6 Brand Loyalty Programs That Are Actually Worth Joining

These brand loyalty programs are worth the extra emails.

There are probably a lot of things that draw you to your favorite stores. The products, obviously, the sales and the friendly salespeople all might be part of it, but a seriously rocking loyalty or rewards program is probably not far behind. Whether a loyalty program is free or has a small fee, if the benefits are plenty, it can be worth all the extra mail and email you’ll likely receive — or even a small yearly charge. (If you tend to pay balances off in full and want to maximize your earning potential, you may want to consider a rewards credit card as well.)

Here are some of the best loyalty programs we’ve seen around.

1. CVS

If not all pharmacies are created equal, then not all pharmacy rewards programs are created equal either. CVS’ ExtraCare Rewards stands out, for starters, because it’s free. Customers earn 2% back in ExtraBuck Rewards every single time they use their ExtraCare card, and additional savings are easy to find through ExtraCare emails, the CVS Pharmacy app and the weekly ad or throughout the store. You can save paper by using the “send to card” option to send selected offers from online directly to your ExtraCare card rather than printing them off to bring to the store.

2. Barnes & Noble

Becoming a B&N member isn’t free — it’ll cost you $25 a year — but if you’re an avid reader, the fee will likely be worth it. For starters, new members receive $50 in bonus coupons for joining. (Use ‘em all and you’ve already made up your initiation fee!) Members also receive member-exclusive savings options, free express shipping online with no minimum purchase, plus 40% off the list prices of current hardcover bestsellers and 10% off the price of other eligible items.

3. PetSmart

Animal owners can join the PetSmart PetPerks rewards program to start saving more on their pet purchases. Membership is free, and members receive discounts on in-store purchases, as well as special coupons sent directly to them in the mail. For more ways to save on your furbabies, sign up for the brand’s auto-ship plan, which provides 20% off and free shipping on the first auto ship order, plus 5% off and free shipping every time after. (Some exclusions apply.)

4. Sephora

For product lovers, the Sephora Beauty Insider Program is a dream come true. Sign up for free on the Sephora site and every dollar you spend earns a point that can be put towards free beauty products. (The points you need to purchase certain products can be found online.) Members also get a birthday gift, access to free beauty classes, and for an extra $10/year members get access to flash two-day shipping on all online orders.

5. Bed Bath & Beyond

Home goods superstore BB&B doesn’t have a specific rewards program, per se, but creating a free account online and providing your home address at the store will supply you with endless coupon offers. The best part? The store usually accepts coupons even after they’ve expired — though you probably won’t need to bother since you’ll likely have a new one waiting for you in your mailbox or inbox by your next purchase, anyway.

6. Starbucks

Pricey as their drinks may be, Starbucks does have a smashing (and free) rewards program. Starbucks Rewards members earn two “stars” for every $1 spent with your registered card to put towards future drinks. There are four ways to enroll in the program (online, through the mobile app, directly from a retailer or through a business affiliate), and you can earn also stars by entering star codes found inside specially marked packaged of Starbucks products as well. Starbucks fans can find more ways to save on their daily cup of coffee (or two) here.

Remember, you don’t want the lure of rewards to lead you to overspend. High levels of debt can affect your bank account and credit score. You can see where your credit currently stands by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.

Note: It’s important to remember that prices for products and services frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms cited in this article may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with the company directly.

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5 Ways to Save Money at Best Buy


For me, the closest Best Buy is a good 25-minute drive, and there are very few things I absolutely need today that can’t wait for two-day shipping. But sometimes, most often for video games, I “need” something that day, so visiting Best Buy becomes an option.

Here are some tips for getting the most for your money at Best Buy.

1. Take Advantage of Price Match

Do you need something today but want to pay the lowest prices possible? Use Best Buy’s Price Match Guarantee.

Best Buy will match the prices of their local and internet competitors on a variety of products. They will match any local retailer if you bring in proof of pricing as well as a list of online retailers including Amazon.com, Newegg.com, TigerDirect.com and more. There are product exclusions, like contract phones and special sales like Black Friday after Thanksgiving, but otherwise the program is solid.

If price matching to Amazon, make sure the product is being sold by Amazon, not a third-party seller, and not on backorder. If the pricing is for a third-party or not available, Best Buy will not price match it.

2. Check the Open Box Deals

People return things, and when they’re resell-able, Best Buy puts them back out in the store in a special Open Box area. The products in this area have all been tested and work properly, but they’re on big discount since they’ve been opened and technically used. You can get the biggest savings on the highest-dollar items versus smaller accessories, and they’re covered by the same warranty.

