Own your re­ward points, don’t let them own you

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

Con­fes­sion: I hate re­wards schemes. OK, hate is too strong, but I do re­sent them.

I don’t buy the pop­u­lar idea of re­wards, which is that they give you some­thing for noth­ing.

They de­mand my time, fum­bling in wal­lets, ac­cess­ing web­sites, reading state­ments, pon­der­ing at Count­down shelves reading those ir­ri­tat­ing eye-wa­ter­ingly glar­ing lit­tle bonus buy tags. They swell my wal­let to lu­di­crous fat­ness, and they com­pli­cate sim­ple pur­chases. I bought a Wii game for my daugh­ter a month ago, and in­stead of just pay­ing the price, I was treated to a 10-minute in­duc­tion into a re­wards pro­gramme I didn’t want to be in­volved in.

The same hap­pened when I bought some tramp­ing gear. Why did I sub­mit? I had no choice. Un­less I sub­mit­ted, they’d have charged me more. It was re­tail black­mail.

I went into the shop to buy a fleece, not form a life­long re­la­tion­ship. I’ve as many of those as I can man­age al­ready. Un­less re­wards schemes are a kind of col­lec­tive mad­ness, they ex­ist for the sole rea­son that they give re­tail­ers power to shape our pref­er­ences, com­mu­ni­cate with us from afar, and ul­ti­mately make more money out of us.

In my sun­nier mo­ments, I con­sider them like credit cards – a tool smart peo­ple use to get a lit­tle ex­tra value, with stupid peo­ple sub­si­dis­ing them through their daft, eas­ily shaped be­hav­iour.

But mostly, I just think they cre­ate an ex­tra layer of mar­ket­ing costs which has to be clawed back through gen­er­ally higher prices, and that the whole thing is a con­jurer’s sleight-of-hand draw­ing at­ten­tion from prices that are too high. A walk down any bonus-buys/price spe­cials-fes­tooned aisle at Count­down would lead you to be­lieve you were get­ting bar­gain af­ter bar­gain, but chances are you’d still come out pay­ing more for your bas­ket of goods than if you went to Pak ’ n Save, or in Aus­tralia, or the US, or Bri­tain.

The usual money colum­nist wis­dom on re­wards schemes is disin­gen­u­ous and my­opi­cally sim­plis­tic. Ac­cept them into your life, but do not let them change your be­hav­iour.

I can hear the peo­ple from Fly­buys and the banks laugh­ing from here.

My strat­egy is to sign up to re­wards schemes when you have no choice, and then stu­diously ig­nore them. Treat them as a source of pleas­ant sur­prise. Have the Onecard, but only re­mem­ber when you are asked at the till.

Have that Sub­way or St Pierre’s Sushi card, but only re­mem­ber you have it at the door.

When my favourite book­store (Time Out in Mount Eden) sur­prises me with a dis­count be­cause of what I spent last time, I smile hap­pily and ac­cept it. Why not, I think?

Sign up for the credit card re­wards if you run your mort­gage off it, and then once a year, al­low your­self to be pleas­antly sur­prised by the points you have and use it to buy Christ­mas presents for the kids, or do some­thing re­ally dull, like con­vert­ing them to Ki­wiSaver con­tri­bu­tions ( BNZ and West­pac do this) or pay­ing the credit card fee so you don’t start get­ting too ex­cited about it.

And if you ever feel that mo­ment of ex­hil­a­ra­tion when you see an ad­vert of­fer­ing ex­tra points, it is time to pledge to con­vert all the re­wards points you get in the next three years to char­ity.

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