Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Don't Leave Money On The Table: Groceries and Gas

This is one in a series of short articles about claiming all the benefits you are entitled to – be that discounts, freebies, or whatnot. I’m not going to go to the length of, say, extreme couponing, but I have found there are often discounts or bonuses you can easily take advantage of that can save you money without making major changes in your spending patterns or behaviors.

For this installment of DLMOTT, I'm going to talk about something we all have to do - buy groceries. (And no, as I promised above, this is not going to be an article about extreme couponing.) Most grocery stores these days have loyalty cards that you can use to get discounts on items you buy. The stores like these cards because it lets them track what you buy and then they can market to you more effectively.

Despite the fact that I regularly post some of my financial information on this website, I am something of a privacy nut. I don't like companies tracking me so they can target me with more ads. But I also want to get all those good deals you get with a loyalty card. So what's a guy like me to do?

Get A Fake ID!

Well, not really. But when you fill out that application for a loyalty card, there is nothing that says you have to use your real information! I filled mine out with a fake name and address. I did not provide an email address, so I miss out on any emailed offers, but if you want to receive those and still retain some privacy, you can easily set up a disposable email address using or other such services. Sometimes this level of deception isn't even necessary. I have seen some applications that simply have a checkbox you can mark to remain anonymous. You can check that box and not provide any other information on the application. The grocer can still track that someone seems to always buy Kraft Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese together with hot dogs, but they have no way to tie that information back to me. (And I am in no way admitting to such behavior here. No sir. Not me.)

My grocer also has a website where I can go and load electronic coupons onto my loyalty card. I usually check out the site once a week and load coupons for anything that looks like I might possibly buy onto the card. If I don't end up buying it, the coupon expires and it's no big deal, but if I do, I get an automatic discount. These are really bonus savings. There are enough in-store discounts on items that if I don't want to check the website, I can still get decent savings..

Using my card, I routinely save between 12% - 25% on my grocery bills. Again, I only buy the things I would buy anyway.

But wait! That's Not All!

But the card doesn't just give me a discount at the grocery store. My grocer also operates a gas station. Using their loyalty card when I buy groceries lets me earn "fuel points" at the rate of 1 point per dollar spent. 100 points gets me a 10 cent per gallon discount on gas at their gas stations. Points accumulate monthly and do not roll over to following months. I save my points and at the end of the month, I fill up my tank at their gas station, rather than Costco, where I normally get gas, and I save anywhere from 40 to 80 cents per gallon. Their gas prices are normally only 5 cents per gallon higher than Costco, so it's a net 35 to 75 cents savings to me per gallon on a tank of gas once a month.

Yes, there is a little bit more effort involved. I spend about 5 minutes a week loading e-coupons onto my loyalty card and I do have to expend some thought at the end of each month to remember to get gas at a different location than normal, but it's a minimal amount of extra effort. Even without the card, I would still shop at the same grocery store and still buy the same things. By using their loyalty card, I make sure I am not leaving money on the table.

Do you have any tips for not leaving money on the table? Leave them in the comments!


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