By now many of my readers will have seen information about the current Office Max promotion, running through December 27, 2014, for $20 off $300 or more in Visa or MasterCard gift cards purchased in-store.
Since $200 Visa and MasterCard gift cards come with a $6.95 activation fee, buying two will net you $6.10 in value even before accounting for any credit card rewards earned on the purchase, while buying one $200 and one $100 gift card would net you $7.10, again before accounting for credit card rewards.
While it's possible to simply integrate these cards into your existing workflow of manufactured spending, this deal is so good I think folks who, for reasons of geography, time, or inclination, don't typically manufacture spend with prepaid debit cards should still consider going for it.
For their sake, here are several ways to capture the value of Office Max gift cards without studying up on all the ins and outs of manufactured spend.
Give them as gifts
Ok, this one's a bit of a joke, but some people actually give Visa and MasterCard gift cards as gifts! If you can get $200 in credit with your loved ones for $196.60, that's still a win!
Prepay your bills
You might be accustomed to paying your cell phone bills each month with a Chase Ink card to earn 5 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. Using a Visa or MasterCard gift card bought at Office Max during this promotion captures the same 5-Ultimate-Rewards-point earning opportunity, but includes a nice discount off face value. If you're the kind of guy who frets over taxes, you can probably even get away with deducting the entire amount of your cell phone payment (though as I'm fond of saying, not only am I not an accountant, I'm definitely not your accountant!).
In addition to cell phones, there are many telecommunications companies, among others, that happily accept prepayments made with debit cards online. Check yours.
Use Evolve Money
This is a more flexible version of the above. Evolve Money accepts prepaid debit cards for bill payments to many merchants that don't themselves accept debit cards directly. You can use prepaid debit cards to make payments to your mortgage, car loan, student loans, municipal utility companies and tax authorities, and thousands of other merchants. If you use a Visa or MasterCard debit card bought at Office Max during this promotion, you'll do so at a nice discount.
As I've reported extensively elsewhere, you can even use prepaid debit cards to fund your own or your children's education through one of the many 529 College Savings plans that accept contributions through Evolve Money (I use the Utah Educational Savings Plan because of its flexibility and low-cost Vanguard mutual funds). If you decide to go this route, please read my entire series on Evolve Money.
Buy gift credit at merchants where you'll use it
While a classic example is at a merchant like Amazon.com, where you can buy gift credit in almost any denomination and have it simply wait for you to redeem it against future purchases, there are other choices you might consider: if you frequently ride Uber, buy yourself some gift credit and it will be automatically used up as you take rides.
Offers like this Office Max deal are as close to free money as you're likely to find without a deep dive into the world of manufactured spend. You may think it's not worth lugging around gift cards for everyday purchases, but hopefully the examples above show you that's totally unnecessary: these cards are almost as easy to liquidate as they are to buy.