How to make loyalty programs work for you


Ok, this post has been a long time in the making, I know I’ve mentioned it a few times in the past. When I worked in retail and we began our brand new smart loyalty program I begun to get an inside perspective to how newer loyalty programs work, and began making them work better for me. Loyalty Programs can be a lot like couponing in America – they can be time consuming to get the rewards – and you can totally get suckered in and taken advantage of by the store providing the loyalty program. I’m hoping this guide helps you get the most out of loyalty programs, and keep an eye out for what to avoid.

Most loyalty cards from big retailers (think Woolworths rewards and Flybuys particularly) collect data on what you purchase and try to tailor recommendations for you based on your purchases. Some people find this quite intrusive and not worth the value loyalty programs can give them, while others find it very helpful to be told what is on sale at their local store based on what they are more likely to want (I’m pretty sure childless people generally aren’t interested in purchasing baby food for example). They also track data such as how much for tend to spend over the week. Now this is a key part of the loyalty program – retail stores ALWAYS want to encourage you to spend more. So when you’ve been with a program for a little while they’ll begin offering awesome offers that are totally within reach, only to begin to gradually increase the spend amount over a period of time.

For example Flybuys does this really well. Every 12 weeks they send out coupons in the mail that alternate between a “Spend $X for Y points” and a “triple point voucher” on alternating weeks. If you usually spend $40 in a shop it might be “Spend $50 for 500 points” which in the next 12 week round (assuming you took advantage of all the coupons) will likely become “Spend $75 for 500 points”. They also often have email offers along similar tangents which can be used in conjunction with the mailed coupons such as “Spend $50 in one shop for 4 weeks for 10,000 points”.

The tracking of the points offers an interesting double edge. While the store can definitely use it to their advantage to get you to increase your spend – they also notice when you stop spending. This is a wonderful way you can get the program to work for you. While I try and take advantage of most offers thrown at me within reason, there are times I look at the offers and realise the balance of power is tipping. During those times I will totally stop using my loyalty card, or even begin using my husbands card over mine. This always helps reduce the required spend and makes the offers more attractive, with only minor exceptions (being away from a card too long seems to make the store give up on me as a ‘lost cause’ and begin offering really poor offers again)

Loyalty offers can be spread across multiple mediums. For example as previously mentioned Flybuys has email offers as well as mail offers. On top of that they also often have “triple point” coupons that print out on your receipt. Keep an eye out for multiple locations Loyalty Programs may try and communicate to you with, for example some may send text messages if you’ve provided a mobile phone number. Sometimes bonus point offers are even mentioned in catalogues when you purchase specific items or even when you spend a specific amount instore.

Some of the bigger loyalty programs offers points in multiple ways. For example Flybuys lets you accrue points through using their credit card, through insurance programs, through their Energy provider and their petrol station (amongst a lot more methods!). While not every method provided may be of interest to you, be familiar with what places offer points so if you are shopping there anyway you get the benefit.

If your loyalty program is offering you a time sensitive deal you want to take advantage of it may be worth tracking it on a calendar to ensure you don’t miss out. This is particularly useful when the offers are “spend $X over Y weeks” so you don’t get most of the way through completing an offer just to miss out at the 11th hour.

Having a loyalty card doesn’t mean you must remain totally loyal to the company. I’ve mentioned previously the benefit of having a pricebook app to keep on top of the price difference between competing stores and having a loyalty card shouldn’t negate shoping around for the best deal. For example I know one shop has much cheaper dried fruit than my main grocery chain – so I go to the competitor to buy those items. There are times when the difference is much smaller and I compromise – ie 5c difference per kilo, not necessarily a concern – $2 per kilo: you better believe I’m going elsewhere! Don’t let the loyalty programs blind you into being stupidly loyal towards a brand. The loyalty program should be seen as a benefit and only if it’s offering discount points that would make up the difference in price should it be considered. Even better if the competitor also has a loyalty card that you can accrue points towards as well πŸ˜‰

