Shrinking rewards or not, the past 22 years have taught me

In fiction-writing courses, they say character leaks. By that, they mean that it’s not the declarations or decisive actions that give us away, but our unconscious behaviour. Which is how I learned, to my mortification, that a key part of my character was “Boots Advantage card person”.

I had recently started hanging out with an old friend, and one day, with mock (but actually totally sincere) pride, I told him how many points I had racked up that morning using a stealthy combination of vouchers. In a warm but lightly concerned voice he said: “You do know this is the third time you’ve told me about your Boots card in two weeks?” This morning, he texted me the news that the company is reducing its points offer – from 4p per pound spent to 3p – with his sincere condolences. I said I wasn’t sure I had time to write about it, and he replied: “You must always find time to battle for justice.”

For armour, maybe I could take a leaf out of the book of the British pop star Self Esteem, who sometimes plays live while wearing a dress constructed of old Advantage cards. Not that I’d sacrifice mine for the cause: I’ve had the same card for 22 years, since I was 12 years old. The now blurred signature hails from the days where I used the handwritten liner notes of Avril Lavigne’s debut album, Let Go, to teach myself how to write like the angsty Canadian pop-punk star (very spiky, naturally).

Well-meaning Boots attendants sometimes offer to replace it for a fresh white card with a crisp new logo, not realising that they’re dealing with a future family heirloom. When I registered for an online account some years back, I sent Boots a shame-faced email to ask if they could search for my customer number, which had long rubbed off, so I didn’t have to get a new one.

Boots the Chemist, Oxford Street, London.
‘I have grown attached to my Boots Advantage card for the specific seam of personal history it contains.’ Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Despite mild evidence to the contrary, I am not some sort of lunatic Boots stan. The Advantage card obviously only found its place in my life thanks to offering the best value return on the high street. Four points per pound and a judicious application of vouchers adds up quickly, not to mention fostering a lifelong antipathy towards Superdrug (a slowpoke that launched its Beautycard 14 years after the Advantage card arrived in 1997).

I like to save up my toiletries shopping list and blast it all at once, then feel giddy when I look at the receipt and see that I’ve made £8 back (not to mention a £5 voucher for No 7 that I will never spend). I am not a games person or a gambler, but the rush of realising I have played Boots (at precisely the game it wants me to play) surely equals the thrill of winning an accumulator.

And, as a recent comment piece pointed out, since millennials may never get mortgages or be able to retire comfortably, we have to take value where we can get it. “First they came for our pensions,” as a friend said in our horrified group chat discussion earlier, “and I did not speak out because I could still get a free Max Factor Masterpiece mascara once a year.”

That’s the rule of the Advantage card: points should be reserved to buy nail varnish and chocolate. Though, as the approach of Mother’s Day encourages us to value our mums, let me pay solemn tribute to mine having the self-restraint to buy a whole hairdryer on points in the early 2000s.

Beyond its respectable discounts, I have also grown attached to my card for the specific seam of personal history it contains. I got it the year I started secondary school and was allowed to take my first parent-free trips into town with a friend. We bought Natural Collection vanilla body spray and disposable cameras for school trips. At Christmas, I carefully consulted the Boots gift catalogue to see which eyeshadow palette I could afford to get each of my friends.

A year later, I would have used it for my first red-faced trips to the sanitary protection aisle (then, less inclusively, called “feminine hygiene”) and razor section. A few years later, contraception. Buying my own shower gel and shampoo at uni and then moving away for work. Figuring out that Mitchum is the only deodorant, though accidentally buying the men’s one before the first date that would set the course of the rest of my life, and worrying about whether to sweat or smell like a man (the latter turned out to be fine).

My sales history documents my independence, then my anxieties. The twentysomething lurches between laxatives and probiotics as I tried to work out how to feel all right in the oppressive era of wellness. The move from St Ives’ face-eroding peach scrub to tiny bottles of skincare potions with names and purposes I can’t really claim to understand, but apply just in case.

At 34, with no kids, my purchases are more settled now. I know who I am. And that, despite her apparently diminishing marketplace value, is a Boots Advantage card woman.