Three Small Ways to Go Green and Save Some Change

Saving the environment and saving your wallet have many things in common, one of them being that others might frequently remind you that the only way to really make a dent is to completely overhaul current behaviors.  But while that may be true, that doesn’t mean that small changes aren’t a step in the right direction.

Here are three small ways in which stores are helping customers to be green and save some change:

Skip the Store Bag: More and more, cities and/or states are requiring supermarkets and other food stores to charge customers for bags, be them paper or plastic.  Although these bag taxes are generally only a few cents, with California imposing the highest at 25 cents, it certainly adds up.  To avoid the charge, just don’t use the store bag.  You can bring your own shopping bag, but you can also just throw the purchased items in your backpack or purse or even carry it in your hand.  Also, stores that are known to give a discount to customers who do not take their paper or plastic bags have continued to apply that rule even when a bag tax kicks in.  In Washington, DC, for example, a 5-cent bag tax went on effect this past January.  But as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have both maintained their 5-cent discounts as well, not taking a bag from one of those stores really offers a 10-cent discount. Continue reading

This Week’s Five Loyalty Deals

Loyalty programs are already set up to reward customers for their frequent patronage by offering points, miles, or exclusive discounts.  But sometimes there are periodic promotion periods in which the reward system is ramped up either to pick up sales during a down time or simply to encourage continued customer loyalty.  Either way, there are savings to be had or extra points or miles (eventually converted into extra savings or a freebie) to be earned.

Here are five loyalty deals for this coming week or longer:
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Soon, No More Free Trips for Eating Your Veggies

Travel is not the only source of frequent flier miles.  With proper planning, you can often score miles through online shopping, credit cards, and evening dining out.  But another source of miles – grocery shopping – is soon to dry up.  Safeway recently announced that, as of February 28, 2010, it will no longer award airline miles to its customers.  Until then, customers can earn 125 miles for every $250 in purchases at Safeway and other stores within its group.

Although a rate of 1 mile per $2 spent is not great, Safeway’s partnership offered a good deal for regular patrons – and could be combined with airline credit card offers for even more miles.  But this turn-around does not mean customers are necessarily losing out.  There are still other ways to score deals at Safeway.  First, Safeway has had to cut out this program presumably because it is now offering more frequent sales and deeper discounts in face of the economy.  Second, you can still take advantage of online coupons that can be uploaded into your Safeway card for more discounts.  Third, you can enroll your Safeway card with UPromise to earn cash back in your UPromise account for purchasing specific items from various brands including Nestle, Hefty, and Florida’s Natural.  Customers are only allowed to enroll their Safeway card in either the miles program or in the UPromise program, but, with the miles program about to be canceled, that decision has already been made for you.  The cash back rate for groceries on UPromise is generally low, but it is better than no miles or cash back at all, and can be much higher when combined with the eCoupons you can upload from the UPromise site.

If you are close to reaching the $250 threshold for 125 miles, make sure you do that before the end of this month.  But if you are not, you may as well switch your Safeway card to UPromise and start earning that cash back as soon as possible.  To learn more about UPromise, check out our previous post on the program here.

Best Buy Makes Changes to Its Loyalty Program, and You May be Out

In July, we wrote about Best Buy’s Reward Zone loyalty program, showing how it fit into our strategies for double/triple dipping on points and bonuses when shopping.  As of the end of this week, however, the Reward Zone program may no longer be that great of a deal.

On October 31, 2009, Reward Zone rules will change so that any points accumulated through the program will expire at the end of the calendar year and members have to make a purchase every 12 months to maintain their account.  So, while it will still be the case that Reward Zone members receive one point for every dollar spent at Best Buy, and every 250 points can be exchanged for $5 in store credit (effectively a 2% discount), this program will no longer be attractive to those who visit Best Buy only sporadically and don’t make big-ticket purchases.  Of course, Reward Zone is a loyalty program and should focus on its larger, most frequent customers.  Nonetheless, even those customers will likely lose out, since, after the changes, any points over a multiple of 250 will be lost at the end of the year.  That is, if a loyal customer spent $900 at Best Buy one year, for example, she will receive $15 in store credit and the remaining 150 points will be forfeited.

Only the most loyal customers are protected from that.  You can qualify as a Premier Silver member by spending $2,500 within a calendar year at Best Buy, and your membership is carried over through the following year.  Premier Silver members earn an extra quarter-point on every purchase, and their points roll over each calendar year they remain qualified.

Reward Zone is also still a good deal for gamers.  If you enroll your Reward Zone card into the “Gamers Club,” you will get 500 bonus points for every $150 you spend on videogames, computer games, and videogame accessories at Best Buy, on top of the regular points you earn.  If you spend $300 on eligible purchases, for instance, you will receive 300 regular points plus 1000 bonus points, or $5 (with 50 points remaining) plus $20 – essentially an 8% discount.

With these upcoming changes, it is likely that Reward Zone will loose its attractiveness to most people, making it similar to the Borders Rewards, where the principal membership perks are the coupons received rather than the points system.  But unlike Borders, which sends new coupons by email on an almost weekly basis, Best Buy’s Reward Zone coupons only come every few months, and are usually a 10% discount on one item from a very restricted list.

