Friday, May 30, 2014

SavingStar vs Ibotta vs Checkout 51 vs Shopmium: rebate apps compared and explained

One of my favorite ways to make a good deal a great deal is by taking advantage of what I call my "cash back apps."  There are several mobile apps (some are also available on the web for those with uncooperative phones) that offer you cash back on select items you've already purchased.  They're kind of like coupons, except you buy the item first, then prove you bought it.

What's especially great about these apps is that they don't count as a coupon, meaning when you're at the store, you can use other coupons on the item and basically "stack" your deals.  In some cases, this could mean that you get an item free -- or even get paid to buy an item -- once you get your cash back.  And it's so easy!

Here's a quick overview of the major players in the rebate/cash back space:

SavingStar

SavingStar actually links up to your store's loyalty card.  You select which offers you are interested in redeeming by "activating" them.  There are no limits as to how many offers you activate, and no penalty if you don't actually redeem them.  The stores periodically report your purchases to SavingStar (takes anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks), and if you've purchased an item from one of your activated deals, they give you a credit for the amount.

Pros:
  • No app required -- while they have a mobile app that makes for easy activating of offers, you can also just as easily do it from their website.
  • No need to prove you purchased something.  The store does it for you!  SavingStar lets you know when they've processed something that earned you cash.
  • No minimum dollar amount to reach before cashing out
  • Multiple options for cashing out.  You can choose a bank deposit, PayPal, an Amazon gift card or a donation to American Forests if you'd like to give it to a cause instead.
  • You can also use their website to earn cash back from online shopping on select websites
Cons:
  • Limited stores. SavingStar only works with select supermarkets and drug stores that have loyalty cards.  You can find out which stores you have to choose from by entering your ZIP code.  SavingStar works with all the major supermarkets and drug stores in my area, but I really wish I could use it at Target.
  • Most offers rotate once a month.  There are occasional new offers that pop up during the month but most stick around.  That means you can only redeem them once during the month, and if you don't see anything you like, for the most part you're stuck.  The exceptions to this are the healthy offer of the week and Friday freebie.
My personal favorite part are the weekly rotating offers: the healthy offer of the week and the Friday Freebie.  The healthy offer changes every Tuesday and offers you a percentage off of a fruit or vegetable item.  Coupons for produce are not overly common, so this is a great way to get a deal on something truly good for you.  The Friday Freebie is an item that you can get completely refunded if you purchase it, and is only available from Friday-Sunday.  Usually the item's worth around $1 but hey, it's free!


Ibotta is considered the biggest app for getting cash back on items by scanning in your grocery receipt and the barcode from the eligible item.  They used to just be for grocery, but have recently expanded.  You can now earn rebates at many different types of stores, some online stores, and even a couple of restaurants (currently Chili's and Quiznos).

Note: If you sign up for Ibotta using one of the links in this article, you get the opportunity to earn a $2 bonus!

Pros:
  • There are updates to the offers every week.  Some stick around for a while, others don't, but you can expect to see new offers regularly.
  • They often have offers for generic items, like milk or bread, that you would commonly buy anyway.
  • There are bonuses you can earn for buying several items.  The bonuses vary and change regularly, but a common one is a $.50 bonus for redeeming the milk offer and two other offers.  So if you complete it, you earn the rebates for all three of those offers plus an addtional $.50.  There are also bonuses for completing a rebate every week for several weeks in a row -- the Steady Eddy bonus gets you $1 if you complete at least 1 rebate for 4 straight weeks.
Cons:
  • Only works at certain stores.  There are a decent variety of stores available for grocery, including most supermarkets, drug stores, Target and Walmart, but not smaller stores.
  • Some offers are only redeemable at certain stores.  It may be a product that you could buy elsewhere but the offer only applies if you buy it at the particular store.  These are called exclusive offers within the app.  
  • There is a $5 minimum to cash out.  This isn't terrible but if you go a few weeks without finding a rebate you want to redeem it can get a little frustrating to have some money just sitting there.
  • Multiple payout options but they're not very appealing.  PayPal is probably your best bet.  They also use a cash service called Venmo, and they offer a few different gift card offerings including Regal, Starbucks and iTunes.  I'm not sure why you would want to redeem for a gift card when you can just get cash through PayPal.
  • In order to get the rebate, you have to "unlock" it by completing certain tasks.  The tasks don't take long (watch a short video, take a quick poll, read a fact) but can be annoying.  Often it requires sharing the offer through Facebook, which I'm personally not a fan of because I don't like to spam my friends.  I get around this by posting it as a private post, so only I can see it.
  • You must use your mobile phone to redeem rebates.  There is no website component.

