Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Frugal Files: Using Store Reward Programs to Maximize Savings

April Fool’s! Ha! Bet you were expecting the Frugalicious Diva and one of her fabulous money-saving blog posts, right? Well, in honor of April Fool’s Day, we decided to do what we call a “flip-flop” week. We have switched days for this week but will still maintain the topic of the day. I usually write about self-love and empowerment on my Fearless Fridays column but what many readers don’t know about me is that I am also a big couponer. I spend hours weekly, looking for coupons, cutting coupons and comparing coupons with circulars. I have been known to get things from free and have my own stockpile going on at home. So the Frugalicious Diva asked me to share some of my saving tips with all of you and she will share some of her positivity this week on my Fearless Fridays column.

One of the ways I get things for little to nothing is by utilizing reward programs at stores. Reward programs are loyalty programs where the sole goal is to reward and encourage loyal buying behavior with a customer. Stores like CVS and Rite Aid offer reward programs where you earn reward dollars per item that are good towards your next purchase.

Signing up for a reward program is super easy. You can sign up at the register in-store or online on the store’s website. Most stores will give you a card, which you give to the cashier to scan every time you make a purchase. That way your purchase is recorded on your account.

When you sign up for a reward program, the most important piece of information that you will give the store is your email address. Your email address is important because it is directly linked to your reward card so you can access your account on the store’s website and see where you are in terms of purchases towards a reward. With that said, here are 2 great reward program tips regarding emails:

Tip #1: Create an email address on Gmail or Yahoo that is dedicated to just being used for reward programs and couponing. That way your coupons and reward program-related emails are all in one place and not scattered within your main email inbox, which can become confusing and overwhelming if you get a lot of emails.

Tip #2: Sign up for emails for your favorite store. You can do this directly on their website. You will be notified of sales and coupons that are only available to online subscribers. Also, many times you will get a coupon for signing up. For example, when you sign up for CVS emails online, you automatically are sent a “$4 off a purchase of $20 or more” coupon to use on your next purchase.

Now you’re signed up! What to do next? Become familiar with the reward program at the store you will be shopping at. It is important to know the name of the reward program, the type of rewards earned and the store’s coupon and reward policy. Here’s a few to start you off:

CVS: Their rewards are called Extra Care Bucks (ECBs). ECBs are like money and all ECBs earned in a purchase are good towards your next purchase. $1ECB = $1 off your next purchase. Always be mindful of ECB limits, which are shown in fine print under the item in the circular. Most of the time, there is a limit of 1 ECB reward per item per customer. ECBs print out at the bottom of the receipt. You also earn 2% back in ECBs on all purchases during a certain seasonal time period. CVS also has their own coupon machine, where you scan your card and the machine spits out CVS coupons that can be stacked with manufacturer coupons. Keep scanning your card until the machine tells you it has no more coupons for you that day. I usually get about 2-3 scans.

CVS Tip: Make sure to sign up for CVS’ Beauty Club on the website. For every $50 you spend, you earn $5ECBs. Trick is, they count the $50 from the regular price. So even when you get any beauty item for free via ECBs, sales and coupons, you will get the value of the regular price of that item added towards your Beauty Club total. I hit my $50 almost every week and don’t pay that much out of pocket! Also, next time you’re in CVS, look for their Green Tag. This is a bag tag that you buy for 99 cents and every visit, you bring it in, hooked to a reusable shopping bag, have it scanned and on the 4th visit, you earn $1ECB. This is a great way to help the environment, use your own bag and earn some ECBs.

Rite Aid: They have two ways to earn rewards; +Up rewards and Single Check Rebates. +Up rewards are the same as ECBs. With Single Check Rewards (see picture at right), you have to enter in your information from your receipt online and you will be sent the amount of the rebate in the form of a check in the mail.

Rite Aid Tip: You can get store coupons (which can be stacked with manufacturer coupons) through their Ad Perks website. Basically, you watch a 2-minute video on a product and afterwards, you get a coupon, which you can print out and use in-store. Also, in their circular, be on the lookout for store coupons as well.

Walgreens: Their reward program is called Register Rewards and it works like CVS and Rite Aid, where you can earn register rewards on an item. However, you don’t need a rewards card in Walgreens to take advantage of Register Rewards. You just buy the item in question and the reward prints out with the receipt (see pic on left).

Walgreens Tip: Every month they come out with a coupon book, full of store coupons that you can stack with manufacturer coupons. The coupons expire at the end of the month and the books are usually located at the front of the store next to the circulars or just ask the cashier for one.

Final tips…Plan your shopping trip beforehand! The first thing I do is scan the circular and see what items have rewards attached to them. I then see if I have coupons for those items. Once that is done, I build my shopping list in an Excel spreadsheet with formulas that calculate my savings and totals. I also break my purchases up into 2-3 smaller separate ones so I can apply the rewards I receive on the first purchase to the next and so on. I plan my shopping trip in advance this way so I know what I am getting free on which purchase.

I hope this helps you to better understand how you can use reward programs to get free stuff. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below and I would be more than happy to answer them as best as I can. Now let’s shop!

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