Posted by Chuck on February 2, 2015
Manufactured Spending

Published on February 2nd, 2015 | by Chuck

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Should We Calculate Hourly Earnings When Manufacturing Spend?

This is another post in our Manufactured Monday series. We try to offer some insights into manufactured spend each Monday. You can view all posts in this series by clicking here.

When you manufacture spend (MS) do you calculate your hourly earnings? Should you calculate your hourly earnings? Is MS always worth it?

MS Hourly

I think about this question often, and I was just reminded of the topic by Free-quent Flyer. He writes:

Unlike many of my readers, I don’t place a high value on my time, or rather, I don’t treat manufactured spend as a time “suck:” I do much of my manufactured spend on foot, which makes it feel vaguely healthy; I listen to funny and educational podcasts while I work; and I’m always gathering more news and updates for this blog, increasing the value I provide my readers. So I don’t feel the need to put a dollar cost on my time spent, since I love my job!

It got me thinking because I’m exactly the opposite; I’m constantly calculating how long each MS run took and how that translates into hourly wages. Not because I’m an attorney who could be billing $300 per hour. Not because I necessarily had a different paying job that I could have been doing. Just because I find myself constantly busy, and – unlike Free-quent Flyer – I find myself unable to get anything done while I MS. It’s completely dead time. It’s only not dead… if I’m actually making money.

“Money” in this context wouldn’t have to be green dollars. It could be airline miles or any other reward currency as well. But if it’s airline miles, then I’d be calculating how much those miles are worth to me in dollars. If it’s elite status, then I’d calculate how many hours it took me to get the elite status. Whenever I do a particularly time consuming MS run, I’ll chuckle to myself, ‘Haha, you just worked for less than minimum wage.’

If I didn’t calculate everything by hourly wages, I’d end up doing all the wrong things. There’s simply not enough time in the day to do all MS and all other things on the agenda. I need to prioritize.

Case in Point

Let’s take Buxx, for example. I don’t have US Bank Buxx, only Nationwide Buxx. It has a $1000 monthly load limit which costs $4 to load ($500 +$2 and $500 +$2). The way the system is set up is that you can’t even do one clean $1000 run with it once a month – you have to do $500 and $500, or $800 and $200. Now, it would depend which card you’re loading Buxx with. If you got a Citi retention bonus of 3x ThankYou points, maybe it could be very valuable. But let’s suppose you’re getting a straight 2.2% with Arrival. How much did you actually make? Around $22 minus $4 in fees, or $18. Is it really worth the time?

To be clear, there are many scenarios which I’d use Buxx. It could be a great way to meet a minimum spend threshold. It could be great if you have 3x ThankYou points, as mentioned. Moreover, if I was going shopping in Walmart and I had some extra load room on my Serve card, I’d make sure to load up $500 on my Buxx before going and load the $500 onto Serve. There would still be around 5-15 minutes of time spent on it, but to me that’s worth it for the $9 I’ll net on my Arrival card.

Maybe I’d even make an extra stop into Walmart, if I was passing by. In that case, I’d be netting the $9 in around 25 minutes, after accounting for the lines in Walmart. And I’d probably still do it… but I’d definitely calculate it in an hourly wage type of fashion. And I wouldn’t do it if it was busy season for me, or if there was different MS venue I could be doing at a higher value.

Conclusion

In conclusion, don’t get me wrong: I’ve gone long ways to earn minimal points in the past. Sometimes, it was an error in hindsight. Other times, I just got caught up in the point-accruing mindset and wasn’t interested in calculating the time involved. But it’s not the norm for me.

Many other people will constantly seek to maximize any point venue they have, irrespective of time. And I’m not against that at all. If someone enjoys it, or if someone gets into the hobby and goes all out to take advantage of every point-earning opportunity they have, I respect that fully. A hobby could be very fulfilling. I just don’t find myself in that position personally. I’m constantly calculating minutes and dollars.

What do you think? Should we calculate the dollars, or should we pursue it as a hobby? Do you mentally calculate the hourly wages of each churn? Am I the only one who calculates whether I just earned minimum wage?

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Parkerthon
Parkerthon

It’s tricky defining true value of time for MS. Forget the hourly value in dollars, what’s time with friends and family worth when you hardly ever get any as it is? But if you enjoy doing it as a hobby… Reason to get out or count it as some self time for those that have kids… Well its all relative. I use the dollar per hour calculation simply to measure up ms efforts in respect to past efforts, not to justify doing them.

Miguel
Miguel

I agree that the full intrinsic value of the churn has to be taken into account. I measure everything; pre and post preparation, fuel cost, etc. By constantly monitoring and evaluating, I have streamlined my process significantly and maximized my efforts/costs/earnings. And hey, isn’t that what why we are doing all this in the first place?
If you are not constantly asking yourself if there is a better way, then you can easily be misguided into thinking you are successful when in reality you are not.

atxtravel
atxtravel

You need to take into account that MS produces tax free earnings, which in effect increases its value relative to other income, by the person’s marginal income tax rate, which for me is around 25%.