Keep track of your points. This may sounds obvious but I know a lot of friends and family who have been collecting points for a long period of time but never collected them, only to discover they have a wealth of points/money accrued. Some loyalty programs are proactive about getting the points used, such as Woolworths Rewards which will automatically take the money off as soon as $10 in points in accrued. Meanwhile Flybuys generally just accrues silently unless you hold a financial service with them such as a credit card which allows you to turn on a function that will prompt you asking if you want to apply a $10 discount, otherwise you need to log into the website and specifically choose what to do with your points. Some loyalty programs will also have an expiry on rewards or points, be mindful of this and don’t let them go to waste if you can avoid it.

Try not to think of loyalty program points as completely free money. The loyalty program is always there to get you spend more and your vigilance of your budget and being willing to walk away are important processes you need to take for the ‘free’ money lest the retail store begin to tip the balance of power back towards them.

Install an app on your phone that keeps your loyalty card details. Sometimes you can forget to bring a card – or particularly if you are using paper coupons with barcodes it’s too easy to miss out on points because you forgot your card.

I hope this can be of some assistance to help you get more benefit from your loyalty programs by understanding how they work and what the retail store hopes for by offering a loyalty program. Doing as I have listed probably gives me approximately 1 month of free groceries at least per year – which I figure isn’t too bad considering my groceries generally only cost $300 for a family of 3. Don’t forget to check out my Cutting Costs: Project Groceries to get the greatest benefit on reducing your budget in combination with this Loyalty Program Guide.

In point form summary:
– Try to keep your spending low and unpredictable.
– Stack coupons wherever possible
– Don’t be afraid to take a break from a loyalty program if you feel the offers are getting unreasonable.
– Keep an eye out for where the loyalty offers are communicated.
– Be aware of all the ways you can earn loyalty points.
– Track time sensitive offers on a calendar to ensure you don’t miss out.
– Keep an eye on the competitors, don’t remain stupidly loyal.
– Keep track of your points and don’t forget to claim them – particularly if they have an expiry.
– You’ve worked for the loyalty points (through allowing a company insight into your purchases – or more if you proactively collect points) – try not to think of it as “free money”.
– Install an app to ensure you always have your loyalty cards with you.


July: End of Month recap

So at the beginning of the month I decided it’s time to say see-ya to our home mortgage. I gave myself the timeline of a year to completely get rid of just over $90,000 in mortgage. Whilst I still need to dedicate some time to working out exactly how to achieve that I worked out roughly where we need to be each month. Well the numbers are in and in this first month we are a mere $700 outside of where I would prefer be (after paying $300 in interest!). I’m pretty happy with that for a first attempt considering I didn’t decide on this goal until a week into July.

We did well getting $300 for scrap metal this month, I brought in $240 in surveys and $330 in catalogue delivery. So in all an additional $870 – which will help towards $10K additional for the year if we can keep this momentum up.

I also got a great deal on 4kgs of strawberries and 16 small pineapples for $20 from my local fruit shop. The strawberries have all been devoured with the pineapples being the current target. I have intentions to use them in curried sausages, pancakes and fruit salad, with the ability to chop and freeze extras for later cooking/smoothies. We also have avoided needing to pay crazy prices for tomatoes as all the self-sown ones have been ripening at a wonderful pace. I need to plant a bit more lettuce to sustain us, but we’ve also been eating broccoli leaf, garlic leaf and silverbeet reducing our grocery bill somewhat in the veggie department.

There are some big bills heading out way for August as there always is so I need to work out some extra ways to bring in extra funds – namely surveys, scrap metal and selling goods. I’ve just begun listing things for sale over the past few days (I was really slack on that one). I’m currently taking advantage of accruing more flybuys points through an offer that will get me another $30 in points for doing my usual shop over 3 consecutive weeks. That will give me $120 in flybuys for grocery shopping.

