Points Cards: A (Mostly) Painless Way to Be Generous with Bonus Rewards

November 18, 2015

I’m trying to try something new. Yes, “trying to try”: I know it sounds very passive, and, yes, maybe a little pathetic.

But this is real life, folks, and this is a difficult challenge! Trying to try is about as much as I can commit to in front of all of you friends & the internet.

We all have points cards, right? A credit card, a frequent shopper card, a reward bonus for Best Buy or the bookstore. Even large grocery chains have moved to this model, after realizing that their old version (where you have to sacrifice your personal & shopping information to gain access to the real price of a jar of tomato sauce) was obnoxious, and probably a bit unethical.

But, as these programs have become more of the norm, I have wondered how much I feel like these bonuses are no longer bonuses, but expected, even owed to me. Like my daughter, who, upon returning from trick-or-treating and dumping out her candy, exclaimed, “Look at all of these treats I’ve earned!”

We do earn the points, in a way… we are the ones spending the money that causes the points to accumulate. But, are those points what I am paying for? Or am I paying for the item with the price tag? Indeed, sometimes the price tag is higher to absorb the cost of these programs (which is why the very lowest price stores, like Walmart, don’t have these cards), but when I personally am shopping, I’m really just assessing what is on the tag, not what I am going to get back from it later. If I am transacting an honest exchange at a fair price, should I expect more?

There is a little piece of the ancient Jewish law where the people of Israel are told that when they reap the harvest of their own land, they should not go back and collect the bits that have been dropped or missed. Those left-over “gleanings” should be left for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor.

I heard this and wondered whether my points were a bit like the gleanings of my harvest. So, I have tried this year to use my grocery points not for myself, but only on goods that will be gifted. To buy food for the food bank, or last week, to buy the contents for our shoebox.

I think that for anyone who is on a very tight budget, these programs can provide a fantastic reprieve for the late-in-the-bill-cycle grocery shop. When we were students with very minimal income and two kids, I cashed in our credit card points for gift cards (for the mall, toy store, book chain) that I used to buy our Christmas gifts; I was so very thankful to have this way to minimize the expense of the holiday without having to forgo presents or hand-make everything!

You may be in this place, and maybe it is a space that lasts a year, or a few years, or many years; if so, what a great gift & reprieve! But, if you are not in this same need, what might this concept look like for you?

Can you buy food for the food bank? Or, the supplies to host a meal & invite someone who is lonely or hungry or in need? Maybe you could use your points to buy a toy to donate to a child without one, or a coat & mitts for a local drop-in center? To buy a coffee as a random act of kindness for weary retail employee? The points could potentially be used to purchase the cash donations requested by the cashier for the store’s chosen charity; or, some points programs even allow you to donate the points directly.

If you shop a lot and don’t participate in these programs, I say Go For It!  You may not have any need for the extra bonuses, but someone else could use them, for sure.

I confess that this can be a real challenge if you have come to depend on or enjoy the free cash or goods. I still used our points this year for Christmas gifts, and it will take some practice and re-working to change this habit for next year.

But maybe, along with me, you can try an act here or there and see what you think. Try it on for size. Give it a go.

Any other ideas of how to use bonus points generously? We’re all ears; comment below:

 


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