Barb
Barb

regarding this;

Moreover, if I was going shopping in Walmart and I had some extra load room on my Serve card, I’d make sure to load up $500 on my Buxx before going and load the $500 onto Serve. There would still be around 5-15 minutes of time spent on it, but to me that’s worth it for the $9 I’ll net on my Arrival card.

this doesn’t work for me with USbuxx because loading is on rolling 30 days instead of calendar month which would’ve made it a lot easier. I have 3 teens each on 2 parent cards so I pool funds on several cards and load to any of my reloadable cards when I do my shopping run.

Since my MS activities are added to my regular shopping run and drugstore(s), grocery store and WMs are all in the same area, I can sweep them all in the same trip making full use of time and gas. I don’t treat it as a chore because I find it enjoyable especially when I add up all my CBs at the end of the month.

Brenton
Brenton

It’s all fun and games to calculate until the first wal-mart employee reluctantly does $500 after checking your ID, and then sends you to customer service because she isn’t comfortable doing it, but won’t say why… The second would load all day but there’s a line building behind you and you feel bad making the teenage kid wait when all they have is a bag of chips. The third seems aghast at you loading such a large amount as $500, but then another employee comes over and says it’s ok, but when you ask if you can do split tender or load $500 twice in separate transactions says “we’re not supposed to do that”. The fourth does $500 on each BB card willingly, but then asks why you’re moving money from one card to another (for budgeting purposes, obviously…)

What’s the benefit of being able to load $2499.99/day if you get hassled loading $500 at a time?

El Ingeniero
El Ingeniero

I have a spreadsheet I call the churnalyser.

It has data on every MS tool I have and every MS venue within a 30 minute drive of my house: what can be done where, what it costs, how long it takes, how long I have to wait in line, how long it takes to make a side trip to that place from my non-MS activities, and success rates.

It also subtracts $50/hour from the gross profit to get a net, so I can establish a cutoff for profitability.

There are a couple of churns where my hourly profit is well over $400/hour (5% at grocery stores is not even half that, by the way). There are a couple of churns where the hourly net is less than $30, but the points are needed for some vacation plan or other.

It also motivates me to make plans to avoid expensive points.

What I have learned is that the 3 best tools for MS are 1) signup bonuses, 2) double-dipping and 3) RedBird.

JB
JB

When I saw the FQF post earlier I was like, hell yeah, seems like finally someone admits that they have plenty of free time at hand like myself. I don’t have to calculate any cost other than the fees since I use my bike (paid for with the CSP signup bonus) whenever possible which keeps me fit along the way. There’s plenty of US Bank ATMs, Targets and Walgreen’s around so I can do pretty much all of my monthly “spending” within anywhere from 20 minutes to an hours time – which I do almost every other day. The occasional giftcard churn is done from the comfort of the couch anyway 😉

Eric
Eric

Its very simple, if you are doing this and constantly counting every minute and recalculating your “billable hours” as if you think you are a billionaire and are too worry about wasting too much of your precious time, MS is not your thing. If you make that much money you have no reason to be doing MS period. You don’t see Mark Cuban doing MS because he doesn’t need to use CCs in order to

Yes I know the cliche “time is money” but at some point you have to ask yourself if its truly worth it. For me, I like doing it as a hobby and the dreams of flying in business/first class and staying in nicer hotels are what keeps me motivated. It also gets me out and about and its the joy of being able in some ocassions meet some MSers by coincidence and talk to them about their experiences.

Also some people do it and sacrifice some time with their family in order to some day repay back that favor of losing that time by paying for their entire family on miles on business class and staying in nice hotels. I just simply hate it when people try to compare their work hourly wage to a MS hourly wage. It just doesn’t make any sense. If its way more efficient to use your time billing someone $300/hr, why even do MS in the first place. I wouldn’t even bother with MS if that were in that situation.

David
David

So if I understand you correctly, for the people that are keeping records, and don’t want to waste time on inefficient avenues, MS is not for them. But it is right for people that are carefree, and don’t care if they are making just minimum wage?

Whatever your thought on FQF, he is not a great role model for the laissez faire approach… he has virtually no savings and he needs to pimp for blog subscribers to stay afloat. Personally I don’t write down every minute, but I do know what my general rate is.

Your Mark Cuban analogy is off. If you watch Shark Tank, you will see he tells people that he won’t do a deal because it’s not worth his time. He does calculate his time.

MS makes sense for somebody like Mark Cuban too…he just needs to have a rate of return ridiculously higher than mine. For some people they will be very happy if they MS $30 an hour, but for me that is a waste of my time. I don’t mind a failed trip that I only got $30 an hour on (rare), but a successful trip where I got $30 an hour was a mistake.

GNAA
GNAA

Have you factored the time spent creating spreadsheets and calculating hourly rates of return into your spreadsheets? Don’t forget to factor the time spent calculating the time spent creating spreadsheets and calculating hourly rates of return into your hourly rates of return ad absurdum.

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