FID (frugallyinclineddad) is away for the first 2 weeks of August for work which will mean reduced expenditure for food as his work covers his meals as well. He also will receive additional pay during his working away.

In all I’m still feeling really optimistic towards our goal. Our daily interest will continue to go down ($20 this month compared to last month) which will continue to gradually give us money to put towards the mortgage.

Mid July Progress update!

So I’ve been working on the lofty year long goal for a fortnight now. I am tackling our pantry and deep freezer. Particularly since I’m not currently loving the Flybuys offers for bonus points, always a good time to take a break (I really do need to make a post explaining my process there!) Some payments have come in and unfortunately some bills have gone out leaving me in a fairly stagnant area at the moment.

– I need to get my butt into gear and list some more things for sale online.
– I had an awesome purchase on strawberries and pineapples at my local fruit shop which means a frugal treat in the form of delicious strawberries and cream, strawberry syrup, and if I get around to it possibly strawberry ice cream πŸ˜€
– I’ve been doing pretty well at earning almost $10/day through surveys
– We’ve begun collecting more scrap metal as well as pulling apart old appliances to remove the plastic… I tell you if you ever want to feel how much of an over-consumer you’ve been – going through less than 10 years of accrued appliances will do help it – I spent the time meditating on why had I even bought the junk appliances in the first place!

I do feel we are in the process of setting ourselves up for success though. I am motivated by this goal and my husband is plodding along once again skeptical we will see success in my timeline (his skepticism helps motivate me more though πŸ˜‰ )

How are your goals tracking currently?

New Goals 2017-2018

At some point my 6 month financial goals grew out to a year goal and it coincided with the financial year which I have just run with. Last year my financial goal was to aim for $100K left on our mortgage. My loose maths figured we’d reach about $102K, a figure my husband scoffed at … But which I am proud to announce we beat by $12K. Yes, we managed an extra $1,000 per month on average getting us to a comfortably below goal $90K left on our mortgage. So where to aim for the next 12 months? 

Well I would love to finish paying the mortgage off…. $90,000 in a year… But its an incredibly lofty goal that will require us finding an additional $16,000 this year. 

We have a few things on our side,

  1. I now have a small job delivering catalogues in our neighborhood. That should potentially bring in $4,000.
  2. Our daily mortgage interest has halved, and will keep going down. In July 2016 we were paying $20/day in interest, we are now paying $10/day and it’s only going to keep going down!
  3. I’m now savvier with our shopping and purchasing discounted gift cards
  4. We’ve continued decluttering for profit
  5. We’ve discovered selling scrap metal is good for the environment and our hip pocket.
  6. I’m determined :p 

I’m aiming to update on our progress each month and reevaluate what has worked and hasn’t worked for us πŸ™‚ 

If you have any tips I’d love to hear them! 

Cutting Costs: Project Groceries

Recently a question was asked in a Facebook group I’m in – “how much do your weekly groceries cost and for how many people?” I was absolutely shocked when I was the only person who feeds 3 people (2 adults and a toddler) for less than $100 – usually closer to the $50-$75 mark where the norm seemed to be $150+ for the same sized family!

That conversation lead to many people asking how I manage to do it and so I am going to share my methods here.

Grow food where possible.

Now before you cry out that you can’t possibly grow anything because your yard is too small etc – I grow a decent amount of food on my balcony as I live in units. It’s nowhere near enough to sustain us but it certainly helps reduce costs and encourages us to eat healthier. We grow spring onions, silver beet, tomatoes, lettuce and sprouts such as alfalfa. Herbs are worth growing if you use them frequently as they can be quite expensive.