Checkout 51 is a newer app for getting cash back by uploading your grocery receipt.  It's similar to Ibotta but is more what they used to be -- primarily grocery offers only.

Pros:
  • You can submit a receipt from any store with Checkout 51.  Big supermarket, small local place -- they don't care.  So long as they can tell from your receipt that you purchased an eligible item, you're good to go.
  • The offers are updated once a week, on Thursdays.  Some offers stick around for multiple weeks but there's always a fresh selection.
  • There is very often a generic item, like milk, bread, or produce, among the week's list.
  • You can enter a sweepstakes every week just by submitting a receipt that totals over $60, even if you don't have any other offers to claim.
  • The offers they give you are somewhat personalized based on offers you've claimed in the past.
  • When you cash out, they send you an actual check.  No need to be signed up with PayPal or any other service.
  • Mobile phone problems?  You can also submit from their website and scan in your receipt.
Cons:
  • There is a $20 minimum to cash out.  This is the largest minimum of any of the services and can take a while to obtain.  Personally, I've yet to get there but am over halfway now.  This is by far the biggest negative of the service.
  • The list of offers isn't very big and there are often some odd items that aren't commonly purchased.  I've had an offer for a "vaginal odor treatment" for several weeks now.  Uh... no thanks.

Shopmium is the newest app for getting cash back and is similar to Ibotta and Checkout 51.  

Note: If you use referral code "GHAYAGWV" when you sign up for Shopmium, you get a free Lindt chocolate bar!  I didn't have a referral code when I signed up and missed out on my free chocolate -- I was so bummed when I found out!

Pros:
  • You can submit a receipt from any store, so long as they can tell from your receipt that you purchased an eligible item.
  • There is no minimum to cash out.  Once they've processed your claim they instantly send you the cash via PayPal.  You don't even have to request to cash out!
  • Mobile phone problems?  You can submit for some offers from their website and scan in your receipt.  Some offers are only available from the app, however.
  • Several of their offers tend to be for natural or organic products, which often don't see as many deals as their less-natural counterparts.
  • Sometimes they have multiple offers for the same product.  For example, they currently have offers for Chobani Simply 100 yogurt: $.30 off one, $.50 off two or $.75 off three.
Cons:
  • Shopmium has the fewest number of offers available of any of the options, and they don't rotate overly regularly.  I'm not sure if they have a schedule.  Most of the offers just say they're ongoing.
  • You sometimes have to watch a video before you can redeem an offer. 
  • PayPal is currently the only cash out method.
  • I've personally had issues trying to scan in my receipt with their app, so it's a little buggy.  Sometimes I'd get a black screen, and when I was trying to scan in a longer receipt with multiple pictures, it wasn't showing me the bottom part of the previous picture to know what section of the receipt they still needed.
So which one of these should you use?  If you're trying to save as much as you can, you should have all of them in your repertoire!  It can take a while to reach some of the cash out minimums, but it's worth it.  As you can see, each service has its own quirks.  Lately I've been a fan of SavingStar and Checkout 51, but I've found all four of the services to be useful to me.  Occasionally there are products available on more than one of the apps, so you can redeem them all and save even more!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sensibly Extreme Couponing: This week's grocery trip for under $15

Hey everyone!  This week I did some more stocking up at ShopRite to take advantage of another $10 off $50+ coupon as well as two $5 Catalina coupons I earned from previous weeks.  I couldn't let $20 go to waste!

Unfortunately I don't have a picture of my deals this week.  Hubby had 3(!) phone interviews today, plus the little one's schedule was way off from being sick -- by the time I made it out to the store and back, we had to rush for dinner and it wasn't until halfway through putting everything away that I realized I forgot to snap a quick picture of it all!  Hopefully you can trust me on this. :)

Here's what I brought home today:

