Monday, November 30, 2009

I Reward Myself . . . with Postage Stamps

Imagine a long introduction here elucidating how I go about picking credit cards and how I ended up with a Citi Rewards card. I'd like to think that I took annual fees (of which there are none), percentage rates, and rewards into account, but it's been so long that I honestly don't know. In fact, when I first got this card, they didn't even have this program. At the time, their big deal was that you could put your picture right on the front of the card, which was supposed to be some sort of theft deterrent. (It didn't deter the thieves that took my card, but perhaps others.)

Once I started earning points on this card, I kind of forgot about it. Once in awhile, I check my account to see if there is anything I should be getting or working towards. I have to balance this out with my other account, in which I earn miles. However, although miles are "valued" at two cents each, they are so difficult to use that I don't even pay attention to them anymore. The point is that a couple of weeks ago, I looked up my points and I had a lot. Once I have the points in hand, though, I like to get the most for them that I can.

I have found that getting items, unless they are unique (meet Oprah! or something) are a poor use of points. The best thing you can get, as far as I am concerned is money, or something that acts like money. However, things are valued differently based on how much it costs Citibank to get it for you, not based on how much the thing is actually worth. For example, for $100 cash, you need 16,000 points. For a $100 credit on your account, it costs 14,500. For $100 on a Citi gift card, which is basically the same thing, you only need 14,000 points. You basically save 2,000 points, which you can use on something else or save for later.

The next logical question is: Is that really the best I can do? Can I get something else worth $100 for less than 14,000 points? The next thing to look at is gift cards, and there are a lot. The key is to only get something from a place where you buy things anyway. The go to place for me is CVS, because I have an Rx for Crohn's that I have to fill every month. This would make it pretty much free, PLUS, since I have a flexible savings account, I can get reimbursed for it, and receive actual money. Unfortunately, the most you can get is a $50 card. However, since it's only 6,000 points, it's easy enough to buy 2 for a total of 12,000 points. I've just saved another 2,000 points. Is that the best I can do? I bet that if I could find a gift card that was valued at $100, it would be less.

I check out the Staples store. Bingo! $100 for 10,000. Another 2,000 points. Instead of 16,000 points, I can get the same amount of "money" for 10,000 points AND I'm over half way to getting another $100 gc. What put me into a quandary was this: Am I really going to spend $100 at Staples before I lose the gift card (and by lose I mean stick it in my wallet and forget it's there)? I pondered and then it hit me: Staples sells postage stamps. I could buy 11 or 12 books of Forever stamps and be set for the next five years or so for stamps. Brilliant! Sadly, I can't get cool stamps, just the Liberty Bell ones, but it's the most bang for my buck.

Of course, when I got the card and went to Staples, I realized that I had forgot that I needed a battery charger. And a pencil sharpener. And there were a bunch of things on sale that were a very good value, so I couldn't really give those up. I did end up getting some stamps, but I think I'll be able to use them up in one year instead of five.

Philosophical implication and discussion: What does it mean to reward one's self? How do you reward yourself?

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