The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is Not Always a Straight Line

Yesterday we discussed a complex and risky strategy to earn miles while paying an American Express card. Today we’ll look at a way to drive our costs down in a similar nonstandard way.

I’ve discussed the following in bits and pieces before on the blog, and elsewhere.  One of the keys to a successful personal strategy is time management.  Time is a vaulable resource, and one which we should treat as precious. In fact between time, credit limit, and available cash on hand only time has a finite limit.

I’ve called time the ultimate non-renewable resource, and today I want to give an example of how we waste time without even thinking about it.  I’ll use real life purchase and cash outs in my daily churn and MMRs, and will illustrate how two patterns can have two totally different bottom line results.

Option One: Straight Lines

In Today’s example I’ll be discussing two ways to think of your trips, the first of these is to think of them as straight lines. Let’s say I stop by my favorite grocery store and buy some fee free cards. Next door I pop into my favorite Drug store and do the same.  I’m flush with cards, lets say $3,000 worth.  And I need to cash these out, I feel like they’re burning a hole in my pocket. 

In my haste to cash out I drive to Walmart. Knowing that the afternoon is busy I opt for the closest Walmart with a Money Cetner Machine. After I emerge from the I feel so much relief, my $3000 is safely back in my control.

I drew the following map, from my home to the store and from the store to Walmart:

1. Is home, 2. is the Grocery Store, and Wal Mart (closest with a money center ATM). The total distance traveled is 20.2 miles, round trip.
1. Is home, 2. is the Grocery Store, and Wal Mart (closest with a money center ATM). The total distance traveled is 20.2 miles, round trip.

By treating the purchase and unload as a single event you’ve incurred 20+ Miles of driving, which could be anywhere between 30 minutes and 1 hour. Knowing that we value our time here at Milenomics we can break out the “cost” of this trip:

For me, driving 20 miles is $11 in mileage costs ($.55 a mile). Add in 1 hour of my time ($25 at my T-Rate) and the “cost” for a straight line trip to WM ‘B’ would be $36.

The entire trip, from my house to the store, from the store to Walmart is costing me, in both time and travel.



Scheduled spending.  I know this sounds incredibly boring. But I have a schedule.  Some of you have contacted me and asked if a certain deal is still working, and I’ve mentioned that I won’t be at that store until Sunday, or Tuesday.  I’ve got a schedule, and I’m sticking to it!

The reasons for my schedule are complex; I have too much going on to drop everything and spend 2-3 hours a day on my MMRs.  I would love to spend more time earning miles, and cash back, but instead I have a routine I’ve developed.  .

My routine looks like this: I’ve randomized things a bit so I don’t give away too much, but my weekly trips are as follows:







Overlay all of these trips on top of each other and you start to create a map of my weekly travel patterns:

Weekly Trips

Notice what is missing from the above schedule? Any and all Walmart trips (Daily), as well as many of the purchase locations I go to on my Milenomics Mileage Runs (MMRs).  This is because you need a baseline map, one which has your normal routine trips on it to start.

Once you take this above map and overlay an added place you’d like to start to visit, let’s say Walmart for example (red points are Walmart stores):

You can now see above that some of my weekly trips take me directly to
You can now see above that some of my weekly trips take me directly past two Walmart stores (points B and D). I’m also only 3.2 miles from Walmart ‘G’ 3x a week, and 1 mile from Walmart ‘C’.

In addition to these Walmarts I could make a similar map for any other store, CVS, the Mall, Staples. All of them could be checked against this map, and incorporated into their closest weekly trip.

The first example used in today’s post, of Home-Grocery-WalMart is now represented with Point B above. If done during a scheduled trip to point #8 above the trip from home to this Walmart adds on 0.2 miles. The shortest distance between these two points involves an already planned trip. 

In our straight line example we incurred $36 in cost. This compares to an already planned trip where I’m spending just my additional time to unload (maybe 15 minutes), or $6.25.

Make This Map:The above overlay is a composite image, but you could do something similar using the newest version of google maps. It allows multiple destinations. In addition there is the site optimap whic I used to generate these classic google maps examples for today’s posts. I find it works much quicker for me, and recommend it over the new google maps.

