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Save Money on Groceries-How to use a Value Card

Deals_Kroger_CartBusterSavingsAs many of you may know, I started on a quest to dramatically lower my grocery bills in the latter half of 2012. Thanks to my good pal, Mr. CBB and the Grocery Game Challenge, I have been able to lower my grocery budget from between $500-$600/month to $350/month. The main reason is because I really make an effort to track my purchases. By knowing that I will post them for the world to see, it makes me think twice before I buy a cart full of donuts and deli fried chicken. That being said, I don’t spend tons of time thinking about groceries. One of the best and easiest tools to help cut grocery spending is to use store value cards.

I assumed everyone knew about value cards and how they worked, but apparently they may not offer these everywhere. To unlock the mystery of the value card for those who are unfamiliar and to make sure those of you with value cards are using them to their fullest capacity, I’ll share my tips.

What is a Value Card?

When you shop at a chain grocery store, you can sign up for a store value card. You give your name, address, and phone number, and you receive a card that is similar in size to a credit card or library card. It has a bar code on the back that you scan at every shop. In my home town, the choices are Safeway or City Market (a Kroger affiliate). Discount stores like Walmart or Target don’t have them.

Yes, it kind of is big brotherish to allow the store to track what you purchase. If you care that the store knows you like to buy pink marshmallows or hemorrhoid cream, you might be in trouble. However, if you don’t have a value card or don’t use your value card, you are missing out on lots of savings.

Store Sales

Each week, the stores come up with a weekly flyer of items on sale. If you don’t have a value card, you pay retail. Like it or not, you don’t get the sale price without scanning your card. Even my husband who wouldn’t use a coupon if it was for water and he was on fire scans his value card at every purchase.

Coupons and Promotions

If you use a value card, they do track your purchases. If you shop enough, the store will start to send coupons in the mail for products you purchase or for similar products that the manufacturer wants you to try. They will have the store name somewhere on the them, but these are manufacturer coupons that you can use at any store where coupons are accepted. Some cashiers see the store name and balk, but if you point out that it is a manufacturer’s coupon, they will take it. They also double if the store normally doubles manufacturer coupons.

Safeway started a program a few months ago called Just 4U savings. Once you sign up, you receive a weekly email for products that are discounted. You can select the ones you want to buy and download them to your value card. When you buy that item, the discount is taken at the register. No paper coupons are required. The program is different for every member and gives greater discounts on things you normally purchase. For example, I buy lots of apples, so I usually get an extra percentage above any store sales off apples almost every time I buy them. Deals are often for produce or meat, items that don’t generally have coupons. I’ve even gotten offers that are a percentage off your entire purchase. You just have to make sure you check out that weekly email and pick the deals you want before shopping. You can print or email a list of items to your smart phone so you don’t forget once you get to the store.


You can also go to the store website and select eCoupons that will download to your value card. These are similar to the Just 4U program, but usually mirror what coupons were available in the Sunday paper for the week. This is a great way to get coupons if you don’t subscribe to a newspaper. However, eCoupons don’t double, and you can’t combine them with a paper coupon. If you have a paper coupon, it is usually better to use it first.


Catalinas are those paper coupons that print out after your transaction is complete. Usually they are for products competing with the purchase you just made. I use almond milk regularly. There are two main brands at the stores I frequent. If I purchase one brand, I usually get a Catalina for the other one for use at a later purchase. Catalinas only print out if you have a value card. They have to be used at the same store, and they don’t double. Often the dollar amount is for more than a regular coupon. My last one was for $2.50 off a carton of almond milk, which made it nearly free!


One other benefit of a value card is charity donation. At City Market, they offer a program called City Market Cares. Local charities can register and take the value card number from people who support their organization. When that person shops, a percentage of their purchase is donated to that charity. It costs the shopper nothing, and the charity doesn’t get a list of who shopped or how much they spent. The humane society I volunteer with usually gets around $900 a quarter. If you don’t have money or time, but buy groceries, this is a great way to support a charity.

With using a value card, you are able to save money on store sales, coupons, specialized offers, and can donate to charity all with one shopping trip! While it might not be ideal for a big corporation to track everything you buy, for me, the benefits outweigh the negatives. I feel sorry for those who live in places where value cards aren’t available.

What are your thoughts about value cards? What is your biggest combination of savings with value cards, coupons, etc. ?

No compensation was received for this post. 



