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How to Save Money Using Gift Cards and Loyalty Programs

01/19/21 | Dana LaRieal Morales

If you have been with me for a while you know that I love saving money.  It is almost like a game to see just how much I can save by making small shifts in my actions and layering those small shifts upon each other to make big changes.

One such way is by planning ahead with my gift-giving, travel, big purchases and more.  Are you intrigued? Ok put on your seatbelt and let me walk you through the process...

What are the benefits of doing all this?

Well first of all we many companies have incentives they give that most consumers don't take advantage of, which is what makes it beneficial for the companies to have them.  They pull you in with the promise of more, knowing most people won't nearly utilizing them to their fullest potential, oh but we are going to do just that.

How to Save Money with Gift Cards

The first thing you need to do is read the fine print of your loyalty card rules and restrictions to make sure you fully understand any limitations they have in place.  This will help you know that you are fully utilizing all the benefits.

The beauty of stores that provide points or discounts for things in their store is that you begin earning points for things you are buying anyway, but you have to be careful that you aren't over-purchasing just because there is a promotion at the store.  

A Few Tips To Leverage Gift Cards

Now I've already mentioned knowing the program you are participating in, but a few additional tips to help you leverage your gift card or point system is to make sure you plan ahead regarding how you are going to use the program.  

In my case, I knew I was going to use the Kroger loyalty program to purchase gifts I need to give during birthdays and holidays when we are preparing to travel and/or whenever we are about to make large purchases.

Another thing you should do is make sure you know what gift cards the store holds, so you know if you should swing by and get a gift card first or not, especially when making large purchases.  Think about back-to-school purchases or if you are moving and needing to stock the house with household items.  

An example of purchases we have made with this system are gift cards to restaurants we frequent regularly like McDonald's, Steak N Shake, Olive Garden, Cheddars.  We also use it regularly for home depot and lowes purchases especially if we are buying something expensive like our annual mulch purchase, our riding lawn mower or the upright freezer.

Ok so now that you know the types of things you can get gift cards for, let's talk about when you should get them. 

When Should I Get The Gift Cards?

Well, in our store (Kroger) they give you 2x's your points every day on specific gift cards.  So of course you can get them at those times because will earn you points, BUT the best time to stock up is when they have their 4x's your points specials.

During these events, which is usually around holidays like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, etc., you can really stock up and save a bunch of money by getting 4x's the points towards your gas.  

How Do I Use My Loyalty Card Points?

Now, make sure you are reading the fine print on your specific store's points program because it will let you know your limits.  For example, you can only get so much off your gas in one sitting.  The other thing we discovered is that most people get gas but don't use up the full amount.  

Ok so let me explain.  Most tanks only need like 16 or 18 gallons of gas, but at our Kroger store, you can get as much as 35 gallons of gas during one session.  So, if we had enough points to get $1.00 off our gas (i.e., 1000 points = $1.00 off your price of gas per gallon), then we would want to use that to our advantage, so we make sure we take both cars and fill both of them up on the same transaction.

This again requires some planning.  We pull one car in as far away from the pump as possible and back the other one up right behind it so you can go from one car to the next without putting the pump back in the holder, as this resets the pump to say you are finished.

You could always fill up gas cans too.  

What are Some Things to Know About this Process?

I haven't run into this but the website says it won't count Kroger gift cards towards your points, but I purchased one and it did so it may be dependant upon the store. I would suggest doing a test and see if you earned points for the card vs your actual Kroger purchases.  A way to do this is to purchase a Kroger gift card prior to buying groceries and see if you accumulate points. 

Something else is your Kroger (or whatever store has this promotion) needs to have a gas station or you should know where one is near you so you can use your points.  It may be worth driving out of your way once or twice a month to use your points.  You can earn them at any Kroger or affiliate store but you can only use them at those with gas stations or participating shell service stations.    

Things to do Before Trying This for Yourself:

Make sure you have a store loyalty card so they can tally your purchases.  This will also benefit you as the store will begin to send you coupons for the things you buy on a regular basis.

Scout out the gift cards your store has in stock.  Note: stores carry cards for stores that are near them, so you may have one gift card available at store A that isn't at store B or vice versa.

So again, let's walk through your steps:

1. Determine where you need to shop for the week and how much you THINK you will spend at each store.

2. Go to Kroger's (or affiliate store) gift card center and find the gift cards you want to get  

3. Make sure to scan your Kroger Plus Card at the register (if you don't have one get it at the customer service window) 

4. Purchase the cards in the proper denominations   Now…the $.10, $.20, $.30 discount is only on 35 gallons of gas. 

Remember, once you cut the pump off the discount is gone.  They also expire after a while, so I suggest doing your purchases weekly so you don't waste the discount. I have to fill up about four times a month so I try to spread mine out unless we've made some major purchases.

How to Leverage this Process for Large Purchases

When you have large purchases that is the best time to use this trick to the fullest.  So, let me break down just how we do this. 

Let's say I'm about to book a flight online at Southwest.  Well, my local Kroger sells Southwest gift cards, so I purchase a gift card for $150 bucks (heck yeah that's 300 points on a normal day but it's 600 points on 4x's your points day!).  I then use the gift card to purchase my flight on Southwest.com (or at the airport).  

This purchase will yield me $.60 off each gallon of gas I buy.  I can use the full amount or I can divvy it out by $.20 at a time or some other incremental amount.

The key is you are going to make the purchase anyway, so why don't you earn gas points while making it?

So what do you think?  Are you going to leverage this tip for saving money using gift cards?  It really doesn't require a lot other than thinking ahead about what you are going to be doing.