Thursday, July 30, 2015

How gasoline rewards programs might improperly influence your grocery budget

Everyone likes to save money. The only people who don’t are strange. In light of this obvious observation, it’s worth noting that stores know that too, and are well equipped with a range of psychological tricks to get you to spend money anyway. Let’s take a look at one of those tricks right now, and get to the bottom of those rewards programs grocery stores love so much.

Loyalty cards are a way to ensure that customers continue to shop with one store, even though many consumers today likely have multiple loyalty cards. Usually, these give you gas discounts, but there are other perks, as well. Rewards programs at grocery stores give you access to sale prices that may not be available to consumers who don’t have a card. These might be 2-for-1 specials, or simply deeper discounts than normal. Basically, the way they work is to accumulate the total amount you’ve spent, give you a set number of points per dollar spent, and then give you a one-time discount on a gasoline purchase based on that amount. The drawbacks, unfortunately, are multiple.

These programs, now that they’re past their infancy, have evolved to fit a store’s needs while at the same time offering very little real benefit to the consumer. As we all know, grocery stores use “loss leaders” to bring in customers. These low-cost items are meant to bring you into a store to do the rest of your grocery shopping. Gas is no exception to this. If the store can break even on their gas sales, then they’re happy about offering it. Unfortunately for customers, the good discounts only happen once per month, and are typically limited in how much you can use. Filling up yours, your spouse’s, and your parents’ cars for cheap just isn’t going to happen. Additionally, you can usually only save up to a dollar per gallon. Now, that’s pretty good really, but at the same time, if it takes spending $1,000 in the store to get to that level of savings, then you really aren’t saving anything much at all, even if you do max out your savings. It can be as little as $30 in some cases.

So, how do rewards programs influence your purchasing decisions, and by extension, your budget? To start with, they tend to motivate you to spend more than you would otherwise. After all, a typical family of four shouldn’t really be spending $1,000 per month on groceries, right? Maybe a family of eight or more…

Rewards programs also tend to make you want to spend at one location, rather than buying from different stores. For instance, let’s say meats are less expensive at one location, but dry goods less expensive at another. Perhaps yet a third location has better prices on produce. If you separate your shopping throughout the month, you’ll save money, but there’s inconvenience to factor in, and of course, the rewards points don’t add up. 

Rewards programs are little more than a marketing ploy. Used in conjunction with other money-saving habits, you can make good use of them to save a few dollars, but they’re not really worth going to too much trouble over. In more than a few cases, you’ll spend more to get them than it’s worth to have them, so use them wisely if you do!

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