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If you're on a tight budget and you're a bargain junkie like me, you've probably signed up for dozens of retail loyalty programs. They're offered nearly everywhere you spend money: supermarkets, drugstores, fast-food chains — even Uber has one! And they're hard to resist: Most are free to join, and you may get discounts or freebies just for signing up, followed by sales alerts, coupons, reward dollars and other giveaways.
Be aware, though, that companies then get access to personal information like phone numbers, birthdays and the products you buy frequently. All that could put you at greater risk of identity theft, says Kevin Haley, director of security response at Norton LifeLock.
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But whether or not you join these programs, companies are still collecting tons of info about you. And by not signing up, you may miss out on big savings. So they can be worth it. Here's how to increase your savings with your loyalty while minimizing your risk.
1. Be selective.
List the places where you most often shop and eat out, and check each one online for loyalty programs. Signing up is usually worth the effort and risk only if you're a regular. I recently shaved more than $45 off a $200 bill with my Stop & Shop card and app. I'm also a regular at CVS, where loyalty-card coupons, a 2 percent rewards-credit program and sales saved me $159 in just the past year. Walgreens, which has a similar program, gives you 1 percent back, with extra points for special promotions — including some for AARP members.
2. Get all your goodies.
Go online to brush up on program benefits; many are adding some excellent and surprising perks. I recently learned that DSW's newly refreshed VIP program gives me points for donating old shoes at their stores, as well as free shipping and returns online. Some programs, such as the Nordy club at Nordstrom and the retailer Sephora's Beauty Insider club, offer free services like beauty workshops and makeovers.