As 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.
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.