  • ShopRite Apple Juice, on sale for $1.79
    • $.80 store coupon
    • Total: $.99
  • ShopRite Bleach, on sale for $1.59
  • 4x Horizon Macaroni and Cheese, $1.49 each
    • 4x $.55 printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $1.56 ($.39/each)
  • Trix Cereal, on sale for $1.99
    • $.50 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $.60 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $.29
  • 2x Straw packs, $1.18 ($.59/each)
  • Barilla Italian EntrĂ©e, on sale for $2.49
    • $.75 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $.75 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $.24
  • Ziploc Freezer Bags, value size, on sale, 4 for $11.19
    • 2x $1/2 printable MC
    • Total: $9.19
  • Ziploc Sandwich Bags, $2.69
  • 4x Adirondack Seltzer, $2.20 ($.50/each plus $.20 deposit)
  • Green Giant Cheddar Veggie Puffs, on sale for $1.75
    • $.50 eCoupon loaded to card
    • Total: $1.25
  • Perdue Split Chicken Breast, on sale for $1.99/lb: $9.65
    • $1/lb store coupon: $4.85
    • Total: $4.80
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic, $1.32
  • Lemon, $.66
  • Milky Way Ice Cream Bars, on sale for $3.50
    • $1.50 eCoupon loaded to card
    • $1 MC found in paper (5/18/14 RedPlum insert)
    • Total: $1
  • Trans-Ocean Imitation Crab Meat, on sale for $1.99
    • $.50 printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $.99
  • Listerine Naturals Mouthwash, on sale for $5.99
    • $1 MC found in paper (4/13/14 SmartSource insert)
    • Total: $4.99
Other deals:
  • $10 off $50+ coupon that printed at checkout last week
  • $5 Catalina coupon from last week
  • $5 Catalina coupon from two weeks ago
  • $1.45 in bottle returns
Total Out of Pocket: $14.86 (including tax)

Cash back:
  • $1 Checkout 51 rebate on Trans-Ocean Crab
    • (Total cost of crab after rebate: -$.01)
  • $5 SavingStar rebate on Ziploc bags (needed to spend $20 based on pre-Price Plus pricing)
    • (Total cost of Ziploc bags after rebate and $2 Catalina: $4.88 for 5 boxes)
  • $.50 SavingStar rebate on Trix Cereal
    • (Total cost of Trix after rebate: -$.21)
  • $.50 SavingStar rebate on Green Giant Veggie Puffs
    • (Total cost of Veggie Puffs after rebate: $.75)
Total After Cash Back: $7.86

Plus I got a $2 Catalina from buying 4 boxes of Ziploc bags, to use next week!  We use Ziploc bags a lot for freezing meat and produce so it was a great opportunity to stock up!

I also went to Aldi and got 2 loaves of whole wheat bread, a jar of salsa and some romaine hearts for $6.25.  Doesn't seem like nearly as good of a deal when you look at everything I got above, but they truly have the best prices in town on many of the essentials!

This week was a huge rebate week for me.  Later this week I'll go in-depth on the ways you can earn cash back for grocery shopping and just how easy it is to do.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Extreme Couponing Secrets: Take advantage of minimum purchase deals with coupon order

Each week, my ShopRite ad has a series of four store coupons.  They're not always things I'd like to purchase, but many of them are, and they're always really good deals -- often a discount of 50% or more.


 The only catch is the fine print:
"With this coupon and additional purchase of $15.00 or more (excluding fuel and items prohibited by law)"
 So for months, I didn't even bother to look at them.  The majority of my purchases at ShopRite were well under $15.

Then, a few weeks ago, a coupon printed at checkout to use the following week: $10 off a purchase of $50 or more.  What a great deal, but how was I going to get over $50?  It was hard enough getting over $15!

That's when I had an epiphany -- nowhere on the coupon does it say that it must be the cost after coupons. Could I still make it work?

The answer: definitely yes!

The trick:  Give them the price-qualifying coupons first.

When you're approaching a cashier with a giant stack of coupons, you may not be thinking about order.  The cashier may not really think about it either.  But in some cases, when there are requirements for the coupon to apply, it can make a huge difference.

In my last post, you may have noticed that I used one of those $10 off $50+ coupons for my $11 purchase.  They've been printing every week for me at checkout for a good month now.  The trick to using it was to make sure that I had at least $50 showing as the subtotal when I handed the cashier my stack of coupons, with that $10 off $50 coupon sitting right on top.  At ShopRite, the eCoupons loaded onto my card do come off immediately, so I had to take that into consideration, but I could leave all of my manufacturer's coupons and other store coupons out of the picture.  99.9% of the time, the cashier is going to scan those coupons from top to bottom.

Honestly, this is about the most complicated my shopping gets: figuring out whether or not I'm over $50.  I've tried using a calculator on my phone in the store, but what's actually worked out best for me is taking advantage of ShopRite's "Shop at Home" feature on their website.  My local ShopRite actually doesn't offer Shop at Home, but several of the surrounding stores do, and their prices are the same.  I just find the items I plan to purchase and add them to my cart.  That takes into consideration all the sale prices for that week.  Then all I have to do is deduct any eCoupons from that total, and make sure that it's over $50.

