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The Danger Of Discount Cards

By Mark Riddix

Store discount cards are popping up everywhere now, from your local grocery store to warehouse clubs. These cards are promoted as a way for customers to get increased savings on everyday items. Discount cards can be a good thing if they really allow you to save on items that would have cost you more elsewhere. Discount items can also be a bad thing because they can trick customers into believing that they are saving money when in fact they are not.

Here are 4 places where a discount card may not be all that it is cracked up to be:

1. Convenience store discount cards

Convenience stores are now offering discount cards to customers. Customers at CVS and Rite Aid are unable to purchase products on sale without these cards. Although discount cards may sound like a good deal, they are not all that they are cracked up to be. I have discovered that many “discounted” items sold at CVS and Rite Aid are still much more expensive than at my local grocer’s non-discounted prices. Convenience stores have such a huge markup on products that they can discount items and they will still cost substantially more than similar products at the average grocery store. Don’t be fooled by what looks like a drastic markdown in price. This lower price may still be expensive!

2. Health and fitness stores cards

Discount cards are the new thing at health stores that sell vitamins and supplements. Many of these stores like GNC charge an annual fee in order to become a member. I signed up for a GNC discount card and was surprised by all of the catches. You can only save money the first week of each month. After that, prices rise dramatically. Also, I found that even with the discounted prices many items were more expensive than at competitor stores such as The Vitamin Shoppe.

3. Discount travel programs

Travel discount programs often offer big savings on vacation travel anywhere in the world. They promise to save you money on flights, hotels, and car rentals. Customers often find that these discount programs fail to live up to their promises. Travel may be limited to only off-season travel. Hotel room stays may only be discounted during weekdays and at the least frequented times. Car rentals may not apply to the model that you wanted. Also, sometimes these programs have automatically renewals that will continue to bill you if you forget to cancel. Do your research ahead of time and make sure these programs will actually benefit your lifestyle and needs.

4. Dental discount cards

The trip to the dentist can be painful enough. Who wouldn’t want to save money on their dental visit? Dental discount cards are promoted as a way to obtain substantial savings on dental care. This is not always the case however. Card buyers often mistake dental discount cards for dental insurance. Customers are often shocked to learn that their dentist does not take their discount cards. You may end up being forced to drive clear across town to a new dentist in order to have your card honored .

Remember that all of these cards are not bad. You have to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis. Remember to “comparison shop” as well. A discount card at one grocer may be a great deal whereas a discount card at another grocer might actually end up costing you money. You’ll need to do your homework.

(Photo credit: jessica mullen)

Mark Riddix
Mark Riddix is the founder and president of an independent investment advisory firm that provides personalized investing and asset management consulting. Mark has written financial columns for Baltimore and Washington, D.C. area newspapers and is the author of the book, Your Financial Playbook.

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  • Mletta

    I would take issue with one of your comments, based on where we live (MAJOR metropolitan East Coast city).

    You write:
    “Convenience stores have such a huge markup on products that they can discount items and they will still cost substantially more than similar products at the average grocery store. Don’t be fooled by what looks like a drastic markdown in price. This lower price may still be expensive!”

    True, one always has to compare prices, whether you’re in CVS or Walgreen or Walmart or Target, or the local supermarket.

    But in our city, CVS and Rite Aid frequently have far cheaper prices on sale items than we can get elsewhere (we don’t have the option of big chain supermarkets and in our city, supermarkets are FAR MORE EXPENSIVE than the drugstore chains, which are everywhere.)

    We don’t have cars(or space) so we really can’t go and stock up at warehouse stores, which I would prefer for many nonperishable items.

    We also order online from amazon. If you watch for their “sales” or order stuff with subscribe and save discounts, you can really get some good buys. (usually shipping is free and we have Prime, which saves us a fortune in shipping costs and is still a big savings compared to having to schlepp stuff on public transportation, if we even can.)

    You have to know the area you live in and cost out what it really costs to take public transportation to go and get stuff on sale or otherwise. What seems like a bargain isn’t so much of one if you’re paying $4.50 and up per trip to get it (We do consolidate all our errands but you can only carry so much.)

    The other thing about discount cards for CVS is their dollars back program. Again, you need to shop carefully to time your purchases to sales, etc. but if you do, it can be a substantial savings.

    What’s really tough here in the city is the lack of real product diversity and the high cost of stuff in supermarkets (unless on a big sale).

    Once you hit the suburbs, the costs (generally, but not in ALL areas) go down, for many items. But again, it depends on where you live and where you are shopping.

    We use FreshDirect a lot and if you shop carefully, you can often get most items cheaper than at the supermarket. We buy a delivery pass and it averages out to about $1.50 for a delivery. Even with a tip, it’s much less than what it would cost for transportation, not to mention that we don’t have to physically pack it up and cart it home (this is huge as we have health issues).

  • http://www.moneyedup.com/ Moneyedup

    I’m not sure how I feel about discount cards. PetSmart has a discount card now, and you can’t buy items at the sale price without it. When faced with the option to either sign up for the discount card or to pay the full price a friend of mine opted to pay the full price to avoid the hassle of handing over all his personal information and contact information. As a member of this discount club you are bombarded with emails about sales and promotions, and they will send things to you in the mail.

    • Chris

      Moneyedup, one trick is to sign up for all of your discount cards by giving a single bogus phone number. When you pay at the register, you don’t have to hunt for your card or even carry it with you, just give them the bogus phone number you submitted on the application and you get the discount. You just have to make sure the bogus phone number you give isn’t someone else’s real phone number. I use an old phone number that used to be mine several years ago and has not been recycled, to my knowledge.

      • http://buylikebuffett.com/ Mark Riddix

        Good idea Chris.

    • http://buylikebuffett.com/ Mark Riddix

      It can be a real hassle. You have to weigh the costs vs. the benefits of signing up for one.

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