As a child, I went grocery shopping with my adult sister at a store that didn't exist in my hometown. When she checked out, the cashier gave her a number of stamps based on how much she had spent, and she discovered that she had enough saved to treat me to a toy chosen from the store's stamp redemption counter. Even though I hadn't seen her save the stamps over several trips, I remember the thrill of seeing how saving up that pile of stamps paid off! It was an early lesson in saving for me and one I didn't forget.

Buyer loyalty programs have changed quite a bit over the past several decades; instead of giving customers stamps they can collect and exchange for merchandise, grocery stores generally offer discounts or free turkeys at Thanksgiving in exchange for purchases of a certain dollar amount, and everything is tracked electronically. Two drawbacks to this method (from the buyers' perspective) are that children can't store stamps in a box, and points can't be given to friends.

While nearly all store loyalty programs have switched to electronic tracking, many manufacturers still have programs that use physical tokens of some sort on their packaging (UPCs, codes to enter online, or small cut-out logos) to encourage brand loyalty among customers. When you already buy a product regularly, it's nice even for adults to get some bonus freebies now and then by saving these tokens. If you have kids, it's also a great opportunity to teach them about saving. They can choose a prize they like and help clip UPCs or logos, counting how many they still need to “earn” the prize.

The list of companies offering loyalty programs of this type changes frequently. Some programs — such as Betty Crocker points — last for generations, but others are only around for a few weeks or months (no longer than a coupon or rebate promotion and barely long enough to save for a good reward). For this reason, if you see an incentive you like on a product you would probably buy anyway, it might be worthwhile to stock up right away. I recently spotted an offer for a long-sleeved t-shirt on a Pop Tarts box. The cost of the four or five boxes of Pop Tarts I needed to get it would have been less than the cost of the t-shirt, so I bought them all right away. Had I not stocked up, I would have Pop Tarts but no t-shirt because the next time I was in the store, those “specially marked boxes” were no longer there. If you do buy more than you usually would, be sure the price is right, and explain to your children how buying multiple products you regularly use at a bargain price can help you save in the long run.

In addition to varying durations, each incentive program differs in offerings and rules, so be sure to read the fine print. Some programs, such as Hershey's short-lived 2007 Wrapper Cash promotion, require you to bid on items, using wrappers or tokens from packaging as money. These promotions cash in on the popularity of eBay and other online auction sites, but I would much prefer knowing how much each reward costs so I can teach my children how to make a saving goal.

To get started, here are some national brand loyalty programs, on whose products you can look for tokens you and your family can save for prizes:

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1 Comment

  1. Are you kidding me?? Your description of all the different types and variety of on-package “loyalty programs” is daunting. Give me a loyalty card ANY DAY! I’d rather see my points status on each receipt from the store than to think about all the work it takes to clip stuff off of many product packages, read the program rules to make sure you qualify (they all differ), create all the online logins, etc. My kid knows how to save at the store and asks to give my loyalty card to the cashier, which is training him to scan a card to instantly save or earn rewards. We prefer the hassle free methods of saving.

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