Staying Organized with Miles, Points & Manufactured Spending
One of the biggest requirements of this hobby is organization. Back when I first started, that meant keeping my credit cards organized. Tracking things like bonuses, anniversary dates and even where the card physically was became a task, but one I was up to. As I have written before, I developed a spreadsheet and purchased this binder to keep all of my cards. (Cheaper ones are available, but this is high quality and has stood up to years of abuse.)
At the time I was doing quite well, but of course I ended up getting better at earning points. I began buying Visa/MC gift cards to liquidate, started reselling merchant gift cards and even moved towards reselling merchandise. My skills at earning points from various places increased, but my organizational skills didn’t keep pace.
The way I see it, I have three main things that need to be organized:
- Credit cards
- Gift cards
Let’s take a look at the basics of each of these. The goal here is to think about them and to ask you the readers to post some of your tips and experiences in the comments so we can help each other get better.
As I mentioned before, there are two main organizational considerations with credit cards. First, you need to track all of the information regarding the card and second, you need to track the cards themselves. Both are important.
Some of the things to track with credit cards are:
- Card type and bank
- Last four of the card number
- Account opening and anniversary date
- Anniversary bonus if applicable
- Bonus amount
- Bonus spend requirement & date to complete by
- Annual fee
- Annual spend bonuses and progress
Some people will want to track more information and some people less. While I cannot post my own spreadsheet here, Kenny from Miles4More posted a spreadsheet awhile back that I covered here on Miles to Memories. I believe it is still available for download.
As for the physical organization of my credit and other cards (except for gift cards), I use the binder mentioned above and section it off. The first section has MS cards. (Think GoBank, Buxx, etc.) The second section has my wife’s credit cards while my cards sit in the third section. Finally, the back of the book has all of our loyalty cards for airlines, hotels, lounge memberships, etc.
The only cards that live outside of the binder are my Amex cards. Since I use them often for Amex Offers, I have them rubber banded in groups based on their login. This seems like a very rudimentary way to do it, but I have found it works the best for me.
The gift cards category is really split in two. I deal both with Visa/MC gift cards to liquidate and merchant gift cards to resell.
Visa/MC Gift Cards
Do you keep track of these in your head? I used to until I realized one day that I had way too many cards and too many purchases to keep straight. I then began logging gift cards coming in and going out. My system for organizing these is basic. I track the date purchased and store. Not much else.
I also batch my purchase receipts together so I can find the receipt for a particular gift card. Between having the receipts somewhat organized and the basic spreadsheet, I can quickly reconcile data if a problem arises. My system is designed to be as simple as possible since adding complication will increase time requirements and reduce the value I get from buying these cards.
Merchant Gift Cards
Merchant gift cards are different. Since I am reselling these cards (sometimes for a profit), I need to track more data. I have created a spreadsheet that tracks the following information:
- Date of purchase
- Face value
- Purchase price
- Sold for price
- Who the cards were sold to
- Tracking information for mailing
- Payment reconciliation
How did I develop this spreadsheet? I simply began tracking information on gift cards and learned fairly quickly what I needed. I later built in formulas so that my profit/loss is automatically calculated as I go. This will make it much easier at the end of the year.
I have to admit that this is an area that I am the weakest. So many factors go into reselling that it sometimes makes my head spin. Portals, discount gift cards and merchant rewards are just some of the factors that go into figuring out a profit or loss. Add to that Amazon’s very poor reports and I honestly am not in a good space here.
For example, I try to track which portal I use along with the cost of merchandise, but I have found reconciling this information with the actual proceeds at Amazon is time consuming and difficult. For that reason I recently began using Inventory Lab. It is free for 30 days and then $49 per month or $490 per year after that. The program tracks all profit/loss after I input the inventory. It doesn’t do 100% of what I need, but it does the hard stuff. Not cheap, but worth it as I scale up.
The final thing to track when it comes to merchandise is receiving and shipping. I am still working on a system to best track packages/items as they come in and make sure everything is received and shipped back out. Right now what I am doing is piecemeal, so I definitely need to get better in this area.
Hopefully this post presented some basic methods of organization along with some of the data it is important to organize. My hope is that you the readers can share your own tips/tricks with others in the comments. I may even make a follow up post highlighting the best suggestions.
Are you fighting the battle to organize or do you have it mastered? What has been most helpful to you? Please let us know. Happy earning!