About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I hate those value cards. I’m getting so many on my keyring that it’s getting ungainly. Especially since the way this game seems to work is that the grocery store inflates the prices of most items and then uses the “sale” to make you think that you’re getting a deal.

    Also, I have neither the time nor the interest to deal with coupons and promotions. Since I do all my own cooking rather than buying pre-made stuff, many of those coupons are just useless for me. Now, money off of fruit or meats, or basic foods like that would be great. But I never see that.

    • If you don’t want to be bothered with carrying around those cards, you can just get an app like KeyRing. It stores almost all of those cards and not just grocery stores, either. All you do is can the barcode with the camera on the phone, and it creates a virtual card so you can carry less on your actual keyring. That’s assuming you have a phone that you can do this with of course!

    • I guess it helps when you only have two stores to choose from. I think Walgreens has started some sort of card, but I never shop there, so don’t know much about it. They do make it seem like something is on “sale” when that is probably the actual price, but by giving a higher retail price, it makes you feel like you are getting a deal. The programs I use are nice, because I often get produce and meat discounts or coupons. I should have added a paragraph about knowing the prices on foods so you can spot a good deal when you see one. The post was already too long. I need to find a way to be less wordy!

  2. Great post about saving money on groceries. We don’t have a value card (we probably should) but we try to match coupons with store deals to get the maximum savings.

  3. Our local grocery stores don’t have those, which is good since I hate them. I hate the idea of giving someone free range to analyze my complete spending patterns and figure out how best to get me to spend more.

    • It is sort of creepy, but I try to use it to my advantage. If they want to give me money off stuff I buy, I’ll take it. It could be tempting to buy something just because you have a discount, same as with any coupons. If you don’t need it or won’t use it, it’s never a good deal.

  4. We’re not big fans of the cards, but do have one for the Kroger store here. To be honest though, we really don’t shop there much. We shop at Wal-Mart…I know I HATE it, but it’s just the cheapest way to do it.

    • I think if you don’t want to go to more than one store, Walmart is probably the cheapest way to go. Cereal, juice, and snacks are generally cheaper unless on sale at the other stores. I hate produce and meat from WalMart for the post part and the experience is terrible. I buy the more expensive things only when on sale and usually find better deals at the grocery, believe it or not. You just have to know the prices of the things you buy often. I maybe go to Walmart once a month and always swear I’m never going back.

  5. I can care less about “big brother” conspiracy stuff and all that garbage. If I can save a few bucks for simply swiping a card (or as I said above having my phone scanned), then I’m all for it.

    There are also apps like ibotta and others that actually give you cash back for buying certain items after you complete certain tasks like post to Facebook or answer a survey question. Combine that with sales and coupons, and you could really save big. I’m pretty much assuming though, since I’m a cook and most of my purchases are groceries and meats rather than the stuff they give coupons or cash back on.

  6. Our preferred store doesn’t have a value card but they have an online savings portal that you register with, where you can clip coupons and such, and all you have to do is key your phone number and PIN into the keypad at the register. I guess it functions the same way but it eliminates the problem I always used to run into where you’d forget the card or key ring attachment.

    • I believe you can use your phone number here as well. The beauty of carrying a purse is that I always have my value cards in there. That might seem odd if you carried one.

  7. We use a value card at my beloved Kroger! It definitely helps and I usually buy what is on sale with it anyway.

  8. Wow, you’ve done very well reducing your grocery budget! One of the two grocery stores here has the cards. We have the little key chain tab ones but they are always wearing off, maybe every 1.5-2 years. Whenever I don’t have one, I usually forget to go back and get the refund later. The Safeway stores in Canada uses phone numbers and it’s so much easier.
    The chain here has a bonus points week once per month, where if you spend over certain amts ($200 is the highest one), you get a large number of bonus points. I can’t remember what they’re worth, but it’s a reasonable amount. We’ve redeemed part of ours for an iPod touch and a coffee maker.

    • Thanks for making me aware of that. I love the bonus points week. I don’t believe they have that here, but I’m going to check into it. Maybe I’m missing something.

  9. We mostly shop at Trader Joe’s and Target, but there is a Von’s that we shop at when items are on sale and I definitely use my value card. I have one I think for every grocery store that offers them!

