Get ready for hoops season. No, not the NBA regular season. We’re talking about the holiday shopping season, in which consumers jump through all kinds of hoops to save money.
And Peggy Houghton is one of the star players.
When Houghton, 47, bought an iPad in September, she didn’t just pull out her credit card. She first drafted a play by calculating how much she’d spend, making special trips to a grocery store to buy gift cards for another store to cover the cost of the iPad, and ultimately saving $2 per gallon of gas.
Some shoppers might want to copy this idea if it makes sense during the holidays.
Houghton hears plenty of people tell her they don’t have time to score deals like she does.
She doesn’t have oodles of time, either, as a professor at Baker College in Flint, Mich., and co-creator of writing-style guides that simplify detailed manuals at HoughtonAndHoughton.com. But she doesn’t buy into the “No-time-to-save-money” excuses.
Her blunt reply: “Do you watch TV at night?”
Various promotions that will run for the holiday season – such as free layaway programs, extra reward points for online purchases or special deals on gas – can be attractive. But what are the rules?
Houghton, who did work to understand the rules, was happy after she tapped into a promotion involving gift cards and gas discounts.
Shoppers need to know that the Kroger promotion varies throughout the year and has different rules in different states. After doing some advance shopping, she knew she’d spend about $1,100 on an iPad at Best Buy, given the features she wanted and a warranty.
She heard Kroger was offering four times the points for discounts on gas if you bought gift cards during a limited time. She bought $500 in Best Buy gift cards from Kroger in August. And she bought another $500 in Best Buy gift cards from Kroger in September.
She received 4,000 points total – or 2,000 points for each month. That gave her $2 off a gallon up to 35 gallons during a two-month period at Kroger stand-alone stations. That was a total savings of nearly $140 on gas after spending $1,000 on Best Buy gift cards at Kroger.
How well this works also depends on how close you are to a participating location that offers fuel through the Kroger program. At the Shell stations that take Kroger points, the most you can get off is 10 cents a gallon.
“There’s a boatload of possibilities with gift cards,” Houghton said.
Dale Hollandsworth, a spokesman for Kroger in Novi, Mich., said different promotions are tested in different markets.
The four-times-your-points deal is a special offer that is around only a few times a year.
Kroger often brings it out during shopping seasons, such as back-to-school and Christmas.
The key, of course, is picking up the gift cards that you’re going to use anyway – maybe Home Depot or Lowe’s if you’re buying paint to spruce up a guest room.
“A lot of the younger people seem to have caught on to this gift card deal,” Hollandsworth said.
He works with a man who stops at Kroger to buy gift cards – say, for an Applebee’s – every Friday evening before taking his wife out to dinner at a restaurant.
Sure, this is a strategy that you need to manage like a business.
Sometimes, it can work if you take the time to see how some deals, including using coupons and loyalty programs at drug stores, can interconnect – which is another savings tool that Houghton uses.
SAVINGS IN THE HOLIDAYS
• Read fine print of special promotions. Go online to see whether consumers are complaining about any drawbacks to deals.
• To free up disposable income, stop spending on some items that aren’t necessities in October, November and December to create more room in your budget.
• Pay attention to coupons in the paper and at online sites. If traveling for Thanksgiving, make sure to bring coupons that could work along the way. If driving, consider options for saving money on gas during the trip too.
Fred Meyer gift card promotions
At Fred Meyer, which is owned by Kroger, gift card purchasers ordinarily earn twice the number of reward points as the value of the card. Thus, a $100 gift card would earn the purchaser 200 points, said Fred Meyer spokeswoman Melinda Merrill.
During November and December this year, Fred Meyer will award gift card purchasers four times the number of points as the value of the gift card. That same $100 purchase of a gift card would earn the purchaser 400 points.
One hundred points earn a Fred Meyer rewards card holder a 10-cent-per-gallon discount at the pump for one transaction. Four hundred points would be good for a 10-cent-per-gallon discount on four gasoline transactions.
QFC, another Northwest grocery chain owned by Kroger, wasn’t immediately available for comment on its gift card reward policies.Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stompor@ freepress.com. email@example.com