3. Join the Loyalty Program

When you join the store’s loyalty program, called My Best Buy, you get a $5 certificate for every $250 you spend. You can use these rewards online and at the store.

You also get free shipping on online orders of $35 or more, plus additional savings on member-only offers, special sales and the like.

As you move up the tiers, to Elite and Elite Plus, you get additional benefits. Elite and Elite Plus earn bonus points on spending, get free shipping with no minimum spend, as well as other benefits like extended return and exchange periods (30 and 45 days, respectively). Elite is awarded after $1,500 in purchases each calendar year. Elite Plus is awarded after $3,500 in purchases each calendar year.

Best Buy also offers a Gamers Club, which costs $30 for a two-year membership. In return, you get discounts on new and used games, bonus points on purchases and trade-ins, and other exclusive offers.

4. College Student Deals

If you are a student or still have your .edu email address, take a look at Best Buy’s College Student Deals. In addition to the special deals on that page, you’ll also get emails with coupon codes for additional discounts that you can use online and in the store.

5. Buy Discounted Gift Cards

You can purchase Best Buy gift cards at a big discount on gift card marketplaces. GiftCardGranny, one such marketplace search engine, has several listings for Best Buy gift cards at a 5% discount to their face value. Five percent, plus the 2% in points you earn on purchases, means your purchases are now 7% off. If you’re buying games and are part of the Gamers Club, your savings are magnified.

Remember, there are plenty of ways to save big without feeling deprived. While each piece listed here may not be impressive on its own, when you stack each one together, it can result in significant savings.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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8 Stores With Loyalty Programs That Actually Save You Money

Loyalty programs can be a dime a dozen these days, so it’s worth it to know which ones really pay — and which ones just want you to spend more in their stores. OK, to be fair, they all want you to spend, but there’s a difference between racking up points that don’t ever give a return versus receiving a sweet freebie on your birthday. (For more ways to get perks, you can check out these rewards credit cards.)

Check out our roundup of eight we really like below, and let us know in the comments if we missed any of your favorites.

Bloomingdale’s Loyallist

How it Works: Earn points for every dollar spent online, in-store and at outlets.

What You Get: A $25 reward card every time you reach 5,000 points. Members can achieve Top of the List status by spending $3,500 on their Bloomingdale’s card in a calendar year. They’ll earn four points per dollar when shopping on their Bloomingdale’s card, free shipping with no minimum purchase and free unlimited gift wrap, among other perks.

Power Up: Members earn double points on shoes, cosmetics and fragrances.

Starbucks Rewards

How it Works: The green mermaid’s new program rewards two Stars for every dollar spent, which means more stars for the coffee and food you purchase. And your pennies count, too, toward partial stars. For example, if you spend $6.20 (not including tax, tips, alcohol or other exceptions), you will collect 12.40 Stars, not just 12.

What You Get: Earning 300 Stars grants you Gold status, which means a personalized card, mobile payment options and all the perks that come with Green status, such as free in-store refills on coffee and tea. Every time you earn 125 stars, you get a reward you can exchange for a drink or food.

Sweet Treat: Two days before your birthday, you’ll receive a complimentary birthday reward, which you can redeem for a free drink or food item. Just note it expires the day after your birthday.

Hertz Gold Plus Rewards

How it Works: Members earn a point for every dollar spent on rentals and optional service charges, such as fuel and GPS tracking.

What You Get: Members can redeem points for a day, week or weekend car rental. AnyDay rewards have no blackout dates, while Standard Rewards “are available during all but the most busy travel periods,” per Hertz’s site.

Vroom, Vroom: All members get to bypass the wait times at the counter.

Sephora Beauty Insider 

How it Works: Every dollar spent earns a point toward more beauty goods.

What You Get: Basic members can receive free, two-day shipping on all orders for $10 a year, while VIB-level members (who’ve earned $350 worth of points) are entitled to a free makeover and seasonal savings. VIB Rouge members, who’ve earned $1,000 worth of points, get free two-day shipping at no extra cost, plus a free private hotline to call for beauty tips.

Looking Good: All members receive a free birthday gift — this month they’re offering a luxe mini set from Fresh or Marc Jacobs Beauty — and free beauty classes.

Regal Cinemas’ Crown Club

How it Works: Members earn 100 credits for every dollar spent on tickets and concessions.

