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Store Loyalty Cards – Get Maximum Value for Minimum Effort

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I have a pile of store and restaurant loyalty cards, and they save me a lot of money. But some of them are tedious to use and hard to understand, to say the least.

For example, I completely gave up on the fuel points programs at Kroger stores. The idea sounds simple enough; you get points for purchases and use those points to get a discount when you fill up your gas tank. But, as I (barely) understand it…

  • Points don’t accumulate month-to-month, and they quickly expire.
  • If, like me, you only buy a few things monthly on sale at any one store, you won’t have enough purchase volume to get much if any discount.
  • Each kroger store has its own card and points system.
  • You have to wait to use the points until the month after you get them, but before the second month ends.
  • You have to go to specific gas stations, which might be more expensive, thus negating some or all of your savings.
  • If, like me, you have a fuel efficient car with a small tank, you really can’t save much for all your trouble (the discount is on one fill-up at a time).
  • Finally, if you read the explanation of the fuel points program on KrogerKrazy.com you’ll see how complicated it can get, and your local Kroger stores may be doing something else in any case (mine have different gas station partners).

That’s just one example of complicated loyalty programs. Hey, you like saving money, but you want to make at least a few dollars per hour for your efforts, right? So keep it simple and do this:

For each loyalty card/program find one or two key benefits that will save you the most money, and focus on those.

Here are some examples of a few good loyalty cards and how you might use them to maximize your savings for a minimum of effort.

Shop Your Way

Shop Your Way is a membership rewards program which allows you to earn and spend points at Sears, Kmart, and other brands of the Sears Holdings Corporation. There are a number of ways to use your membership to get discounts and sometimes even free items.

To understand the whole program, get a cup of coffee, sit down, and start reading a tutorial on Shop Your Way, like this one or that one. You’ll need to take notes.

Or keep it simple. On the Shop Your Way website click the “Join or Activate” link and sign up. Print a card or just use your phone number. Then be sure to do these two things:

  1. Use the account every time you shop at Sears or Kmart.
  2. Always say “I want to use all of my points.”

If you don’t say the latter they may not apply all of the different types of points and discounts you have available.

Be sure to give your email address when signing up, because you’ll get occasional emails telling you your account has “surprise points” which you have to use by a certain date.

Surprise points are the only reason I have an account.

For example, last week I got an email telling me $8 in “surprise points” had been added to my account. They do this randomly and frequently.

Sometimes the offer is something like $10 in points on a purchase of $30, but often it’s like this offer, $8 if you spend at least $8.

I needed a new shirt, so I stopped by Sears and bought one that was normally $26, but was on sale for $10. After applying the points it came to $2.16 with tax.

I’ve done this many times to get cheap stuff. If there was a shirt I liked for for $8 it would have been free. To get maximum value you want to find something priced at or just over the minimum required purchase amount.

There is some fine print you can’t ignore. Some categories of goods are excluded, for example, as are clearance items. Make a mistake and you might find yourself at the register paying… full price! Frugal shoppers never want to do that, so here’s how to keep it simple:

  1. When you get that email write down the amount and expiration date.
  2. Buy clothes (which almost always qualify) on sale, but not on a clearance rack.
  3. Tell the cashier you want to use all your points.

Kroger Store Cards

As I said, I gave up on Kroger fuel points programs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use their store loyalty cards. I have a card for City Market, Fry’s, and Safeway. There are many more chains that are part of the Kroger empire.

Most of the sale prices you see in the stores  are only for loyalty program members. So the simplest way to use your loyalty card is to hand it to the cashier every time you shop.

You can sign in online to load digital coupons to the cards. Some of those deals are available no other way. But if you don’t buy many name-brand products it may not be worth digging through the hundreds of coupons to find one or two you can use.

One exception, which I regularly take advantage of, is the “Free Friday Download” offered by Fry’s, City Market, and possibly other Kroger stores. When it’s free I don’t care what brand it is. This week it was Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese.

You just login online and load the digital coupon to your card on Friday, then use it within sixteen days. If you time it right you can wait until you have three freebies to claim at once.

