So, I’m a huge proponent of rewards programs. Really huge. Actually, I’m kind of addicted to Swagbucks. I’ll be starting a 12-step program, but it’ll be interrupted a lot so we can check for swagcodes.

Anyway, the thing about rewards programs is that they’re amazing ways to afford things you couldn’t otherwise. (Witness our PSP, PS3, iPod touch, various collectibles, etc.)

That said, they’re touted by a lot of us rewards program junkies as ways to “save” money. By and large, that’s just not accurate. Even if you do use rewards points to buy sensible things, it’s more a case of “not spending” as opposed to “saving.”

The difference? Not spending simply means that you didn’t put that money to a particular use. Chances are, the funds will still get sucked up in the whirlwind of random expenses that is life.

To truly save money, it has to be… well… saved. Put away. Not spent. (Yes, my prose is deep. Thank you for noticing.)

All those Black Friday shoppers who “saved” so much on gifts? Most of them couldn’t point to a bank balance and show you where they money is. Instead, the savings just allowed people to buy more items, whether for the holiday or just in day-to-day expenses.

The shoppers didn’t save the money. They repurposed it.

That’s not good enough for me. So whenever we spend rewards (usually Amazon GCs), I transfer the cost of the item into our Capital One account. This is really just an extension of the iPod fund idea — except that every cent pads the emergency fund.

When I bought the Despicable Me combo pack on Amazon, the $9.99 went into savings.

My father-in-law’s gift meant another $36.99 went to ING. (And, yes, that’s over the budget for our frugal Christmas. It was this or Facebook credits. And at least this means we saved an extra $7.)

This system also makes you more conscious of how you use your hard-won rewards points. And it helps me discern when I’m overpaying with rewards.

How do you make sure the money you “save” actually gets saved? Or do you bother with that distinction?

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