Why shopping around for grocery bargains is better value than a loyalty card

With the exception of German discounters Aldi and Lidl, all of the major food retailers operating in the Irish grocery market operate electronic loyalty cards.

While there are some minor differences, these loyalty cards all operate on the same principle, with shoppers getting one point for every euro they spend.

These points can them be redeemed at the equivalent of 100 points per euro when making purchases at the retailer that issued them.

In other words, each point is worth one cent. What this means is that, in order to qualify for savings of just one euro, the customer would find his or herself having to spend €100 with that retailer.

While an effective discount of 1pc on your shopping is not to sneezed at in these recessionary times, even a quick run through the numbers makes it clear that customers should not allow their purchasing decisions to be dictated exclusively by loyalty card considerations.

Of course, most supermarkets also make special offers available through their loyalty cards. You know what I mean, buy your booze at Retailer X this weekend and receive a 25pc discount in the form of extra loyalty card points. If you are going to buy that much booze or whatever, these special offers represent far better value than the standard loyalty card discount of just 1pc.

My advice to Valerie is by all means to sign up for supermarket loyalty cards. Even a 1pc discount is better than no discount at all. However, she should not let loyalty cards alone determine where she does her shopping. In addition to loyalty card points, most retailers also run special promotions such as buy one, get one free or special discounted prices on individual items for a limited period of time. In my experience these BOGOFs and special promotional prices represent far better value, particularly for non-perishable items such as detergents, than loyalty card points.

Under no circumstances should Sandra borrow money from a moneylender. Even legal moneylenders can charge interest rates equivalent to an annual rate of more than 180pc. Yes, that's right, 180pc per year.

Quite clearly, piling extremely high-interest loans from a moneylender on top of Sandra's existing loans is not the way to solve her financial problems.

The first thing Sandra needs to do is to draw up a realistic budget and stick ruthlessly to it no matter what happens. In times like these, our spending must match the money now available to us rather than being driven by vague expectations of future wage increases or increased property prices.

If Sandra is having problems repaying her debts or paying her bills, then she should contact the Money Advice and Budgeting Service. MABS will contact banks and utility companies on her behalf and help Sandra work out a revised repayment schedule with them.

Finally, once she has sorted out her budget and contacted MABS, Sandra should join her local credit union, if she hasn't already done so.

Credit union interest rates are capped at 1pc per month, the equivalent of just 12.6pc per year. Much, much better than borrowing from a loanshark at 180pc.