How I got Amazon Prime almost for free

Last summer, my appetite for quantifying my finances intersected with my food-procurement habits to yield a math exercise: How much of my Amazon Prime membership was I chipping away with these discounts at Whole Foods?

The Seattle retail leviathan’s 2017 purchase of the Austin-based grocery chain consolidated a large portion of my annual consumer spend at one company. It also gave me a new set of benefits for the Amazon Prime membership my wife and I have had since 2011: an extra 10% off sale items except beer and wine, plus some Prime-only deals.

(Personal-finance FYI: Amazon also touts getting 5% cash back at Whole Foods on its credit card, but the American Express Blue Cash Preferred offers 6% back on all grocery stores. That higher rate combined with Amex Offers for rebates at designated merchants easily erases the card’s $95 annual fee and returns more money than I’d get from Amazon’s card.)

So on my way out of Whole Foods, I created a new Google Docs spreadsheet on my phone and jotted down the Prime savings called out on my receipt. Then I did the same thing after subsequent visits. If Whole Foods and Amazon were going to track my shopping habits (which I assume they could from seeing the same credit card even if I didn’t scan in the QR code in the Amazon app at the checkout), I ought to do likewise.

Aside from $10-and-change savings during last July’s Prime Day promotion and again on roses for Valentine’s Day, most of these 41 transactions yielded $4 or less in Prime discounts. But after a year, they added up to $118.14, just 86 cents less than the $119 Prime annual fee.

To answer the obvious question: No, I did not step up my Whole Foods visits because of this tie-in. That place does happen to be the closest almost-full-spectrum grocery store to my home, but there’s a Trader Joe’s barely further away that trades a smaller selection for cheaper pricing on staples like milk and flour. And thanks to this dorky habit of mine, I can tell that I’ve shifted more of my business from WF to TJ’s the past few months.

Christmas calendar compression

I can now click a button on a Web page and have almost any product delivered to almost anywhere in the United States within two days at no additional cost. That’s a respectable alternative to Star Trek’s transporter, but it has somehow not freed me from hitting this point in December with this much Christmas shopping undone.

Christmas wrapping

Arguably, the existence of Amazon Prime (like every other new parents, we signed up for the retailer’s free “Amazon Mom” option and then couldn’t wean ourselves of the convenience of prepaid two-day shipping) has only enabled my holiday procrastination. As in, right now, I’m comforting myself by thinking about how many more days I have to wait to place orders for family members and have them still arrive before they depart to their respective Christmas destinations.

Meanwhile, I’m also still figuring out my CES schedule–if I haven’t replied to your PR pitch about meeting at the show, just assume you’ll see me at your booth eventually, or at least don’t call to bug me about it–and lining up some other early-2014 events.

At least my wife takes care of the Christmas cards these days (otherwise, they’d be New Year’s cards). And I’m not on the hook to write any enormous gift-guide packages.

The good news is, in a few weeks both the holidays and CES will be behind me, and I’ll have a good 10 months to decompress and forget most of the lessons I’ve learned about why I should try to knock out more of these holiday chores before Thanksgiving.