So to maximize your savings for a minimum of effort, do this:

  1. Use the card every time you shop.
  2. Go online to get your “Free Friday Download” (if offered at your stores).

Panera Bread

I have a MyPanera card because I’m there every Saturday to play chess and they keep giving me freebies. I got a free cup of coffee yesterday. They’ll give you some kind of reward just for signing up and filling out your online profile

I don’t worry about how I “earn” these rewards. I just hand the card to the cashier and ask if I have any rewards to use. Earlier this year they gave me a free bagel per day for an entire month for no reason I could discern.

I managed to get nine of my potential 30 bagels. So…

  1. Get a card and fill out your online profile.
  2. Every time you go to Panera hand the cashier your card before you order and ask if you have any rewards.

Chili’s Rewards

I have no idea how many points I have in my Chili’s card account. But they’ve given me a free appetizer more than once. They also give you a free dessert on your birthday, so…

  1. Get a card and fill out your online profile.
  2. Use the card every time you go to Chili’s.
  3. Get a free dessert on your birthday.

Walgreens

The Walgreens Balance Rewards card gives you points for your purchases, which can then be used for discounts on future purchases. But if, like me, you buy very little at any one store, you may never see much in the way of these rewards.

The main benefit of the card is that most of the best sale prices require it. If you happen to have a reward coming they’ll let you know, so keep it simple and…

  1. Get a card.
  2. Hand it to the cashier every time you shop at Walgreens.

Circle K

I don’t bother trying to understand the Circle K Easy Rewards program. I just scan the card when buying gas or a soda or whatever.

They put small amounts of money back on my credit card (weird, but oh well), and once in awhile a cashier hands me $2 in cash (seriously, that’s how they reward you).

I think every tenth soda is free as well. So just do this:

  1. Get the card.
  2. Use it.

More Tips for Maximum Savings

You can find a list of the best store loyalty programs on TheKrazyCouponLady.com. It includes some of the programs mentioned above.

Here are some general guidelines for getting the most out of your loyalty cards for the least effort.

Fill Out an Online Profile

Online registration is required for some rewards, and it allows the store to email you with extra rewards, special offers, etc.

Don’t worry about getting too much spam, because most retailers will email you no more than once per week, and they make it relatively easy to unsubscribe if you want to stop all contact.

Be Sure to Register Your Phone Number

Again, don’t worry about spammy contacts. No retailer has ever called me after I’ve enrolled in a loyalty program.

The reason you want to give them a good phone number is so you can use the account even if you forget to bring your card to the store. In fact, doing that may be easier than carrying around a bunch of cards.

Be Sure to Register Your Email Address

You might be tempted to use a secondary email for loyalty programs, just for the sake of privacy. But whichever you use, make it one that you check regularly. Many offers that you wouldn’t otherwise know about come via emails.

Organize Your Cards

Unless you can use your phone number or email address to access all of your loyalty membership accounts, you might have to carry quite a few cards.

Mine would never fit in my wallet, so I have card holder that’s always in the car with me, and I pull out the appropriate card at each stop..

Combine Strategies for Bigger Savings

Often you can “stack” savings methods to make the most of your loyalty account benefits. This doesn’t have to get too complicated to be effective.

For example, this week the Big Lots Buzz Club Rewards program emailed me a coupon for $5 off $15. I used it on a total purchase $15.30, effectively giving me 33% off my purchases.

Along with other items I bought two patio furniture cushions that normally cost $12 each, but were on a clearance sale for $3. That made them just $2 after the discount.

This works well with my Petco Pals Rewards card too. For example, when I get a $5 reward I use it to pay for cat food that’s on sale while also using a manufacturer’s coupon.

That “triple stack” of strategies (reward, sale, coupon) sometimes saves me 50% or more.

If you have some some additional tips to offer regarding store loyalty cards, please share them below… and keep on frugaling!

Get Paid To Shop: The Shopkick app is a free mobile app that pays you walk into stores, link your credit card, scan barcodes in stores, shop online, refer friends and more. Convert points into gift cards and other cash prizes. This app makes shopping fun, and you even get a 250-point bonus when you sign-up as a new member. The best part? It's 100% FREE to join.

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