How intimate are you willing to get to save money?

(Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

I needed a new wallet.

Why?

My old wallet couldn’t hold all my plastic loyalty cards. Although I can access most of the programs by just my telephone number, I still carry a lot of cards.

In fact, come to think of it, I’ve been handing over a lot of my personal information in exchange for discounts, reward points, gas points at the pump, free merchandise, gift cards, etc.

There are close to four billion loyalty memberships with customers exchanging information about themselves for the promise of savings on purchases or services.

“The average person is currently enrolled in around 13 separate loyalty programs,” reports Steven Anderson for Payment Week.

Americans love a deal and so many of us willingly give up data to save dollars.

“Over time, all of that information builds into valuable individual demographic files that are constantly grouped and analyzed for the purpose of ultimately increasing profitability,” wrote Donna L. Montaldo in an article for The Balance on Pros and Cons of Supermarket Loyalty Programs.

What are retailers doing with all this data? According to Montaldo they can:
— Adjust their inventory levels
— Increase or decrease prices depending on demand. If something is popular, a retailer might hike the price because it’s a hot item.
— Change promotions based on the collective shopping habits of customers.

And think you aren’t being track because you haven’t signed up for a loyalty program? Think again.

“Shoppers who have decided not to join loyalty programs are also tracked, depending on their payment tender,” Montaldo says. “Many of the major credit card companies have privacy policies that inform credit card users that the data collected based on their purchases may be shared and even sold.”

But if you’re willing to exchange information for savings, be sure you are getting something out of the deal, writes by Anna Bahney for CNNMoney.

Bahney asks is it worth it to hand over your shopping profile to get the goods? And how do you know you’re getting a deal? She provides some tips.

“The biggest reason people ditch loyalty programs, is that it takes too long to earn rewards,” Bahney reports. “Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they bailed on a program for that reason.”

As more companies have data breaches, I have become more cautious of signing up for loyalty programs. But I’ll be honest, many are hard to resist when you are trying to save money.

Color Money question of the week
Are you concerned about the data you’re exchanging for a discount? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Loyalty” in the subject line.

Live chat today
I’m back.

I took two weeks off to spend some vacation time with my family, a practice we do every year. Like I tell my kids, we spend wisely and save religiously so that we can do the things in life that really matter to us.

Anyway, I’m back online today answering your money questions. And I’ve got a guest. Joining me to talk about retirement issues will be Jean C. Setzfand, senior vice president of AARP programs that produce interactive educational programming designed to address health, wealth and personal enrichment concerns for consumers 50 and over.

To participate in the discussion click this link.

Last week I talked about an article by Brian Roberts, a millennial freelance writer, entrepreneur and Forbes contributor, who made a compelling argument for why you shouldn’t travel in your early 20s.

“Millennials should build their nest before they fly because otherwise, they are merely seeking reward without having put in the work thus returning home to an unstable foundation,” Roberts writes.

So I asked: Do you agree with Roberts that millennials shouldn’t prioritize traveling?

Scott Fossum of Houston, Tex., wrote, “If they don’t want to get a job and work, by all means go. There are plenty of job applicants who will take their job and happily work. Work will bring money, which is an enabler to do enjoyable things.”

Katie H. of the District is 25 and after finishing her masters degree program last year (She went straight to graduate school after her undergraduate studies) said she hit the road for a European excursion.

“While I had student loans just from my grad program, my best friend and I took a 10-day trip to Paris and Amsterdam just before starting our jobs last June,” she wrote. “We both paid in cash we had managed to save by making this plan about eight months in advance. When I excitedly shared my plans with others, I was often met with a response asking why I was ‘only’ going for 10 days, or ‘only’ to those cities without exploring more deeply. Heads up to anyone providing their opinions to others: It’s deflating to be told a trip you saved for isn’t really that adventurous or worthwhile! It wasn’t a summer abroad, but I know that many people never have the opportunity to travel, so I considered myself fortunate. I wanted a vacation that was enjoyable but wouldn’t deplete the modest savings I was able to accumulate while working as a research assistant in grad school. I didn’t want to start a relationship with my employer by accepting an offer and then clarifying that I couldn’t start before exploring Europe for weeks on end. The trip was wonderful, and then I jumped into work. Over the last year, I’ve paid off my student loans in full, saved six months of funds that could be needed in an emergency, and have a slush fund nearly complete for non-emergent but annoying expenses like car repairs and copays.”

“I’m writing as a fifty seven year old man who starting working at age fifteen,” said S. P. Parsons of Franklin, Tenn. “I have entries in my Social Security record that posted before I had a drivers license. I spent summers on an uncle’s farm harvesting wheat in Oklahoma. The youth of our society frighten me. They frighten me because I don’t understand them. There is no finer contribution to the world than to work, produce a good or service, achieve, accept responsibility, act mature and earn a living. And then use that living to save and build wealth. Our country is woefully inadequate with regard to personal savings, saving for retirement, and making sure that a financial urgency isn’t a financial emergency. It comes down to work, determination and moving away from instant gratification. Taking a year off to essentially eat dessert first doesn’t cut it.”

Carol Flynt of Whitmore Lake, Mich., wrote, “As a baby boomer, I prioritized saving over travel (I carried no debt until I bought my first house.) But interest rates were significantly higher than now. Were I to graduate today, I would consider travel over saving. For one year, the savings would be minimal, anyway and the return is so low, I’d grab the chance to travel if I could. Travel educates and matures, so it is an investment in oneself. However, I would never prioritize travel over paying down debt.”

Oh, the places you’ll go, graduate, but know what you owe!

Color of Money columns this week
Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.

Stay informed about your money. Read and share my column from this past week.
— Can 529 plan savings be used to buy a computer? Software? A car?

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

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