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

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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.

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.

Paying for Education, One Purchase at a Time

If you have student loans to repay to Sallie Mae or are trying to save for education through a 529 Plan, you may want to use Upromise to help you out.  Upromise is a service that gives you cash for certain purchases from grocery stores, restaurants, online retail sites etc., which can then be transferred to your student loan account or 529 Plan – essentially a cash back program under which the cash is redeemed for education expenses.

To be honest, the cash back rates for Upromise are generally lower than most other programs such as ShopDiscover.  However, Upromise covers a much larger number of merchants and combines different programs to generate even more potential rewards.  Discover’s 5% cash back at Target.com and the Apple Store, for example, beats Upromise’s 2% and 1% rates at these online sites, respectively.  Upromise, however, offers 2% cash back on eBay and 1% on several travel sites, such as Orbitz and Travelocity, while Discover has not partnered with those sites as of yet.  Furthermore, Upromise also gives up to 8% cash back on restaurants that belong to the Rewards Network (for a full list visit rewardsnetwork.com) and on in-store purchases at a few places such as Bed Bath & Beyond (1%) and the Sunglass Hut (6%).

Upromise also allows you to add your grocery cards to your account, so that you get cash back on Upromise for certain items on top of your grocery stores’ discounts and/or points.  Participating stores include Safeway, Harris Teeter, and CVS.

Now the best feature of Upromise I think is that it allows you to add friends and family to your network.  That is, if they create a Upromise account and add you as a beneficiary, they can use the cash back program to help you pay for your education.  Alternatively, for online shopping, you can simply send them a “guest shopping” link, so that they do not even have to sign up for Upromisem but you can still earn cash on the program whenever anyone shops through that link.  So if your mom usually does the groceries and uses store cards, you may want to have her sign up for Upromise and help you pay off your loans; and if your grandparents are coming to visit, you might to want to send them your Upromise “guest shopping” link so that their trip can help you get some money into your 529 Plan.

Picking Up Discounts in the Produce Section: the Benefits of Grocery and Pharmacy Cards

Sign up for the free loyalty cards from your local grocery stores and pharmacies if they offer them.  They cost you nothing (I don’t even get junk mail from them!) and give you exclusive discounts and/or cash back.  Those offers marked by signs hanging under products throughout the store (clearance items, discounts, two-for-one deals, BOGOs, etc.) are usually only available when you use the store card.

I, for example, have a Safeway and a CVS card for these purposes.  One cool feature of the Safeway Club Card is that when you use it, the receipt tells you how much you saved in your purchase through their deals and other coupons.  I saved 25% on my last purchase!  Of course, Safeway cashiers are usually nice enough to ring up a default Safeway card for you if you don’t have/forgot your own.  But (1) you can’t count on them to do that every time and (2) that will keep you from stocking up on points from affiliated programs such as United Mileage Plus or UPromise cash for college (more on that in a future post).

CVS’s ExtraCare card, on the other hand, gives “Extra Bucks” that may be used for any purchase at CVS.  Every 3 months you get Extra Bucks equivalent to 2% of your purchases in the previous quarter, and the weekly specials usually feature several products that also come with Extra Bucks (if you buy the product, you get Extra Bucks that can be used on your next CVS purchase).  A few weeks back, for instance, I bought three boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch for $10 and got $5 Extra Bucks.   I used that on my next purchase.  I don’t buy my prescriptions at CVS, but its website also says that you can get 1 Extra Buck for every 2 prescriptions purchased in-store.

The main caveat of CVS’s Extra Bucks is that you really have to remember to use them if you want to transform your everyday purchases into good deals, as they tend to expire after 2 or 3 weeks.  Also, you need to present your ExtraCare card in order to use the Extra Bucks, but that should not be a problem since you should have it on you anyway (i.e., on your keychain) for accumulating all those Extra Bucks.

You probably shop at groceries and pharmacies more frequently than at most other types of stores, and most likely have your local favorite.  If it’s offered, make sure you get and use their loyalty card – claim the chance to be rewarded for helping them stay in business!