Last Updated May 16, 2011 12:29 PM EDT
On the Saturday Early Show I joined a family that said they haven't paid for gas in more than a year. And no, they didn't take public transportation. Instead, by participating in their local grocery store's FuelPerks program, they managed to earn 20 cents off gas each time they spent $50 in the store. Once the discounts accumulated to $3 or so, they'd head to their gas station and fuel up.
Indeed, they had to spend a lot of money at their local Giant Eagle order to earn the fuel discounts, but they worked out a unique strategy that didn't involve stocking up on toilet paper and cereal. The family was already planning to spend thousands of dollars renovating their home -- so they figured, Why not buy Lowe's gift cards from their local grocery store to help pay for the renovation? The plan worked: They quickly accumulated the discounts, and they figure they saved more than $3,000 in gas over the course of a year.
So what exactly is FuelPerks? And what other ways can you earn discounts on fuel while shopping?
Here's what I found out:
FuelPerks is a rewards program that lets shoppers save at the pump after you become a Rewards member at a participating grocer/retailer. Right now there are 4 major supermarket chains participating in FuelPerks:
- Roundy's: headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisc., with outlets throughout Wisconsin, across the Twin Cities and in the greater Chicago area.
- Winn-Dixie: operates stores across the Southeast U.S. in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana
- Bi-Lo: located throughout South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia
- Giant/Martin's: operates in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia
Once you receive your Rewards card at one of these participating grocers, hop onto FuelPerks.com to register that card for FuelPerks. You can earn 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents per gallon; the more you spend, the more you earn per gallon. For example, at Winn-Dixie every time you spend $50 at any participating store using your Reward Card, you earn a 5-cents-per-gallon discount on gasoline (up to 20 gallons) at participating gas stations. Earn enough rewards, and you can cover most of the cost of a fill-up.
Here's what makes the deal so sweet: Like the clever family I'm talking to, you don't just have to buy food and household goods. You can buy gift cards (where available) for other stores you plan to spend money at -- especially stores that offer more big-ticket items. You can earn FuelPerks when you purchase prescriptions at the grocer's pharmacy; you can also shop at more than 700 participating online retailers, from the Gap.com to HomeDepot.com, and earn FuelPerks that way.
One warning: FuelPerks rewards expire on a rolling schedule at the end of the month immediately following the month that you earned them. (For example, all FuelPerks Rewards earned in May will expire June 30.) So to save big, you'll need to stay on top of your rewards points and fill up strategically.
Don't have a Winn-Dixie or Giant nearby? Many other supermarkets run their own fuel savings programs. Here are a few examples, but you should also ask your grocery what they offer:
- Stop & Shop: The supermarket chain in the Northeast has its own gas rewards program. Sign up for the supermarket's rewards club and for every dollar you spend, you earn a point on your card. Earn 100 points, save 10Â¢/gallon on gas. You can redeem up to $2.20/gallon in a single fill up. Points are valid for 30 days and redeemable at Stop & Shop gas stations, and participating Shell Stations.
- Weis Markets: The grocery chain is located throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia; its reward members earn 10 cents for every $50 spent in a single day. The discounts are redeemable at Weis Gas 'N Go Fuel Stations or participating Sheetz locations. The maximum fill-up in one visit is 20 gallons.
- Kroger: The supermarket chain, which operates all along the East Coast, has three ways shoppers can save on fuel: by buying groceries, some gift cards or pharmacy prescriptions. Every $100 spent on groceries earns you 100 points, which is good for 10 cents of gas at Shell fuel stations.
Farnoosh is a personal finance journalist, commentator and the author of Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv, and on Twitter.
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Photo courtesy: Jcarlosn's photostream on Flickr