Keep a (digital) price book

There are apps that can fulfill this need or you could even use something like google sheets to create your own. Creating a price book can be time intensive but the payoff is massively worth it. They give you a starting point for what a good price is for each item you frequently buy and allow you to compare which retailer offers the best price if you have multiple choices. For example I live close to a Coles and Woolworths with an Aldi reasonably close by. I reject the idea that Aldi is cheapest because at least for where I live each retailer offers various things at the cheapest price. I never knew any of that before I started a price book.

Buy discounted vouchers

I almost always get at least 5% off everything I buy at Woolworths because I buy e-gift cards online. Coles doesn’t sell them as regularly at a discount unfortunately but you can sometimes buy only1 visa gift cards at cost value (ie $100 for $100) from Woolworths with your discounted wish card, that can then be used to shop at Coles – or anywhere that accepts visa – to allow you to shop at a discount. The discounted wish e-gift cards can also be used at big w and Woolworths Caltex stores.

Buy in bulk

Most of the time (although not always) buying in bulk is cheaper. If you can buy something in bulk and store it so it won’t be wasted (weevils, food spoilage etc) it’s a good way of reducing costs as well as your environmental impact due to reducing packaging. Always compare unit cost (price per kg or L) to make sure it is actually cheaper to buy in bulk – the price book is great for that.

Buy on special

Similar to buying in bulk, if you know you will use it and it won’t go to waste if you see it on special – buy up. This may temporarily make your grocery bill cost more but in the long run allows you too save. I buy milk frequently as it nears it’s expiry and gets marked down and freeze some (don’t go overboard though as it doesn’t freeze well for too long!) Similarly I often buy meat on a mark-down special and then freeze for later, allowing for cheap meat meals.

Utilise the store loyalty program

If a loyalty card takes $10 off my shop I still include that as an income/expense in my budget so technically isn’t reducing my grocery expenditure as far as my budget is concerned – but it is still reducing the amount I have to pay – and that is a definite win in my eyes.

Reduce wastage

The statistics for how much of our groceries goes into landfill is quite honestly terrifying. This is probably the single largest thing you can do to reduce your grocery expenditure. Shop your pantry and make a meal plan before you go shopping. That’s not too at you cant make wiggle room for awesome specials, but shopping your pantry first will remind you what you already have, it’ll allow you to rethink what you need in order to use up what’s in your pantry first. Learn more about the food we eat is another way to reduce wastage too as you can learn to make meals with what you probably used to throw out. I regularly make bone broth with scraps of bone and veggies, I salvage good bits of going bad fruit and freeze for easy smoothie bags, I freeze diced onion an mushrooms before they go bad for later use in cooking (note freezing can change the texture of food – some foods freeze better than others which can influence how they can be used post freezing)

Make from scratch or create your own bespoke version of processed foods

As I have mentioned previously in Cutting Costs: Project Cereal, you can use a combination of different cereals to make your own cheaper (and tastier) cereal. I also frequently make my own tastier, healthier and cheaper pasta sauce from scratch when I buy bulk quantities of cheap tomatoes. When buying processed foods you are frequently paying for convenience so expect there to be more time required to reduce the grocery spend this way.
There are also other methods you can use to reduce the overspend that are hugely well covered, things like avoid the centre aisles, don’t shop whilst hungry and only carry cash, but I don’t find those tips anywhere near as handy at reducing my overall grocery bill. I hope you have found some worth in these suggestions and would love to hear if you have anymore suggestions πŸ™‚ Β  -FIM

Don’t forget to check out other articles in the ‘Cutting Costs’ series!
Cutting Costs: Project Cereal
Cutting Costs: Project Water

Cutting Costs: Project Water

cutcostswaterWater bills are tricky, so much of the costs relates to the infrastructure more so than the actual usage costs, making it often a tricky place to save money. That said there are other reasons for reducing water usage other than saving money. Maybe you’re using tank water as your supply and thus rely on a finite amount of water, or maybe you prefer to use an environmentally sustainable amount of water.