What You Get: Free upgrades on snacks and movie swag, like an Angry Birds Movie plush toy.

Scene Stealer: Free movies!

DSW Rewards

How it Works: Earn 10 points for every dollar spent in store or online.

What You Get: Birthday offers, $10 rewards for every 1,500 points earned and bi-annual double points days. Members who earn 6,000 qualifying points by spending $600 in a calendar year can become a DSW Rewards Premier member, which means free next-day shipping on available items, more points per dollar and priority customer service.

Step Right Up: Free shipping is standard.

Petco’s Pals Rewards

How it Works: Earn $5 rewards for every $100 spent.

What You Get: Everyday discounts on products, plus coupons and offers.

Linked Up: Fill out your online profile, and you can receive coupons for a birthday treat for Fido.

Panera Bread’s MyPanera

How it Works: Scan the card each time you order — they simply take note of how often you eat here instead of giving you points.

What You Get: From time to time, you’ll be rewarded with free drinks or treats.

Chow Down: Members are rewarded as soon as they join.

Even though these reward programs may inspire you to spend more to get more perks, you shouldn’t do so at the detriment of your bank account. Going into debt because you’re trying to reach the next reward level simply isn’t worth it. If you have found yourself overspending, whether to get more points or for some other reason, consider these tips to on how to cut back without feeling deprived. If you’re working on paying off credit card debts, you can see how the changes you’re making are affecting your credit score, which you can see for free on Credit.com.

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How to Plan a Cheap Prom Without Your Kid Knowing It

If your teen is attending prom, you’re going to spend no matter what. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make smart choices to minimize costs. A good thing to do first is explain to your teen that prom is not a financial free for all. Discuss your budget to set expectations, and if they want something that’s beyond the budget, they can contribute money they have set aside from babysitting and odd jobs!

Here are some tips to help you cut down those costs so you and your teen can focus on making the night special.

1. Find Deals on a Limo

No matter how much you’d like to drive everyone to the prom in your minivan to save money (and to keep an eye on them), it’s unlikely your teen will go for it. Instead, encourage them to carpool with other couples or, if it’s all about a limo, to split the cost as a group. Check coupon sites like FatWallet and Coupons.com as well as flash sale sites like Groupon and Living Social for deals.

2. Buy Clothes You Can Alter

If the prom is black-tie, your son will need to rent a tux (unless he has one from a recent wedding). If it’s not, consider buying a suit because there will surely be other occasions he can wear it. He’s probably still growing, so consider buying pants (and jacket sleeves) a little too long and tacking them up with a loose blind stitch or even double sided tape.

For dresses, your daughter can check out local consignment shops and sites such as eBay and Rent the Runway. She’ll be surprised by all the gently used gems out there. If you can’t find anything used, hit the mall but focus on finding a dress that suits her, not on the latest fashions. If she’s debating between a sale dress with a less-than-perfect fit and a full-price dress that’s just right, remember, there’s always tailoring. You can anticipate adding at least a $35 tailoring fee, but if you are deciding between an $80 dress that needs tailoring and a $450 one that doesn’t, it’s a no brainer!

3. Score Shoes That Will Last

When buying shoes for prom, think beyond the formal event. Will your teen wear them again? For boys, this is fairly easy: He’ll probably need dress shoes at some point. For girls, guide them towards shoes that are cute but comfortable enough to wear all evening and pair with other outfits.

4. Let Them Borrow Your Baubles

These items shouldn’t cost a thing. Lend some things from your own collection or borrow something special from a family member. If your teen would prefer to shop, cute and reasonably priced clutches and baubles can be found at trendy stores — and sites — such as Claire’s, Baublebar and ASOS.

5. Get Crafty With Flowers

It’s cheaper to make your own corsages and boutonnieres than to buy them at the local flower shop (especially if there are blooms in your garden). There are videos like this one on YouTube, and even if you don’t consider yourself crafty, you can make something pretty in no time with a few basic supplies, like floral tape, floral wire, scissors, pins and, of course, a few flowers.

6. Skip the Salon

There’s no need to splurge on an expensive prom package at a salon. Check into hair-styling services at a nearby beauty school, where the price will be a fraction of what you’d pay otherwise. For makeup, check out counters at places like Sephora, Ulta or your local department store. My recommendation would be to walk around the cosmetic department and find an artist who does beautiful makeovers. If you’re lucky, the brand they represent will offer a free makeup application session for prom but as a former makeup artist, I urge you to buy a few products afterwards so you’re not wasting their time.