What this means for Cashing out

This means waiting to cash out your purchases. For some of you this will impact how much you can spend and float. You’ll want to weigh the benefits of holding vs. cashing out immediately.  Fortunately by giving your time a value and counting your miles driven you can see that planning your trips out can save you time and money.

A note about adding unnecessary trips: The above only works if you set your weekly routine before you add in any MMR activities.  Going to the grocery store once a week now? If you start going 7x a week because you’re buying Miles with your Groceries then you’ve added 6 trips. You can’t claim all 7 trips add $0 costs since you’ve fragmented your original 1 grocery trip into 7.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

By holding your weekly trips steady while planning out trips you save time.  Why not use that time you save to work on earning miles in a way you’ve never thought of before? 

This doesn’t mean you should spend less time on your churning, it just means we should work smarter, not harder.  Why not focus your attention to earning miles from your desk at work? Or from home while you watch the nightly news?  There are plenty of options out there, and sometimes holding onto things a day or two can open them up for you.

Sticking to a routine of buy-cash out, with straight lines, means you are focused on point A and B. One thing to remember is that between any two points are an infinite number of paths.  By looking at A and B you miss out on everything between them.

Can you cash out your purchases from home? Why not spend time trying this? Holding overnight or until you’ll be close to a Walmart/Target/WU means you have a chance to at least try to do so.

In addition you won’t be “disappearing” as much.  Spend time with your loved ones and your family.  Yes travel is great, yes making money via cashback is important–but so are plenty of other areas of life.

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. I’m reading and replying to this blog while I use my elliptical so I get miles exercising and my daily reading about miles at the same time. Another good way to maximize time in this hobby :). a bit slow to type but great for reading!

  2. Nice post. Makes me glad I am not driving around southern California 😉 !

    Seriously, as someone who is pretty much retired, I almost envy the way you can maximize each trip because you have a set schedule. I often feel that I spend more time than I may have to because I don’t always know from day to day where I will find myself.

    I do try to group errands, of course, and with both WM and several banks quite close to where I take a class once a week, I always piggy-back some MS activities for after class. And today, when I unexpectedly ended up at the Apple store to check something, I added a few MS errands that were in that vicinity.

    While working full-time tends to fill up one’s day, it also lends itself to such routines – and routines are what I have tried to avoid at this stage of my life! But this new hobby really does work more efficiently with routinization, so I am trying to come up with a weekly and monthly MS schedule, to routinize things as much as I can.

    Happy weekend!

  3. What’s missing in your analysis is need for velocity. If I can get in another few cycles a month, it overwhelms the additional time/cost for potentially being inefficient. Especially with 5x vehicles.

  4. Went to the kate in wm on beach blvd maybe a month ago. Tried to use kate but this huge terrifying thing of a woman in the money center told me I can’t load these gift cards without my name on them. So I said ok. And tried to go to a register . She somehow had someone follow me or something to tell me I couldn’t do it and how I already had tried at the money center . Left. Terrifying experience. Super ghetto . Glad you haven’t had problems

  5. Great and unique perspective here! For me, the challenge is similar in that having GCs in my pocket feels like carrying around live grenades. The second challenge would be a WM with a working MC Machine…it’s like finding a unicorn. Your discipline is outstanding.

  6. A good post, with a really great foundational starting point: An examined life. What am I doing, how often, and why.

    I work this over in my mind every day, and I think about what to jump on at what cost-mostly in time, and what to skip. Others really can’t help here because they’re moving to their own inner tempo, though some will miss the point and say “you could do this” in a way that really says you should.

  7. We’ve been doing the opposite. We’re not particularly fond of our nearest grocery, so when we drive to Walmart to load BB, we stop at the grocery store near there (I don’t give Walmart my money), which happens to also have a much better selection!

  8. Great post! I find that I’m less efficient during summer because I only drive past my favorite store within one minute of when they open when I’m dropping our son off at school. Back in the routine in a couple weeks 🙂

  9. Thanks for the post, very interesting take on things. I wish you had a “contact” tab so I could ask a question, rather than have to post in your comments section! Unless I am missing it somewhere? Cheers.

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