Do You Really Save Money When Using Retail Rewards Cards?

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Yesterday, I was cleaning out my wallet to start the new year with a fresh, de-cluttered pocket book. Along with receipts, old IDs and gift cards that no longer have a balance, I found 12 retail rewards cards.

Some of the 12 are cards I had to sign up for in order to earn points at a specific store; others are buy two, get one free cards. After lining up all of the cards out in front of me, I asked myself, “Is all of this clutter really worth carrying around in my wallet every day?”

The cards I am talking about are not retail credit cards or even memberships where you have to pay an annual fee. They are free for you and me and are used by  companies as a way of tracking customer spending habits.

In this case, the answer to my question should be, “Yes, of course! These cards are a way to earn discounts/points/rewards from the stores I shop at!” But often times, I forget to get the card stamped or don’t even bother to check how many points I have racked up over the last few months.

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To really make rewards cards rewarding, you have to be organized and mindful.

Sign-Up for Cards You’ll Actually Use

First and foremost, make sure the stores where you are opting into reward programs are stores at which you frequently shop. The reason my wallet feels weighted down is not due to a large wad of cash (unfortunately), but rather a stack of loyalty cards for places I’ve only been to once or twice.

When the sales associate asks you if you want to join their “insider” club, think about how many times you’ve shopped there this year. Is it often enough to warrant adding their card to your wallet? Also, ask about the program: How do you earn points? How do you obtain your rewards? Will the company start spamming you with email offers? Make sure that the offer is worth your time.

On the flip side, not joining a rewards program at the places where you shop the most can mean missing out on additional discounts, free gifts or any number of other loyal customer perks. You just have to be sure that you remember to actually use the card once you have it.

Check Your Balances

This is my biggest fault when it comes to rewards cards. I am usually pretty diligent about remembering to use my card on every purchase, but where I fall short is following up on how many points I’ve actually earned.

Some stores will send you a quarterly coupon based on your point balance for the last few months, but other companies leave the hard work to you.

Most of the stores that offer reward cards also have a reward page on their website. This is where they outline all of the terms and conditions that go along with having a rewards card, but also where users can check their personal account information – including reward points balances.

This means you will have to do a little extra organizing if you truly want to use these memberships to the fullest. It may seem over the top to have a checkbook-like log of each of your rewards balances, so keep track at your own will. Either check your balance before you go shopping at each store to see if there is anything you can cash-in on, or check it periodically after several visits to the store. The most important thing about your points balance is knowing where you stand so you can actually make use of your rewards.

Use Your Points Wisely

Most reward programs are set up so you can use the points you’ve earned to receive specific discounts. For example, the gas reward card I have gives me 10 points for each dollar I spend and I can then use those points toward a free drink or snack. However, if I hold out until I’ve accumulated a lot of points, I can receive money off each gallon of gas or even a free gift card.

Since I don’t usually buy things at the gas station’s convenience store, why would I use my hard-earned reward points on a free cup of coffee? Even though it may take longer to reach the best rewards, the wait may be well worth it to earn the discounts you really want.

Another way to get the most out of your rewards is to use your discounts when you know you will be making a big purchase. For example, when I receive my quarterly percentage off coupon in November, I try to fit in as much Christmas shopping as possible into one purchase because most of these coupons are one-time-use only.

So the next time you receive a rewards member discount, think about what you can buy before you go shopping. Whether you have a couple of people to buy presents for or you need to update your spring wardrobe, you will often see your rewards go even further by combining purchases.

Staying on top of the rewards programs you’re most interested in and keeping organized will help ensure you get the most out of your rewards, ultimately saving you big dollars. And trust me, cash makes a much better wallet-filler.

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