Who doesn’t love saving money, right?
I know I do. And with a new car payment eating away at my bank account, lately I’ve been trying to find more ways to save as much money as possible.
A new cost-saving method I’ve stumbled upon is an app that gives me cash back for buying groceries. And since groceries are something I know I’ll always need to buy, though I’ve never been the coupon-clipping type, I figured it was worth a shot when I saw the advertisement pop up while I was playing a game on my phone.
I’ve tried out a few different apps that all serve virtually the same purpose, but the one I’ve really come to like is Ibotta.
It’s a Denver-based company that partners with different retailers and brands and offers cash back for buying certain products at various stores.
I’ve been using it mostly at Walmart, but other local stores it’s available at include Target, Cub Foods, Super One Foods and Walgreens, just to name a few.
All you have to do is click on the store you plan on shopping at, scroll through the different “offers,” as they’re called, click on the ones you want to use and then go shopping. When you’re done, you take a picture of the receipt -- or in Walmart’s case, scan the QR code at the bottom of the receipt -- submit it through the app, and poof! You get money.
The rebates usually range from about 25 cents to a dollar or two -- or more if it’s a particularly expensive item. That might not seem like much, but it adds up if you keep using the app.
You can then turn that money into a gift card for a store you shop at a lot, or you can claim it through PayPal or Venmo, which are virtual ways to transfer the money directly into your bank account. I like having money to use wherever I want, so I’ve been using PayPal. After I claim my money, it usually gets deposited into my bank account in a day or two.
I downloaded Ibotta around the beginning of July, and so far, I’ve earned almost $80 back on my groceries. I’ve gotten that money after buying items I’d normally buy anyway -- like flavored water, pizza, coffee and even sunscreen.
On my last big shopping trip, I spent about $90 at Walmart and ended up getting roughly $25 back in rebates. It took me a little longer than a normal trip to the grocery store would because I had to hunt for the specific brands that had offers through the app, but I feel like the money I earned back was more than worth my time.
Now, I’ll be honest. There are a couple catches with Ibotta.
First of all, you can’t cash out on your money until you earn at least $20. So if you get a couple dollars of rebates off of one shopping trip, you can’t actually access that money right away. It gets particularly frustrating when you have $17 or $18 in your account but can’t actually do anything with it. One thing I’ve learned is it’s easy to want to buy something just for the rebate, even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally buy and may not actually use. That obviously defeats the purpose of trying to save money in the first place, but trust me, it’s an easy trap to fall into.
I suppose that’s the part where they “get you.” Since Ibotta partners with retailers and other companies, they try to drive customers to spend money at specific stores and on specific items. There is also the occasional advertisement you have to watch or product survey you have to take before being able to redeem an offer. But that step doesn’t take more than 30 seconds, and, hey, you can’t make money unless they make money, right?
I’ve also heard horror stories of people saving up hundreds of dollars in their accounts and then, for some reason or another -- likely a glitch -- their money disappears after sitting in the app for a long period of time and they can’t get it back. So a rule of thumb I’ve learned is to cash out as soon as you can just to make sure you get all your money.
Another hurdle that sometimes gets me is not looking at each product close enough and buying the wrong thing, only to get home and realize I won’t get a rebate. For instance, I had a coupon that earned me $1 when I bought two boxes of Hot Pockets. Well, I bought Lean Pockets instead, not realizing the subtle difference. Suffice to say, I didn’t get any money from those, but it’s a lesson learned.
A helpful tool Ibotta does offer, however, is a barcode scanner that allows you to figure out before buying a product if it qualifies for a certain offer. I’ve been learning to use that more and more just because I’m paranoid now about not buying the right items.
And sometimes you just can’t find the specific brand at the store you’re shopping at, which gets frustrating. But you can report that to the app so they update their database.
Aside from the couple catches I’ve noticed so far, there are a few perks I haven’t mentioned yet, too.
Like the fact that you get a $20 bonus for signing up and redeeming a few offers.
Or that if you link your Facebook account with Ibotta and have friends who use it too, you’ll actually earn more money. If you and your friends redeem so many offers and earn a certain amount of money each month, you’ll all get extra bonuses of around $0.50 to $2.
Every week new bonuses pop up too, where they offer you a $5 or $10 bonus if you redeem so many offers. That means you’re getting the money back from your purchases along with an extra few bucks to cushion the bank account, which is pretty nice.
Or specific brands will partner together and offer an additional rebate if you buy from both of them. For example, one of the bonuses on my account right now will give me an extra dollar if I buy DiGiorno pizza and a case of Dr. Pepper.
Another way I’ve been able to maximize my cash back is by joining a Facebook group of other Ibotta users. This way, I’ve been able to add more friends to help me earn more rewards, I’ve learned some helpful tips along the way, and I’ve been made aware of some good offers I didn’t notice in the app myself. I can also ask any questions I have and get a whole slew of answers, usually within a few minutes.
While I’ve used Ibotta primarily for groceries so far, it does offer some perks for online shoppers as well.
Users can earn a little bit of cash back for shopping online at places like Amazon, Kohl’s, Walmart and Target. But I emphasize the “little bit.” There are a lot of exclusions to what you can earn rebates on online, and the amount you back is usually pretty miniscule.
I thought I found a little hack while I was shopping for a baby shower a couple weeks ago, but it didn’t turn out as great as I had hoped. My friend was registered at Target, but Target didn’t offer any rebates for baby items through Ibotta -- either in store or online. But I saw that Amazon was offering 2% for baby purchases. So I picked out a couple things from the Target registry, found the same items on Amazon and ordered them for the money. Well, I didn’t calculate before hand exactly how much 2% would be, and I ended up getting a whopping 80 cents back.
But again, it was a learning opportunity. And perhaps the Amazon cash back will work better in the future if I ever have bigger purchases.
Overall, I’d say I’ve had a positive experience using Ibotta. I’ve saved a bit of money, and it’s been kind of fun, almost like a game. How much money can I save on this shopping trip?
And I’ve started trying some new products I otherwise would not have because every now and then Ibotta offers total rebates on products, meaning you’ll get the full price back. And sometimes you can find an item on sale, meaning Ibotta credits you with more money than you actually paid, making some things money makers. Even if that product isn’t something I’d normally buy, I can try it out knowing that I won’t lose money if I don’t like it.
So if you’ve got some extra time and need to save a few bucks, I’d recommend Ibotta or the slew of other apps offering similar services.