Yes, loyalty cards save you money
Even though supermarket and drugstore loyalty cards have been around for years, I'm amazed at the number of times journalists ask me whether it's really worth using them. I always tell reporters that I believe loyalty cards offer far more benefits than privacy risks to shoppers.
First, I've never quite understood the privacy concern regarding loyalty cards. Supermarkets do not share their databases with other parties without permission. Shoppers concerned about this tell me that they don't like the idea of "big brother" paying attention to what they are buying. Since we all buy our groceries in public, in plain view of other shoppers and store employees, this makes no sense to me at all.
Rather than debate the privacy-risk issue, I sat down and made a list of all the ways my store's loyalty card has helped me save money and time over the past few weeks.
It's easy to remember my card because I moved from the credit card-sized card to the keychain card a few months ago. I will never forget to bring my card as long as I have it on my key chain, because I never walk the two miles to my grocery store!
Some of the easy savings I've realized with my loyalty cards in the past month include:
Automatic sale prices and bonus coupon values. Without a loyalty card, the store would charge me full price and my grocery coupons would not be doubled. If I were opposed to using a loyalty card, then I should shop at a store that does not have a loyalty card. Otherwise, the additional cost of paying full price for everything would be a hardship on our grocery budget.
Customized coupons generated by the cash register. Because the loyalty card data tracks what I've purchased, the system can generate coupons that I would be very likely to use. I purchased a two-liter bottle of diet lemonade, so the register generated a coupon for a free two-liter bottle of Diet 7-Up (value $1.59). I used that coupon on my next visit, and the register generated a coupon for a free two-liter bottle of Diet Sunkist soda (value $1.39). I used that coupon the following week and received another coupon for a free two-liter bottle of Diet 7-Up. Free items are good for my budget.
Loyalty-card member coupon mailings. Every month, I get a spring in my step when my store's coupon mailing arrives. It has several coupons for items I use because it is based on my loyalty card data. I average $25 of additional savings each month with these coupons on items I would be purchasing already. That's free money!
Electronic coupons. Many grocery-store chains are adding electronic coupons to their Web sites. You sign up for the program on their Web site, select coupon offers and then have your selections downloaded to your store loyalty card. When you purchase the product, the coupon value is automatically deducted from your total. In past columns, I've written about Kroger and Procter & Gamble's eSaver electronic coupon. Kroger now has more electronic coupons available through their Shortcuts.com program from AOL.com and eCoupons from Unilever. Watch for these programs to expand to other store chains over the year. You can go to www.Kroger.com or www.ShortCuts.com to sign up.
Automatic promotions. Last week, I took advantage of a loyalty card promotion that gave me a free carton of Edy's ice cream (value $3.99 that week) when I purchased two DiGiorno frozen pizzas. The pizzas were on sale and had coupons available from the Sunday newspaper, so I would have purchased them based on those savings alone. The free ice cream sweetened the deal, but only if I had a loyalty card.
Stephanie Nelson shares savings tips as a contributor on ABC News' "Good Morning America." Find more of her savings tips in her book "The Greatest Secrets of the Coupon Mom" and at www.couponmom.com. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.