Gaming the System

How I spend way too long coming up with schemes that won't work

Posted by  on August 6th 2020 05:08 pm

My brain is kind of funny. When I see "free" money in some newfangled service backed by venture capitalists, I try to scheme a way that would make that free money mine. All of these schemes while potentially fruitful, are typically way to much work to be worth it, but I love coming up with them.

Just this week -

I came up with a scheme on how to gross $120 each week from my newest "gambling" obsession Yotta Savings (click it, sign up, and get 100 free "lottery" tickets), it is a new (to the US) type of savings account that is FDIC insured, called a reward backed savings account. It's basically a traditional savings account, but on top of the 0.2% interest the account would normally pay out, each week you pick (or have it pick) numbers for a weekly lottery drawing, and they add your winnings to your account.

That is enough free advertising, let me continue.

I was reading their official rules, and it seems that you can get up to 10,000 tickets each week either by

  • For every $25 in your account (up to $250k) entitles you to 1 ticket.
  • For every single handwritten sheet of paper with your name, phone, email, address, and optionally your numbers. Limit 1 request per envelope. Automation is prohibited.

That sent me on a downward spiral toward finding the game to that second "free" ticket rule.

As with all projects, try the naive approach first

Mailing a single sheet of paper in an #10 envelope with a stamp. This approach would cost around $0.60. A forever stamp is now $0.50, an envelope is around $0.10 and a sheet of paper is about a penny.

10,000 requests would cost $6,000. Depending on the odds, that might be worth it.

Some quick (probably kind of wrong) math it looks like statistically 10,000 tickets should gross an average of $120 each week.

It was plain to see, as with most naive approaches, this would not work.

Now knowing that I have to make 10,000 requests to statistically average $120 each week, I need to get the cost per request down to $0.012.

Break even = $0.012/request

Now my brain started turning. Delivery is the biggest expense. How can I get that cost down?

The address to deliver the requests is in NYC, and I could just drive the requests down. I only live 40 miles north of the city. If I nursed the throttle, I would use about $5 in gas, with careful planning, tolls would cost around $6, and parking COULD be free on the street.

Remaining = $0.0109/request

Next biggest expense was material costs. How can I get all this paper I needed cheaper? A ream of paper is 500 sheets and costs about $11 on amazon, a 10 ream box costs about $50, (awesome! half the price per ream), but there is a weird 8 ream box that costs only $30 or about 1/3 the cost per ream. Sold! I have 4000 sheets of paper at less than a penny a sheet, but now I need envelopes.

Envelopes are EXPENSIVE.

For just a folded piece of paper with a little glue on it, I wouldn't have thought they would cost so much, but I was WRONG. I actually couldn't find an envelope for less than $0.05, and that was buying 5000 envelopes at a time.

So buying envelopes are out of the question. I was about to throw in the towel when Engineer brain kicked back in. Make the damn envelopes your self. But it was painfully obvious that with 1 sheet of paper costing $0.0075, I wouldn't break even if I used 2 sheets of paper per request, and then it clicked.

Tiny requests!

Why can't I just make the request smaller. What is a "sheet of paper" anyway???

So I pull out my little paper cutter, grab a sheet of paper and decided randomly to make the tiny sheets of paper 3 inches by 2 inches. I had no reasoning behind it, it just seemed correct. What is crazy about 3x2, is you actually get 14 tiny pages out of it with one 2x2 square left over, and only a tiny bit of waste. An envelope has to be slightly bigger than 1Wx2H the tiny sheet of paper to fully envelop the contents, so I made it 3.5 inches wide and 4.25 inches long.

A tiny sheet of paper costs $0.0005, and a tiny envelop costs $0.00125, for a total materials and shipping cost of $0.00285.

What about the glue that shuts the envelopes!?

Oh my, you are correct. This one was much more complex to figure out. I would need to tape these requests shut on 3 sides if folded like an actual envelope. Alas, I thought of this. And with some not so difficult "origami" you can make the envelop close with only a single piece of tape or dot of glue. Bulk clear office tape can be had for only $10 for 11,000 inches of tape. Used sparingly (1/2 inch per envelope, it will only add $0.00045 to the cost of the request.

What about pens/pencils/ink???

According to the research at The University of Reading, the average ballpoint pen will ink 900 meters, or roughly 61,000 characters, now BIC claims their cheap crystal ballpoint pens last 2.5 kilometers, or 170,000 characters per pen. So if I were to use their pens, and their claim is genuine, I would run through 5 pens over the 10,000 requests. And a pack of 10 pens is around $5, so that would add another $0.00025 per request.

These numbers just keep climbing

Probably all in, you are looking at a cost of $0.00355 per request, or $35.50 each week to earn an average of $120. Oh, and about 50 hours of cutting, folding, taping, writing really tiny, handcramps, and frustration.

Is it worth it?

The exercise in figuring something like this out is worth it, actually executing this plan is totally NOT worth it.

And that tends to always be the case with my brain, it realizes something else that is not going to work, but instead of giving up, I dive into more research, and soon enough an entire day has passed me by and all I have to show for it is a paper cut, and a pile of confetti on my desk.

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