6 picks: Best store givebacks
Don't pass up free money -- shopping expert lists her favorite incentive programs.
By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - If you're tired of totting around half-punched coffee cards or expired sandwich coupons, shopping guru Teri Gault has some giveback deals you won't want to miss.

Gault runs the Web site Thegrocerygame.com, which provides shoppers with an online list of all the coupons and sales for the grocery stores in their area. Since 1998, Gault has made a living out of helping people save money shopping.

While almost every retailer has some type of rewards program, Gault said it's important to pick ones that are no fee or low fee. Also, choose ones that are convenient to you and from stores you like -- i.e., ones you'll actually use.

Below are her six favorite programs retailers run that give you something for nothing...and one retail giant that's surprisingly stingy with the givebacks.

1) Walgreens -- Gault can't get enough of the drugstore's rebate program.

She said each month the company issues a list of things on rebate. You check the list to see if anything you bought is on it and, if so, mail in the receipts. The company then sends you a rebate check.

An example she provided: A tube of mascara retailing for $9.99. Rebate: $9.99. And if you take the rebate in the form of a store credit, she said Walgreens tacks on an additional 10 percent. So you actually make a buck.

"It's almost unbelievable," she said. "It's like you don't have a life anymore, you're spending all your time at Walgreens. How pathetic!"

Gault said a big draw to the program is its simplicity. Instead of mailing several different rebates to several different manufactures, you only need to deal with Walgreens.

2) Staples -- Gault, who uses a ton of office supplies running her Web site, uses the company's rewards card to get $15 off every $200 she spends in a given quarter.

3) Best Buy -- She said the electronics retailer charges $9.99 a year for a card that gives you $5 back on every $100 you spend, making it a good deal if you're in the market for expensive stuff.

"If you're going to buy a $3,000 fridge, that's an instant $100," she said.

4) Gap -- With the clothing retailer's free card you get you get $10 back for every $250 you spend.

5) Linens 'n Things -- Same deal as the Gap. Spend $250, get $10 back.

6) Grocery stores -- They vary by region, but Gault said the big three -- Albertson's, Safeway and Kroger -- as well as many smaller chains have cards that give you a discount at the register.

Use them. Gault says a three-month long study by her site showed customers who used the cards and shopped the sales at traditional grocery stores saved more money than those who relied on big box stores like Wal-Mart that use a strategy of constant low prices.

"The reality is the best grocery savings are not at Wal-Mart," she said. "They claim they match the sales but they don't. They only match the advertised sales."

Gault said the best way to find out about any reward program is to simply ask. And she said don't be afraid to ask smaller stores or restaurants if they'll honor deals and programs from larger stores or even auto clubs or other organizations you might belong to.

"You start rattling off cards, and all of a sudden you're getting 10 percent off your dinner," she said.

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Holiday shoppers turned to Google. Click here

Rebates: Get what's coming to you. Click here

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.