Reward cards: Go ahead and leave home without them

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Unless you've managed to cut yourself off from society altogether and are now living in a Unabomber-style shack, you have a large number of cards on you right this minute.

They don't make a wallet large enough for all them, of course, so we have to divide them up according to certain status, keeping some in one place, others in another.

Here's how I've sorted them out.

First, there are the 'absolute musts.' These aren't your typical 'cards,' per se, but you need them at all times, so mine stay in the billfold. They include driver's license, key card for work, health insurance card, bank debit card for getting money from the ATM and a couple of credit cards. These I would not leave home without. I also keep my Hollywood Video card in that group.

There are other 'must-have' cards, but I don't keep them on my person at all times. Because I have determined that I probably won't need these unless I'm in the car, I keep them in a little hole in the armrest on the driver's side door. They include my library card, my Safeway Club card and my Albertsons Savings Card.

Let's stop down here for a minute to discuss the 'preferred savings' card, shall we? This is one of those that, technically, you don't have to have to buy something at one of the stores in question. But if you don't have one, God help you, because you are going to be punished.

They always ask you if you have it, and I hear a lot of people grumble that no, they don't have one of their stupid cards and they don't want one either. Apparently, it's a philosophical thing.

'OK,' they invariably say, 'that'll be seven dollars for this apple.'

With the card, of course, it would have been 11 cents.

Personally, I can't buy into a philosophy in which you get kicked in the guts every time you go through the checkout, so I always have my card with me. I do resent it, though.

Also in my handy armrest hole are any gift cards I might have received in recent months or years. Right now I have a Joe's Outdoor and More card and a Starbucks gift card standing by, just in case I need to make some big-ticket purchases.

There is another level of 'must-have' cards, of course. The kind without which you cannot get into the store (or, more important, back out again).

Costco is the king of this kind of security/marketing. It's easier to get onto some military bases than into a Costco store without the necessary documentation, and as far as I know, they don't have the capability to attack anybody, even Canada. I did have a Costco card one year and only used it twice, so we don't mess with them anymore.

I still have a Bi-Mart card, which also requires an initial investment of some sort, but this one was a gift 37 years ago, when I was in college, and I never had to renew it or pay anything else, so I still have it.

My wife, on the other hand, does not have a Bi-Mart card because - after being refused admittance to the store in Klamath Falls because she didn't have her card with her - she drove home in a raging snowstorm, got the card and drove all the way back to the store just so she could tear it up and throw the pieces at the lady behind the counter.

In the glove compartment of my car I keep another 25 or so cards that fall into two more categories: Rewards and club cards.

The rewards cards are simply that - they reward you for shopping at their establishment. The most notable rewards card in my little world is the Fred Meyer Rewards. I also have them from Borders, Macys, Dick's Sporting Goods, Vitamin World, Rite Aid and some others.

Let's face it, the 'rewards' aren't that great (but at least they don't penalize you for not having their card). The actual rewards are about as useful as a Nordstrom sale for men. Nordy's does, of course, have incredible sales for women, especially on shoes. But I'm sorry, 25 percent off on a $175 shirt is still ridiculous. Why even call it a sale?

As we all know, the whole idea behind the rewards card is to get you into their data base so they can come to your house in the night, anesthetize you while you sleep and implant microchips in your head that will allow them to monitor your activities the rest of your life.

Once that happens, you won't even be safe in your Unabomber shack.

Finally, we come to the bottom feeders in the card world: The club or customer cards that offer you something free after you buy 10 of them - you know, cups of coffee, books, pizzas, sub sandwiches, that sort of thing.

Of course, they're banking on you losing them or forgetting where you put them. I almost never use them, for just those reasons.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.