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Yesterday I tweeted out a simple enough conversation that my husband and I had. It said:
Me: I’m going to run errands for a while.
Him: What are you buying?
This tweet got a few re-tweets and/or favorites as I think a lot of miles and points junkies can relate to this exchange as they head off to CVS, or a gas station, or an office supply store, or Walmart, or wherever they leverage their rewards earning credit cards to effectively buy points. Some call this manufactured spending, buying “bird food”, gift cards, whatever. I don’t do it a lot, but I had the itch to try out a few things yesterday, so I went for it. As usual, it didn’t go very smoothly since I don’t have a solid system in place that I use on a consistent basis. The stores are out of the gift cards/reloads I need, the online process fails when it should work, the Walmart Money Machine is broken, etc. I don’t do this very much as it often isn’t always an easy process, and I don’t have a ton of free time, but I do it enough to make sure we have the points we need to go where we want to go.
However, the process of manufactured spending isn’t exactly what this post is about. I’ll get back around to a few things I am (trying to) do these days in that arena once I actually get the process to fully work, but in the mean time a small event while out running these points errands struck me.
While I was out driving around from store to store to effectively buy nothing other than plastic cards to move money around and manufacture points, I stopped at a gas station in a part of town I don’t usually visit. You can call it “the other side of the tracks”, the wrong side of town, an economically distressed area, or any other number of things ,all with a relatively negative connotation. The gas station has bars all over every bit of glass, an almost amusing number of locks on the doors, and employees who are watching you like a hawk. It didn’t give me the warm and fuzzies pulling up, but since I was already there, I went in to see if they had the reloads I was looking for. They didn’t, and in fact I was told they don’t carry gift cards at all any more because they kept having fraud and theft problems with them. They went on to tell me how I can get gift cards at the nearby bank if I was in need. I said thanks and walked back to my car to head on my journey to effectively buy nothing when I glanced at the gas pump I was parked next to.
The gas pump read Sale: $000.50. Gas: 000.15 gallons
I had uncharacteristically forgotten my phone at home so couldn’t take a picture, but I don’t need a camera to remember what the gas pump said. I also don’t need anything to remember how that reality check felt.
While I am driving around paying $3.95 or $5.95 for activation fees here and there, and using gas on my quest to buy essentially nothing, others are scraping together two quarters together to get enough gas to basically just turn the car on. I am well aware of the amount of privilege that is in my life, and in the lives of most of those who are able to devote time and money to this hobby, but sometimes it is the small, but stark reminders that get you where it counts. I went home after that and didn’t use any more gas driving around town that day hunting down little plastic cards. It just didn’t feel right.
However, in the end that encounter will serve as a reminder to do more good. I try to help wherever I see the need, but I need to seek out the need a bit more. If I have the time and resources to drive around looking for ways to buy points, I have the time and resources to do a little more good in the world. Fair enough.
What that encounter will not do is convince me my quest for points is totally frivolous. Yes, it is a hobby that isn’t going to change the world. However, it does help change my family and make things possible that otherwise wouldn’t be. I’m not earning miles and points just for the sake of doing it, or to win some sort of competition for having the most miles. I chase after miles and points to help show my family more of the world, and I hope that in turn makes us a bit better as people. I’m not naive enough to think that all of our trips are helping shape us as better people, but I like to think that the more of the world you experience, the more of the world you want to help take care of. The more different types of people you encounter, the more you understand that different doesn’t mean bad. The more you are exposed to different cultures and languages, the more you want to expand your horizons and learn.
I think there is a balance to keep between doing well enough with this hobby to achieve your travel goals, but not become so focused that you lose touch with how far removed this sort of things is from most peoples’ lives. I can’t promise I always have that balance in check, but I can promise I will try.