As 2015 winds to a close, it’s a good time to look back over the year and see how we did financially compared to our goals. Back in 2014, we discovered the idea of financial independence and decided to set ourselves up with a lifestyle that balances maximizing life in the present and setting ourselves up for an awesome future. Back in April of this year, I walked through our rough plan to become FI by 40 and laid out a simple 3 part plan for making it happen. So far we’re actually ahead of schedule, but potential lifestyle changes in the next couple decades make me hesitant to move our goal yet. Regardless of when we determine we’re financially independent, the 3 steps to get there remain the same: Reduce Expenses, Increase Income, and Invest Efficiently. This post will focus on the Increasing Income part of the equation and will walk through a few different side gigs we participated in to increase our income this year including gift card reselling, credit cards, bank bonuses, and more.
Gift Card Arbitrage
Earlier this year, I started buying and selling gift cards for profit and points, aka Gift Card Arbitrage. The original plan was to use it as an outlet to generate spend on credit cards, but eventually transitioned my mindset to focus more on the cash profit (although I pay attention to points too). My first ever gift card purchase for resale took place in February of this year and I ramped up the volume not long after. I got in a bit of reselling funk after completing the $20k Reselling Challenge, but ramped up again closer to the end of the year.
Overall, it’s been a great side gig that I can completely control when and how I invest time in it. The income is moderate per hour spent and anything but passive, but it makes a nice complement to credit card churning (which I’ll cover next). Here’s some of the numbers behind the business if you’re curious (these numbers are only for completed sales and don’t reflect current inventory):
- Gift Cards Purchased: 979
- “Problem” Gift Cards: 31
- Total Sales: $68,290.87
- Money Lost on Problem Cards: $757.90
- Cash Profit: $3,211.53
In addition to the cash profit, I’ll let you use your imagination on all the miles and points I earned with ~$68k of credit card spend.
We’ll see how much “profit” is actually left after all of my business deductions, but either way I’ll have the honor of adding a Schedule C to my taxes for the first time. Paying taxes is never fun, but it’s pretty awesome to make a profit with my own business in that true entrepreneurial sense. Either way, I think I’ll continue reselling gift cards when the right deals come around, but will try to focus on the more scalable and profitable opportunities instead of chasing every card I can make a buck on.
Credit Card Churning
2015 marks the first full year that Becky and I participated in the hobby of churning credit cards for points and profit. We discovered the process last year, applied for our first cards in August of 2014, and continued to chase lucrative bonuses throughout 2015. The primary goal of churning cards for us is to subsidize our travel (which it does an AMAZING job of), but you can’t ignore the cash bonuses we took advantage of to come out cash positive on the year even after taking into account the annual fees we paid!
Our trips thanks to Churning this year included 13 round-trip domestic flights and 11 nights in hotels for about $400 out of pocket! The highlight was probably 8 Nights in NYC, but we’re really ramping up the luxury next year with trips to Cancun (all-inclusive!), New Zealand, and Fiji already booked!
Here’s some select stats from our Churning adventures in 2015 (both of us combined):
- New Cards Applied For: 25
- New Cards Approved For: 23
- Signup Bonus Totals: 695,000 Points/Miles, 6 Free Hotel Nights, and $825
- Spend Required for Signup Bonuses: $43,250
- Annual Fees Paid: $857.55
- Money From Credit Card Benefits: $900 (“Airline” Reimbursements + Global Entry Credits)
We certainly weren’t as aggressive as we could have been signing up for new cards, but still walked away with a ton of points and a nice chunk of cash to go with it. The denied applications were for the Ink Plus and an Arrival+, but we didn’t even bother calling recon for the Arrival+. Most cards were acquired for the signup bonuses, but others (such as the Amex Platinum) were obtained to take advantage of the various benefits the cards offer.
One of my goals when applying for new cards is to stick to ones that we can meet the spending requirements via our regular spending (we do little to no manufactured spending). In this case, the ~$43k almost exactly matches our spending for the year that can be put on credit cards (pretty much everything but the mortgage) and that definitely wasn’t an accident. While I also spent ~$68k reselling gift cards as noted above, I tend to look at that as just bonus points. By the way, that ~700k number above is only signup bonuses and doesn’t include the regular points earned from spend on the cards.
