Stever’s 4 easy ways to get the most of your money by tracking discount cards, coupons, and memberships.
Reader Liz is suffering from discount overload:
"I get discount offers for retailers, restaurants, and movie theaters; through my employer, my gym, my auto club, and my professional organizations. When it's time to make a purchase, I am so overwhelmed by which discount to use and where, that I usually say to heck with it and pay full price. Help!"
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Liz, you're everyone's favorite customer. Retailers and manufacturers love giving out discounts. They know the psychological mind-control benefit of the discounts will keep you coming back, a slave to their manipulation, a mindless buying zombie (meaning no offense to zombies, of course. It's not their fault they're mindless). Retailers also know that most of the time, you won't use their discounts because you'll forgot. They get the best of both worlds, like any good, co-dependent partner. You give them your business, and they don't even have to put out.
But you don't have to let them win!
Remember: Keeping and tracking discounts takes work. Only do it for large-enough discounts. If you’re looking at 30% off a $200 purchase, go for it! Five percent off a $7 purchase? Don’t bother.
And now, here are my 4 Quick and Dirty Tips for getting the most of your discount offers:
Tip #1 – Make a Spreadsheet
If you really care about squeezing every cent out of your discounts, do the legwork all at once. Schedule a couple of hours. Review all your discount cards and memberships, and list the discounts in a spreadsheet. In column 1, put the kind of the product,(“car rental,” or “hotel”). In column 2, put the brand name (“Enterprise Rent-a-Car” or “Hilton”). In column 3, enter the discount card (“AAA Membership”), and in column 4, the discount amount (“20% off on Saturdays”). If two different organizations give discounts for the same item, enter two separate lines.
Once you’ve entered everything, use your spreadsheet’s Sort function to sort the spreadsheet by column 1, and then subsort by column 2. Now all discounts for similar services are next to each other. All your car rental discounts are visible at a glance. Within the car rental section, all your different discounts on Enterprise are next to each other. A quick glance at column 4 will help you choose your best discount for Enterprise, or for car rentals in general.
You’ll have to review this yearly, since discounts often change.
Keep a second spreadsheet in the same workbook that lists websites for online discount stores. If you have credit card points redeemable in a special online store, put the URL in the second spreadsheet. You’ll go there for your pre-purchase research.
Tip #2 – Always Keep Retailer-Based Discounts at Hand
Some discounts aren’t for a product category, they’re for a certain retailer. My grocery store has a “frequent buyer” card. It gives me a discount in return for letting them track everything I’ve ever bought, cross index it by my name and address, build a comprehensive psychographic profile of me, and sell that profile to malevolent forces with shadowy intentions.
Discount cards like this are almost always available in keychain size barcode tags; use them. Keep store discount cards on your keychain for the stores you really use. Remember, you’re selling your soul for these discounts, so make sure they’re substantial.
I persuaded several stores to give me a discount card without giving them my name and address. I still get my discounts, and my profiling fears are soothing. But this is unfortunately not an option at many stores.