  10. We do have value cards in Canada and I love them.

    We have a Safeway one and a Sobeys one. We shop at Safeway mostly and between the value card and the 10% discount on the first Tuesday of the month, we save a lot. One time our savings was 68%. We love it. As well they email my husband the coupons and the weekly flyer.

    They also offer a 5 cent per litre off on fuel and the with the recent price drop in fuel we are down to 89cents a litre compared to last fall when it was $1.17 a litre.

    • I should have done more homework! Thanks for letting me know they are available. I did change that wording to reflect that. Safeway used to be far more expensive than the other stores here, so I rarely went there. With the new program, I tend to go regularly for the sales and discounts if it is something I use. I also didn’t have room in the post to add the gas discount. Thanks for bringing that up as well.

  11. I didn’t know Safeway and Sobeys had value cards like the ones you mention as I don’t shop at Sobeys and there is no Safeway here.I just read Sicorra’s post above. I just asked my fans to fill me in to tell me how they scan their value cards to get flyer sales, e-coupons etc to scan to their card like you do for these shops. I think it’s a great idea, a dollar is a dollar. Just got a great new coupon here! Buy 2 loaves of bread Save $2 on ANY FRESH FRUIT or VEG. $$! I’ll be interested to learn more about those Canadian stores having the same type of program as your value cards. Cheers

    • Wow, I never thought I’d live to see the day when I knew something about grocery savings that Mr. CBB didn’t! I love produce and meat coupons. They are like the Holy Grail of coupons.

      • Haha, it’s because I don’t shop at the one shop and the other is in BC I believe. Interesting to learn about the Sobeys card which I knew they had but I didn’t know the full capabilities of the rewards card. One fan wrote on my wall what the card is about. Have a good one smarty pants 😉

  12. This is one area I need to work on there has been times in the last several months that we’ve spent near $200 in one trip. Now granted we don’t go to the store every week but I think if we would watch what we are buying a little more closely we wouldn’t have as high of a bill at the end.

  13. My wife has one for Vons (Safeway southern California). She does not do all her shopping there though. She goes to a specialty grocery, fresh produce market and Costco for some items.

    • I have never lived anywhere that had a Costco, but I’ve heard really good things. Anything that competes with WalMart and Sam’s is OK in my book.

  14. I have quite a few of these cards (starting from Grocery to Ikea). I use the keyring app because my key chain became too bulky to carry around.

    I don’t really care about the big brother stuff because I feel either via credit card or some other means, they know too much about me already. We have Ralphs where we buy our groceries (other than farmers market and costco). It is almost wasteful to not use the card at Ralphs. Ralphs is a Kroger chain. The price difference on Ralphs brand milk and yogurt itself usually saves us 2-3$ every week. I don’t use coupons much. But this is too good to pass up.

  15. When I first went to Safeway, I thought everything was really expensive! Then we got a card and during the rest of the trip groceries were much cheaper. I was surprised at the amount of the discount, sometimes over 20% of the total was taken off thanks to the card. It builds loyalty but I think they also inflate their prices to take advantage of one time customers.

  16. I first want to say to all the people who shop at a Kroger-owned store: Thanks for helping pay my wife’s salary!

    PetSmart is the worst for inflating prices for non-loyalty card holders. Even the prices on the shelves are only valid if you swipe your card!

  17. Our local grocery doesn’t offer a loyalty card like this, but I sure wish that they did. They do however often offer specials where you can buy 3 meat items for $5 each (which can be half off!), or have triple coupon weeks. We try to stock up on these occasions, and combine that with shopping trips to Aldi (which is always cheap) and Target (where we can get at a 5% discount).

    • Three meats for $5 is a great deal unless it was spam. I wish we had some other choices. I think I’d love Aldi. We had a store in my hometown that my dad actually part owned for a while. It was similar in that you had to bag your own groceries. It was no frills, but very affordable.

  18. I use my loyalty/value card ALL the time. This week, I got what amounted to 70% off on my toilet paper of choice thanks to the loyalty card’s special + downloadable ecoupons + physical coupons (doubled at the register). I tend to save about 50-60% off my purchases, and once reached 90% savings – it was so high the store manager had to come and “sign off” on my purchase at the register for the checker to process it!

  19. I have a tonne of loyalty cards and do use them all the time, but detest the amout of space in my wallet. I will have to take some more time to look into the digital solutions for my smart phone. I do use a a YourKard (www.yourkard.com) to minimize the amount that I have to carry. It definitely helps.

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