7. Take Your Own Photos

Skip the pricey photo package and channel your inner Annie Leibovitz. Use your own camera or whatever device (phone or tablet) takes the best photos and preserve the memory with an affordable framed print. You can download or even use images from social media.

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5 Money Truths Smart People Forget

We’ve all been there: You’re thinking so hard about how to solve a problem that you don’t notice the solution is right in front of you. Smart people do this all the time, sometimes overcomplicating their personal finances.

By overlooking simple financial truths, otherwise intelligent people can make a mess of their finances.

Take a look at some of these simple financial truths. Which ones deserve more of your attention?

1. Behavior Significantly Affects the Results of Financial Plans

Even the most intricate financial plans are not immune to human behavior.

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to be rational and reasonable on paper, but it’s another story to be rational and reasonable in practice.

Financial planners understand this, as they have experienced firsthand how clients will often drift from the path laid before them — many times capsizing their lives.

Our desire for instant gratification and quick solutions can overshadow long-term plans. For example:

Desperate actions are often followed by sharp consequences.

Never avoid the simple financial truth that, even though you have a financial plan, you must use significant self control to see positive results.

2. Even the Wealthy Need a Budget

Smart people are often good at making a living — a great living.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t need a budget. Sometimes they think they don’t, but they’re wrong. Well, that is, unless they want to be severely ineffective with their funds.

Wealth brings with it a great deal of responsibility. Making big mistakes with few assets results in few losses. Making big mistakes with many assets results in huge losses.

Many wealthy people don’t feel the need to create a budget because they are able to “out pay” their financial negligence. But that comes at a high cost.

Instead, if you’re wealthy, you should truly consider the long-term benefits of creating a budget. By doing so, you should be able to identify several areas where you can save some money, which you could turn around and invest. You’ll also have the opportunity to prioritize your spending so you can make the most of your awesome income.

The smart thing to do is get on a budget — regardless of your financial status.

3. Money Isn’t What Matters Most in Life

Smart people are great at calculations. But sometimes they get wrapped up in finance so much they forget the simple financial truth that money isn’t what matters most.

Money is simply a means to achieve certain financial goals. It can’t buy everything, and it certainly can’t buy the most important things in life.

Think about your family. Think about the meaning behind your work. Think about your friendships and the way you help others. These are all more important than money.

However, money certainly can help your family. It can also enable you to embark on a new career path. And, it can help you go out to have a good time with friends or give to others in need.

Money can certainly help you in many ways. But it isn’t the full story. Money never buys the best relationships or the most meaningful work. That’s because money is a tool. But there’s something deeper that allows the most important things in life to be realized.

4. Flexibility Is As Important As Structure

This might sound somewhat counterintuitive, but when it comes to finance, flexibility is as important as structure.

Imagine, for a moment, that you receive a medical bill in the mail. You open it up, take a look, and gasp as you read the total: $2,150. You don’t have an emergency fund to cover this, and no category in your budget is relevant to this expense.

What should you do? You have a few options:

  1. Don’t pay the bill because it wasn’t in your budget. While this is the strictest way of handling the situation, and while you’d technically be sticking to your budget, there are legal and moral consequences for not paying a bill you rightfully owe. (Not to mention the credit score damage a late payment can have.)
  2. Give up on your budget entirely because it didn’t work and pay the bill. This is the most flexible option, although it destroys your future budget in the process. However, it does meet your legal and moral obligations.
  3. Move some money from a few categories to another and pay the bill. This is a flexible method, but it’s also one that involves some structure. This meets your moral and legal obligation while ensuring that you pay less money for something else while you’re paying more toward something you didn’t expect.

As you can see, the third option is the most reasonable. Going forward, you can also make sure to budget for medical bills. The extremes of absolute structure and absolute flexibility are dangerous extremes.

5. Some People Have to Learn About Money the Hard Way

Smart people often do a face-palm when they see someone else who is about to make a financial mistake. They will often try to prevent them from making the mistake, and rightfully so. The problem is, it doesn’t always work.

If you’re savvy with your finances, don’t be discouraged when those around you make financial mistakes against your better advice. It happens. Some people just have to learn about money the hard way.

As a financial adviser, I see people make financial mistakes all the time. The best thing I can do is keep on proclaiming my message. If they take it, great. If not, I’ll keep trying. You shouldn’t give up either.

Being smart is fantastic. Just don’t forget about the simple financial truths that allow apply your intelligence in practical situations.

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