My advice for Best Buy’s less-loyal shoppers: Create or keep your Reward Zone membership just in case you make $250 or more in purchases within a calendar year or you receive a useful coupon; but if you don’t, don’t be disappointed.  Reward Zone is clearly being redesigned for Best Buy’s most loyal customers and gamers.

Get Rewarded for Recycling

Printer ink cartridges can take up to 1000 years to decompose.  To encourage recycling (and cut costs by reusing), many ink companies include postage-free return envelopes with their ink cartridges.  But if you want a bigger nudge for helping the environment, try Staplesink recycling program.  Staples gives $3 in store credit for each ink cartridge or toner (any brand) dropped off at one of its stores, up to 10 per month.  The credit is not provided immediately; it is sent to your inbox within a month and you must show your Staples Rewards card (Staples’ free loyalty card) at drop-off to receive it.  But for $3 and helping the environment, giving your email address and waiting a couple of weeks is a small price to pay – and you have over two months to use the store credit once it gets to you.

Get a Gift for Transferring Your Drugs: a battle between pharmacies

Rite Aid and CVS are both giving $25 gift cards for each prescription transferred to their respective stores, as part of their efforts to draw in customers from each other.  Take advantage of that battle.

To get the deal, you should bring your empty prescription bottles/ boxes and present the coupon for a $25 gift card.  Click here and here for current CVS and Rite Aid coupons, respectively.  The Rite Aid coupon linked here expires on September 30, 2009 and the CVS one, on October 4, 2009.  But keep an eye out for newer coupons printed out with your receipts at CVS or Rite Aid or in newspapers or online – this promotion has been going on for months and is constantly being renewed.

There is no limit to how many CVS gift cards you can get, but Rite Aid limits its gift cards to 2.  The CVS deal is not valid fromNew York or New Jersey, while Rite Aid allows residents of New Jersey who are over 60 years of age to participate.

And there is no minimum purchase to get a $25 gift card.  Last week, for example, I took a prescription to CVS that cost me $10 and still got a $25 gift card (yes, CVS effectively paid me to get my prescription).  And at CVS, pay attention to the coupons you get with your receipt because some of them can also be used for new prescriptions.  When you are sick, these gift cards are at least one thing that can brighten your day.

Get the Coupons, Get the Groceries, Skip the Clipping

If you, like most people, don’t like grocery coupons because of the hassle of clipping, filing, and sorting through them, there is an online solution for you.  We all know about getting coupon codes or printing coupons online through manufacturer, supermarket, and independent sites, but a Procter & Gamble and an AOL website offer something even better – online coupons that can be uploaded directly to your store card.  Once you register your store card at P&G eSAVER and Shortcuts.com, their respective programs, you can scroll through the available coupons and upload as many as you want.  The two programs are affiliated with almost all of the same stores, including Kroger and Safeway, and allow you to use each coupon once.

P&G eSAVER’s coupons cover a wide range of products manufactured by Procter & Gamble, from Pringles to Bounty paper towels and from Nyquil to the Swiffer line.  The number of coupons offered at Shortcuts.com is smaller but covers some popular items such as Cheerios, Nature Valley granola bars, and Betty Crocker products.

New coupons are issued periodically, and there is no penalty for unused coupons.  And just like a paper coupon, they can also be combined with store discounts.  That means that once they are uploaded to your store card, you can forget about them and still get a nice surprise at the check out counter.  All without clipping, filing, or holding up the line as you shuffle through your wallet for coupons.

A Note of Encouragement

I am a firm believer in loyalty programs, but I know that with some of them it almost feels pointless to give your number/card since it looks like it could take years to reach a reward level.  But these past two weeks were great for me on that front, and I want to offer you a note of encouragement.

Two weekends ago, I received $2.50 Extra Bucks back (a free ½ gallon of milk or cereal?) from CVS for purchases I made during the spring.  A few days later, I redeemed $20 in cash back I had accumulated on Discover for a $25 gift card on Banana Republic, which I used over the weekend to get a top for free!  I use my Discover card mostly for purchases that give me a 5% cash back bonus, which means it takes me a little longer to accumulate cash back than if I used it as my primary card, but I still usually accumulate $20 every 3 or 4 months.

A $5 certificate on Best Buy also came through my Inbox last week.  Their Reward Zone program gives $5 for every $250 spent, and the netbook I bought for my mom last month was $250 and some change.  In the mail, I also got a $10 certificate from DSW just to welcome me to their rewards program (I have only ever made one purchase there before) – and there, $10 goes quite a long way.  And, a year since we first started using OpenTable, we finally reached the points for a $20 gift certificate, which can be redeemed at any member restaurant.  Admittedly, $20 is not much compared to how much we spent dining out over this past year, but being rewarded for using a service that makes life more convenient (no calling restaurants for reservations) is always great.

And in terms of future rewards, thanks in part to my AAdvantage/Citibank credit card, I recently reached enough miles on American Airlines for a free flight to Europe.  While I haven’t booked my ticket yet, I am planning on going to England in a month, and if my recent experiences with reward programs are any indication, I expect redeeming my miles for a flight will be a breeze, too.

Some rewards programs are obviously more generous than others, and I think that the instances in which it may make sense to spend money just to get a reward are few and far apart.  Nonetheless, if you diligently use your loyalty number/card whenever you do make a purchase, there just might be a reward coming your way sooner or later.

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