Making Cents: Shopping can be a more rewarding experience

Consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness

Given we are coming into a time of year when most of us will far exceed our average monthly spend, this is a good moment to look at ways we can can make savings while we shop.

Time was, the trusty supermarket loyalty card was the only real reward for shopping but recently more and more financial institutions are getting in on the act.

To make clear at the outset, unless you are a serious shopper dedicated to certain outlets, it is very unlikely to be worth committing to a particular account purely for a loyalty programme.

When choosing your current account, fees and charges and access to the services you need are the most important factors.

It’s far better to compare and contrast a few accounts on using these criteria than be swayed by shopping rewards.

But if you can see no real difference between a number of accounts, you might as well have a look at what they offer based on your spending.

Equally, if you have a current account it makes sense to check out its reward programme.

Ulster Bank is the latest provider to get in on the act, launching its free-to-join loyalty programme last week.

Its customers can now spend to save by using their Visa card at selected stores, including Boots and Circle K, and online service providers, such as Just Eat and mytaxi.

Those who register for the Ulster Bank Rewards service can enjoy automatic cashback when they make a qualifying purchase, without coupons, codes, or money-off vouchers.

The cashback will be paid directly onto the customer’s Visa card, typically within five business days.

Damien Daly, director of strategy, innovation, and customer experience at Ulster Bank, is keen to emphasise the ease of the service.

“It is simple to get started, and there is no need for vouchers or codes; all people need to do is sign up, link their Visa card, and start earning cashback directly back into their bank account,” he said.

“We are delighted to welcome some of Ireland’s leading retailers, including Boots, Circle K, Smyth’s Toys, and Woodies to the programme, which will deliver incredible value for our customers.”

The bank’s programme is similar to AIB’s Everyday Rewards and Live Life Rewards from Bank of Ireland.

The GoRewards programme from Permanent TSB offers cashback from retailers and also offers customers an incentive for using their card.

Every time a customers pays with their card in-store or online, they get 10c back, up to €5 a month.

If you use your card to pay once a day that’s an average of €3 cashback each month.

An Post has also got in on the act and its Smart Current Account has been available for just over a year.

In addition to retailers, its account includes cash back from SSE Airtricity and Post Insurance.

Customers can get a 10% rebate of the total bill and this applies when they sign up to a direct debit payment using an An Post Smart Account.

They get 5% back on direct payments to Post Insurance for car and home insurance.

A spokesperson for An Post pointed out the potential benefits at this time of year.

“When you consider that many of the retail partners are those where spend increases significantly over Christmas — grocery shopping, Lidl; home energy, SSE Airtricity; Christmas gifts, Elverys, Oxendale — there is real potential for account holders to save during the traditional Christmas splurge,” he said.

“Retail Ireland estimated last year that each household spends €2,654 in December, almost 50% more than during other months where household spend is normally €1,784, and much of that is on groceries and Christmas gifts.

“There is also the added dimension that account holders will be credited the cashback savings generated during December at the end of January, just at a time when many bills and credit cards will fall due for payment.

“Cash credited back into your account at this time could be helpful from a cashflow perspective at a time when many can find that difficult.”

If you know you are going to be swiping up a storm in the coming weeks, why not make sure you are benefiting from any rewards on offer.


Lidl has had festive decorations and treats on sale for several weeks already but it is kicking the Christmas preparations up a notch from Monday, December 3.

A wide range of gifts hit the shelves that day, followed by more on Thursday, December 6. Forget stocking fillers, the German retailer is giving shoppers the chance to tick some highly-coveted items off their list at excellent prices.

Fitness enthusiasts will appreciate the fitness tracker, on sale from Monday for €39.99. There are also a number of gifts for beauty lovers in the range, including a gel nail starter kit for €24.99 and a keratin therapy hair straightener for €29.99.

If you are buying for younger family members, make a note in your diary for December 6. Lidl’s range of toys includes traditional rocking horses and soft toys but also has some covetable gadgets.

For €129.99, parents can bring home a model Audi TT with a drive motor, horn and front and rear light — suitable for ages 3+. Telescopes, gaming chairs, retro games and remote control helicopters should appeal to older children and the young at heart.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at

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