What's in My Wallet is a series of posts from WalletPop writers and editors that will help you maximize your financial self according to what you carry.
Some store cards are great: You go to the grocery store and they offer you instant savings on items you're buying. Other store cards pretend to be great: Giving you "points" that you accumulate, and when you reach some astronomical total, they send you a few bucks or a prize.
I say all this a little tongue in cheek, but the truth is that the rewards cards aren't really for your benefit. (Who knew?) They're really for the benefit of the store. They're meant to encourage loyalty, much in the same way that frequent flier miles are intended to get you to pick a favorite airline. They're meant to encourage you to spend more money at their store.
And the cards become dangerous when you do, in fact, spend more than you normally would. How many times has your store clerk said, "If you just spend X more dollars today, you'll qualify for ____?" Or have they done the McDonald's "Would you like fries with that?" No, I don't need extra ink for my printer, and no I don't want your stinkin' points!
Cashiers are trained to look for add-ons to your purchase to increase the store's revenues. Don't let some rewards points on a store card be your reason for spending more. Don't try to justify a purchase by figuring how many dollars you'll get back through the funky points system. Just say no and save your money!
Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.