Best Credit Cards

The Low-hanging Fruit that Wasn’t

In this hobby we are constantly bombarded by various deals. I don’t know about you, but my head starts spinning from all the discounts, free donuts and Amex offers that I HAVE to take advantage of. I may not be a huge fan of Martha Stewart, but you better believe I will buy her wine when it costs just $3.50 per bottle. Sure, it’s only marginally better than the $5 wine I usually get at Dollar General, but still.

To be fair, some deals  seemingly fall in the “low-hanging fruit” category. But even then you have to watch out because they can easily turn into a major time and energy suck. Let me give you an example. American Express sometimes has an offer for its gift cards in your profile. You know, the one where you buy $200 gift card and get $10 off?

Usually, there is shipping cost involved, but if you find a discount code waiving purchase fee, you’ll end up with a net profit of $6. Sounds good, right? Well, it depends. Let me tell you my story. So, I ordered one of these cards and planned to pre-pay my power bill (I don’t do any manufactured spending). I got the card in the mail and it looked like the envelope was opened. Hmm, it’s probably OK.

I tried to use it and guess what? No dice. I seriously started having a panic attack thinking someone drained the gift card. That’s a few weeks of my life I will never get back. I call American Express and get a rep on the phone. He can’t figure out what’s going on and tells me he will go get a supervisor. After about 20 minutes on the phone, the guy comes back and says that the card wasn’t drained after all (phew!) and American Express simply failed to activate it. Huh?

OK, the issue is resolved. I was going to a grocery store and decided to just use it there rather than prepay my power bill. Long story short, I ended up with a tiny balance of $1.42. No problem. I’ll just drain it by buying a $1.42 Amazon gift card. Except Amazon decided to put  a $1 hold and declined my purchase. I tried to prepay the power bill and  it turns out, they require a $5 minimum payment.

So, now I have a $1.42 Amex gift card sitting in my wallet, occupying space, and I’m not sure  when I’ll finally get rid of the darn thing. I’ll probably use it to buy coffee at McDonalds at some point. Hopefully it won’t get declined.

Let’s recap. I spent about 30 minutes on the phone and  had a mild heart attack, thinking the card was drained. Then I spent another few minutes trying to use it (unsuccessfully) on  And I still have $1.42 left. All of this for a profit of $6? Methinks the juice is not worth the squeeze. I probably drank that much in Martha Stewart wine just to cope with the nonsense factor of it all.

But seriously, how much time do we all waste on the stuff that produce diminishing returns? I know I browse Amex Offers for at least 5 minutes each day, probably longer. And then I devote another 20 minutes trying to maximize a worthy offer to its greatest potential. And for what? A few bucks here and there. I wish I could say that I enjoy it, but honestly, it feels like a chore most of the time. I feel like I have to do it, otherwise, I will be leaving money on the table. And we can’t have that, can we?

And it’s not like I have a lot of extra time on my hands. There is usually  a pile of laundry to do, a blog post to write and kids to take care of. Of course, many deals are very much worth it, but I have to be picky on when to bite and when to walk away. Credit card sign-up bonuses and some bank account deals definitely give you a nice ROI when it comes to your time. Those are usually worth it. Just make sure to pay attention to the fine print!

Everything else is kind of iffy. If you are into manufactured spending and regularly drive around looking for an MS-friendly Walmart, I urge you to consider ALL the costs associated with it, not just the fees.

Still, if you asked me if I plan to buy an Amex gift card again when there is a $10 offer, I would probably say Yes. It’s an addiction.


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at




Author: Leana

Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.

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18 thoughts on “The Low-hanging Fruit that Wasn’t

  1. See this is how I feel about bank account bonuses that require switching direct deposit. Not worth my time. Time is valuable.
    I also don’t take advantage of many “deals” if it’s too involved. I’ve found that not only do I have more money, but I also don’t waste my valuable time on making sure I’m maximizing every little deal, not to mention if a deal goes wrong (as in your scenario). Simplicity is bliss, many times. I try to keep it simple.

    • @Natasha Oh, for sure! I don’t ever switch direct deposit, that is way too much trouble. I only pursue bank deals that don’t have this requirement. Not sure if you saw the Citi $300 bonus on $15,000 deposit, but that one seems like an easy win. Well, as long as Citi cooperates. Never mind, bank bonuses are too much trouble! :))

      • Not going to bother with Citibank. DP suggests that it’s a hassle. I did take advantage of 3 bank account bonuses that were region specific-PNC gave me $400 and DH $300. I also did the BMT and Wells Fargo $200 bonuses. Finally just jumped on the Fulton bank bonus for $150 for using debit card 10 times.

  2. So so so true! It is this simplify vs optimize “dilemma” that dominates my thoughts these days. And as I race around trying to tie up loose ends before I leave on a six-week trip to South Africa Sunday, I’m starting to think simplify just =optimize.

    • @Audrey Simplicity is highly underrated! Technology and instant access to information is a blessing and a curse of our time.
      On trip to Africa: I’m so excited for you and can’t believe how brave you are to take two kids by yourself!!! Please do share some photos with me when you get back.

  3. My company does everything online so it takes me less than 2 minutes to switch my direct deposit – it even allows multiple DD so I only need to do the required minimum and the rest goes to my regular account – and I do online banking so I can just do a transfer from one bank to my regular bank – it is definitely worth it to me for $150-$300.

  4. OMG!!! I bought visa gift cards last month during an office supply store promo and gave them to hubby as part of his spending money. He’s finally going to use them today for a specific online purchase. I’m crossing fingers that they work or I’m going to hear it.

    • @Stephanie I’m sure it will be fine! Usually those type of deals don’t cause major issues. But once in awhile, something goes wrong. I don’t know how MS people don’t lose their minds trying to keep track of everything.

  5. I think you can try Publix – last time I bought a $5 stuff and paid with a gift card and a credit card. The POS can auto drain the small balance remaining on gc (~$1.xx in my case). But, it’s a visa gift card – I guess amex gc should work.

  6. Use that small gift card balance to buy an Amazon gift card. Then that balance will be there the next time you need it, and you can be done with the American Express gift card.

  7. @Andy F @Marianne Thanks for the tips! Just used up the darn card at Wendy’s. Turns out, they can split your transaction if you ask. Who knew! I just can’t believe all the rigamarole this deal involved.

  8. No big deal…Target and many grocery stores will auto-drain small balances off gift cards. Basically you swipe like normal, it will drain the card, then it prompts you to pay the remaining amount. I used to get irritated when they started issuing rebates as prepaid Visa cards until I discovered that trick. Some McD’s also auto-drain.

    • @Erik That’s good to know! We don’t live near Target, but do have McDonalds in town. Mainly, I just couldn’t believe how much effort went into extracting that $6 profit! Ridiculous.

  9. I have received numerous prepaid gift cards from many different issuers and from both purchases and rebates with the envelopes not sealed upon arrival. None of them were compromised. I’m guessing there is a machine that should “wet” the envelope seal and press the flap down that was not working properly. Either way, I’m more surprised the gift card doesn’t fall out in transit!

    • @Jared Same here! It’s weird how many times I got gift cards in the envelopes that were not sealed. And we are talking about $500 cards. Fortunately, none were compromised, but some people were not so lucky. It definitely gives me pause when I’m considering this type of a deal. It can really turn into a major nuisance fast.

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