As with all Cutting Cost tips you may find that not all of the tips offered suit you or your lifestyle but I’d rather be thorough with listing tips in the greatest hope of helping the most amount of people. Adopting even one of these tips will hopefully help you reduce some of your expenses.

  1. Collect water while waiting for hot water to come through the system. Once the habit is formed its easy to remember to have a container ready for collecting the cold water while awaiting the hot water to come through before having a shower or doing the dishes. Most times I collect around 2L of water which provides plenty of drinking water for myself throughout the day. I don’t tend to drink the water collected while waiting for the shower to warm up because our older taps imbue a coppery taste. Instead I use that water for filling up the cistern after flushing the toilet.
    Saving = 2-4L/day 14-28L/Week 728-1456L/year
    Potential yearly saving=$2.55-$5.11
  2. Collect and redistribute grey water. This tip can be dependent on your location as some local councils don’t allow grey water usage. Grey water is considered water that has previously been used, it’s things like your bath orΒ  laundry water which can be reused particularly in the garden. Utilising grey water does need to be done with caution as the detergents used may be detrimental to the environment. Grey water is great for helping keep your lawn green but caution is recommended if you decide to use it for watering fruit or vegetable crops.
    Saving = 70-980L/week 3,640-50,000L/year (calculated from efficient model with once a week runtime up to a less water efficient model and daily washing)
    Potential yearly saving= $12.77-$175.50
  3. Reduce your shower time. If reducing the amount of time spent in the shower isn’t feasible, can you turn the taps off while soaping up? We have a shower inside a bathtub allowing me to collect the water for Little Mister to have his bath at the same time I shower.
    Saving= 7L/minute 49-98L(or even more time reduced)/week 2,548-5,096
    Potential yearly savings=$8.94-$17.88 per person (5 person household could be up to $89 saving or more per year)
  4. Turn that tap off when you don’t need it. This is the basic advice – you don’t need the tap running while you are brushing your teeth for example.
    Savings= 5L/minute 140-280L/week 7,280-14,560L/year
    Potential yearly savings=$25.55-$51.10
  5. Check for leaks. Check your water meter and jot down the number it is at. Then use no water for an hour and recheck the number – if it has increased you likely have a leak somewhere. Sometimes this isn’t a feasible means of checking, for example if you are reliant on tank water or live in older units with a shared meter.
    Savings=100-500L/week 5,200-26,000L/year
    Potential yearly savings=$18.25-$91.26
  6. Install water efficient appliances. Washing machines, shower heads, toilet cisterns and taps all have more water efficient counterparts. Whilst the initial outlay may seem counterproductive, they will make their cost back over time due to the difference in savings from water (and possibly electricity) bills.
    Savings=2L/min 14-28L/week 728-1,456L/year or more if multiple appliances are installed. Added benefit – if you are renting out a property water efficient appliances are required in order to pass the water usage charges onto the tenants.
    Potential yearly savings $2.55-$5.11
  7. Don’t buy bottled water. Not quite a water bill slashing idea as it will add extra usage to your bill – however comparatively a 600ml bottle of water usually costs between $1-$3 depending on where you buy it. 600mls of water will set you back approximately 0.002c and also will help you reduce your footprint on the environment.
    Savings = environment and loads of $$
    Potential yearly savings = $1,092-$3,276 based on 3 bottles (1.8L) per day.

So while individually it is seemingly a minor reduction in the bills – from a worst case scenario it’s possible to save up to $365 off your yearly total – or almost $100 per quarter – and up to $3,500 if you stop buying disposable water bottles and instead invest in a decent reusable water bottle. Not to mention the benefits the above tips would all have on the environment long term.

Savings $$ calculations are based on the value of a kilolitre being $3.51 as per my latest water bill (in Brisbane in 2017) on the lowest tier. Averages of how many litres appliances use found through internet searches.

Do you have any water reduction tips?
Have you had success dropping the price of a water bill?

Don’t forget to check out other articles in the ‘Cutting Costs’ series!