hit them. We had one for getting $20 back for spending $80 multiple times. We should get that $20 free after our next grocery run there. I will also mention that buying 3rd party gift cards online count towards these goals too. I plan to try in store as well, which I imagine works the same way too.
I wanted to point out that gas stations that offer a cash price that is cheaper than credit are worth checking out with gift cards. Many of those gas stations give you the cash price when you swipe one of their gift cards. That is the case for BP and Shell at least. This makes your money go a little further.
Why I Am Glad We Did This & Lessons Learned Going Forward
Even though I got some push back from my wife I think everyone was mostly on board by the end of the month. We were all cognizant on trying to maximize our balances wherever we could throughout the month. Everyone was willing to take that extra step to burn a gift card that had only one use versus one with multiple uses etc. That was cool to see and it made us like a team getting through this.
It also became apparent how much we spend on stuff that we really don't need. It is just little things here and there like grabbing a drink at the gas station instead of bringing one from home with you etc. It appears all of that type of stuff likely adds up to hundreds of dollars a month for us. I feel like paying closure attention to our spending habits for 31 straight days made it become engrained somewhat in our routine now. I expect this to have a lasting impact on our family going forward, in a good way. For that reason alone I am glad we did this fun, yet wacky goal.
It also made me realize how I am normally more willing to be free and loose with discounted gift cards. I think it is because I mentally know that I got them at a discount, sometimes at a steep discount, and that makes me more willing to “splurge” when using them. This goal drove it home that these are essentially cash and I need to treat them as such, even if they were purchased at a great price.
Living Off Of Gift Cards Final Results: ToP Thoughts
I hope you guys enjoyed this challenge as much as I did, or at least more than my wife did! It was an eye opener for me on how much further we could stretch a dollar with some effort. I hope this will stick with me / us for a while and hopefully reconditioned us to make better decisions going forward. If nothing else it has me being more aware of how I use these discounted gift cards going forward.