Debby Waldman's Blog

How Many Million Points Will get me a Larger Wallet?

How Many Million Points Will get me a Larger Wallet?
November 19, 2005
Edmonton Journal

The other day I went to a discount department store to buy some storage bins to hide the clutter that has piling up in my house like snow in February. When the cashier handed me the receipt for my $65 purchase, she said, “You received 5000 points today, Miss Waldman!”
I wasn’t sure I’d heard her clearly. “How many points do I have altogether?” I asked, visions of large-screen TVs and Hawaiian holidays taking up residence in that part of my brain where reality usually resides.
“150,000,” she said.
At the grocery store where I collect most of my points, anything in the 150,000 range is enough to exchange for small appliances and short-haul airplane trips.
However, because the points accumulate so slowly, I can never imagine having enough to trade them in for something spectacular. Until recently I would succumb to the seduction of COOKIES! FREE FOR 1200 POINTS! or FRENCH BREAD ! FREE FOR 1500 POINTS! thus wiping out whatever I had managed to collect.
It was only when my children began haranguing me that I disciplined myself. “Stop wasting your points on cookies and junk, Mom,” they ordered. “We can buy a TV if you just save them.”
I didn’t want to tell them that we’d have to buy several million dollars worth of groceries, including Brussels sprouts and beans, to make their dreams a reality. However, I recognized the merits of their arguments, even though it was painful to be reprimanded by people who haven’t yet lost all their baby teeth.
I reined myself in. At last count I had saved 4,884 points. I believe that’s enough for celery.
The discount department store points program was clearly more generous than the grocery store, but I wasn’t familiar with its redemption program, so I asked the cashier for a catalogue.
“May I please have your club card back for a minute?” she asked brightly. “You get another 50 points when you receive the catalog!”
This was beginning to seem too good to be true which, of course, it was. In the points-for-products scheme at this particular emporium, 150,000 was barely enough for a travel mug.
That got me irritated, which also got me thinking: why is it that I can no longer shop without being forced to embrace a complex web of club cards, points, rewards systems, and assorted other schemes that have nothing to do with making my experience easier and everything to do with suckering me into thinking I’m getting something for nothing?
In fact, it’s the stores who are getting something for nothing: all those gimmicks are their way of tracking my every shopping move. The “rewards”  are the bone they toss consumers for sacrificing our privacy. I didn’t mind it so much when only one store had a points system but now it’s out of control.
The other night a friend told me that her pet store just started issuing membership cards. She was going to resist – “I don’t have any room left in my wallet,” she said but when she asked what would happen if she didn’t apply, the cashier informed her she’d have to pay full price for everything. In other words, if she didn’t sign up, she’d be punished.
She buckled. Now she’s going to have to buy a second wallet, which is what I had to do after I began acquiring membership cards at hotel and gas station chains. I rarely use them but I can’t bring myself to get rid of them: all evidence points to the contrary, but I fervently believe that someday I will get my spectacular reward.
Last summer I tried getting a free night at a hotel. The customer relations clerk all but laughed at me. I can’t remember her exact words, but they were something along the lines of, “You don’t even have enough points to book a wash cloth.”
When my husband and I came home from the discount department store, we embarked on a clutter-removal operation that took three days and much reassuring on his part that indeed, I could live without the knick-knacks I’d been hoarding since elementary school.
And that’s true. But it occurs to me that if we really want to get rid of clutter, I ought to toss my second wallet, too.

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