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If you’re like us, your wallet is bulging with customer loyalty cards for everything from CVS to buy-ten-get-one-free-coffee. The average American household belongs to 14 such programs but hasn’t used eight of them in over a year. Loyalty cards are great, but they sometimes come with hidden tricks and often require an intelligent game plan.
Here's how to make sure you get the most from that precious wallet real estate:
- Make Sure the Member Price Is Actually a Good Deal.
One team of TV journalists compared special discount card prices at some Philadelphia supermarkets to regular prices at supermarkets that didn’t offer discount programs. They found that the shoppers with discount cards were actually paying more on average for a bag of groceries than their non-card-carrying counterparts. So, don’t let the promise of discounts put stars in your eyes until you make sure that the store you’ve chosen has competitive prices in the first place.
- Pick Favorites.
Loyalty cards give rewards based on how much you shop at a given location, so you’ll diminish that benefit by spreading out your expenditures. For instance, you’ll gain less by buying half your coffee at Starbucks and half at Seattle’s Best Coffee. If the programs are free, join both—just in case you veer from your normal routine—but pick one retail chain for each of your purchase types and plan to do most of your spending there.
Keep reading for additional tips.
- Use Your Loyalty Cards—Don’t Let Them Use You.
Retailers use loyalty programs to try to get you to buy more stuff than you would have purchased otherwise, but that power of discernment is in your own hands. Follow two simple rules:
a) Don’t buy anything you wouldn’t have bought without the discount card.
b) Make sure you are truly getting the best available price (discount or no discount).
- Don’t Stretch Out Your Wallet.
There are two alternatives for reducing the discount card clutter. CardStar offers a free smartphone app that displays the barcode of each of your cards, allowing you to scan the barcode image at the cash register without carrying around the actual cards. If you don’t have a smartphone, KeyRingThing.com will print a single card that consolidates up to six loyalty cards for $4.95.