Be sure to take advantage of market and restaurant loyalty cards. They could save you hundreds!
Recession Mama Michele Ashamalla: We all know about loyalty cards, and many of us feel it's not worth our time to fill in the forms and then have to locate and swipe a card whenever we buy something. Well, let me tell you: The process has gotten a lot easier -- and the rewards are getting really good.
Most establishments can now just type in your information while you're checking out, and some only require a name and phone number or e-mail address. (A lot of places don't advertise their loyalty cards; you have to check their websites or ask when you're there.) Supermarket loyalty cards are some of the most common, with very significant savings being seen right there at the checkout when you buy featured products. Your receipt will show how much you've saved; for me, it's usually about 30 percent, since I generally plan my meals around whatever fish, meats and produce are featured. My local Kroger affiliate has stepped it up a notch, and now also mails me back a percentage of my expenditures in the form of a supermarket gift certificate. I'm rarely in that store, but last week I got a $7 gift certificate, as well as a $1 coupon off my next purchase -- plus several other coupons for produce, meat, bread, etc.
Office stores have loyalty programs, too, wherein they also return percentages of purchases (in the form of store vouchers). Last quarter, I earned almost $13 at Staples. I'm not sure what I bought to get it, but I know I just tell them my phone number when I check out, and it gets credited. I have a Godiva Rewards Card that gives me one free piece of chocolate each month and a gift worth at least $2.95 each time I spend $10. Just what I need ....
Restaurants have jumped on the loyalty-card bandwagon, too. While out to dinner with my sister-in-law, I was surprised to see her pull out a P.F. Chang's card for 15 percent off the total bill. (Currently it's 10 percent; the rewards for the card vary from month to month.) A restaurant near me that belongs to the Specialty Restaurant Group has a card that gives you 20 percent back on each purchase, in the form of reward points. (Check here; there may be a member restaurant near you.)
They have gift cards at Costco, too; when I go there, I use one that gives me 20 percent off, and then I get another 20 percent put back on the card for next time. McCormick & Schmick's restaurant gift cards are also available at Costco, and they have a loyalty card, too. (The restaurant requires you to pay $25 for the card, which can then be redeemed for the same amount in the form of loyalty rewards.) Restaurant cards, like supermarket cards, can be used in combination with coupons or other specials, so the deal can really get good.
I went to my local Specialty Restaurant for my mom's birthday on Christmas Eve (when most restaurants aren't even open). It's pretty fancy, with a gorgeous view. We had the kids and the grandparents with us, so we made 5:30 PM reservations. Before going, I went on the restaurant's website (always check for online coupons) and saw a tab marked "Sunset Dinners."
For $17.95, they were offering a three-course meal that included soup/salad, entrĂ©e and dessert. The entrĂ©e choices were prime rib, vegetarian ratatouille pasta, fresh Atlantic salmon and chicken scallopini. The prime rib alone was on the menu for $24.95; add salad and dessert, and the cost of that meal would have come to about $38 without the coupon!
In the end, my meal worked out to be $23.70 (including tax and tip). But the gift-card savings brought it down to $18.96, and the additional loyalty card made it $15.17 (including 10 percent tax and 20 percent tip) -- which I think is absolutely amazing for a fancy three-course meal. I saved so much, we went to the movies the next week (using $6 tickets I bought with a coupon from the Entertainment Book). At the theater, I swiped my card and got a printout that said I'd earned a free movie!