Could we be more aggressive and sign up for more cards? Absolutely. Will we? Maybe. Right now we’re earning and burning points at a fairly consistent pace and the main limitation on our travels is vacation time, not miles/points. I don’t have much interest in accumulating a pile of points that would take years to get through, but there are always cash signup bonuses available as well. We’ll have to see how our strategy plays out in 2016.
Bank Account Bonuses
Credit cards aren’t the only financial instrument offering lucrative signup bonuses and we managed to take advantage of several bank bonuses throughout 2015 as well. These bonuses were primarily cash (that will require taxes to be paid), but we added in a few miles and points as well.
Here’s some select stats from our Bank Bonus chasing in 2015:
- New Accounts Opened: 9
- Signup Bonus Totals: $1,150 and 75k miles/points
- Ongoing Bonus Total: $160 (Santander extra20, which is unfortunately no longer open to new customers)
Bank account bonuses are much more limited than credit cards due to a small selection and fairly strict churning rules (many are once per lifetime), but there’s no reason not to take advantage when you can. The Santander extra20 account is one of my favorites because it’s an ongoing $20/month that can be automated, but they no longer allow new customers to sign up for it. It still works for existing customers though, so hopefully I can continue to get $240/year into perpetuity.
The Blog – Money Metagame
A post about our side gigs wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the blog you’re reading right now! Don’t get too excited though because it’s by far the least profitable side gig that also happens to require the largest time investment. Having said that, it’s also probably the side gig I’m most proud of. Using the blog as a way to interact and contribute to both the miles and points and personal finance worlds has been an amazing experience and one that I plan to continue into the future.
The blog officially launched in late November of 2014, but nobody really noticed it until April of this year. I owe a HUGE thanks to the many other great blogs that have linked to my content since I launched the site!
I didn’t start the blog to make money and that hasn’t changed, but those ads off to the right do pull in a few bucks every now and then which is nice. Someone even signed up for Ebates through a referral link I had in an old post! (That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I’ve received a whole $5 from referral bonuses via the blog!)
Here’s some select stats from Money Metagame in 2015:
- Articles Published: 73
- Unique Visitors: 33,076
- Most Popular Post: My Latest Get Rich Slow Scheme: Gift Card Arbitrage
- People That Found Money Metagame through AOL Search: 14
- New Twitter Followers: 581 (Follow Me on Twitter)
- Cost of Hosting: $110 (switched providers mid-year, but am paid up till 2017)
- Ad Revenue: $247
- Referral Revenue: $5
Big thanks to all of my readers and hopefully I can continue to generate content worth reading. I’m always open to suggestions if there is anything you want me to talk more or less about. By the way, would you want to support the site in some kind of monetary fashion? Should I set up a page with all of my referral links? I’m certainly not opposed to the idea of making this blog more profitable, but definitely don’t want to turn into “that guy” who just pushes affiliate links in every post. I’d love to hear some feedback on this from my readers, feel free to email me or leave a comment below.
I’ll leave you with a nice graph to help show how much this blog has grown over the past year:
2015 Side Gig Summary
Overall, 2015 was a great success when it came to all of the side gigs we pursued outside of our full-time jobs. I spun up a gift card reselling business that managed to pull in a profit despite a few setbacks along the way. Becky and I both pursued signup bonuses from credit cards and bank accounts to earn tons of “free” travel as well as a little extra cash along the way. To top it all off, this blog managed to obtain some regular readers and make a few bucks which very much surpassed my expectations.
By my rough calculation, we managed to bring in around $5,000 through the 4 gigs mentioned above! Not to mention the potentially tens of thousands of dollars worth of travel that the miles and points allow us to book. We’ve already established a healthy level of spending to match our desired lifestyle, so all of this extra money will go straight to investments and grow our wealth. Using the Hours of Freedom calculation I created in The Value Of An Extra $100, we should be able move our FI date up by about 237 working hours (or about 6 weeks!) thanks to our side gig income this year. Looking at it another way, investing that $5,000 now when we’re 25 years old will allow it to grow to ~$74,000 in today’s dollars by the time we reach the traditional retirement age of 65 thanks to the power of compound interest!
There’s a wonderful feeling that comes with earning money from side gigs that just isn’t there when you get a regular paycheck, even if the amount doesn’t compare. Maybe that’s why we’re so interested in generating enough passive income to not even need a job in the future…
I hope all of the side gigs you pursued in 2015 were successful as well. Either way, you’re welcome to join me in 2016 on my quest to continue earning money outside of the regular 9-5 and accelerate our path to early financial independence! Happy Holidays!