For the maximum savings, I try to plan my trip to as close to $50 as possible.  I just use Shop at Home for planning purposes, then go to the store to actually make the purchases.  If I'm cutting it really close to $50, I'll sometimes bring along a couple of coupons for candy bars that I could easily grab at checkout and add onto my order if my calculations are off.

When I don't have $50 of groceries that I need to purchase, that's where free products really come in handy.  In my shopping trip this week, I threw in several items that were free after coupons to make sure that my subtotal would be over $50.  That's a big reason why I saved so much -- there were so many free items added in that the $10 was actually a much bigger percentage off of my order.

I absolutely love this trick for making the most of store coupons.  You can bet that I'm checking those weekly coupons a whole lot more closely now!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sensibly Extreme Couponing: How I paid $11 for a cartload of groceries

Today the cashier at ShopRite applauded me as she handed me my receipt, announcing to the bagger and the customer behind me that I paid $11.22 and saved $91.63. That doesn't count the $5 Catalina coupon that printed at checkout for me to use next time I shop, or the 19 cents I'll be getting back from SavingStar.

I guess I qualify as an "Extreme Couponer" now, but honestly, I'm not crazy! You're not going to see me coming home with an entire car packed full of toilet paper; it's just not my style.

Here's what I don't do:

  • I don't buy coupons online.  I have a single set of coupons from my Sunday paper, and if the deal's really good I might ask a friend if they have a spare.  
  • I don't buy things that my family won't use, unless they are completely free or money-making deals and I can donate them to someone.
  • I don't do a lot of extra transactions to be able to use more coupons.  Sometimes I'll go through the checkout twice if it's a really good deal, or I'll stop back later in the week for more, but you won't see me going through the checkout five different times in the same day.  Who has time for that?
  • I don't avoid buying things that aren't on sale in a transaction just to make my savings look higher.  If my family needs something, I buy it.
Here's what I do:

  • I look up good deals that other people have posted online to save me time.
  • I will try a different brand for an item my family will use, or try a new product that I think we would like  
  • I will shop multiple stores for the best price (though most of the time, I only hit up one or two stores in a week)
  • I stock up on items that will last in my pantry or freezer if they are things that we use regularly.  I love stocking up on things like cereal and paper products when there are great sales so that I don't have to ever pay full price. But I have one storage shelf in my basement and that's it -- I'm not about to become a grocery hoarder!
  • I use internet coupons a ton and take advantage of being able to print multiple copies.

Here is a picture of what I bought today, minus a box of toothpicks that I hadn't noticed fell off the bench before I snapped the photo:

All these groceries for $11.22 thanks to sales and coupons!
Here's the breakdown of my trip to ShopRite today:
  • Beneful dog treats, on sale for $2.99
    • $1.75 eCoupon loaded onto my card
    • $1.75 Printable manufacturer's coupon (MC)
    • Total: -$0.51
  • 3x Bagel Thins, on sale 3 for $6
    • 3x $0.50 Printable MCs, each doubled
    • Total: $3 ($1 each)
  • Pork chops, on sale for $1.99/lb: $6.39
  • Chicken drumsticks, on sale for $1.29/lb: $11.20
  • Corn on the cob, on sale for $0.19/ear: $0.95
  • 2x Jennie-O Turkey Franks, on sale for $1.50/package
    • $0.55/2 eCoupon loaded onto my card
    • $0.55/2 Printable MC, doubled
    • Total: $1.35 ($.68 each)
  • 2x Safest Choice eggs, on sale for $1.99/dozen
    • 2x $0.75 Printable MCs, doubled
    • Total: $0.98 ($0.49 each)
  • 2x Birds Eye Recipe Ready Chopped Onions, on sale for $0.99
    • 2x $0.75 Printable MCs, doubled to cost of item
    • Total: FREE
  • Klondike Kandy Bars, on sale for $1.99
    • Store coupon for $1 off
    • $1 MC found in blinkie coupon dispenser in-store
    • Total: -$0.01
  • 4x Turkey Hill ice cream, on sale for $1.99
    • 4x $1 Printable MCs
    • Total: $3.96 ($0.99 each)
  • St. Ives Body Wash, on sale for $1.99
    • $1 eCoupon loaded onto my card
    • $1 MC found in paper (5/18/14 RedPlum insert)
    • Total: -$0.01
  • Suave lotion, on sale for $2.77
    • $1.50 eCoupon loaded onto my card
    • $1.50 MC found in paper (5/18/14 RedPlum insert)
    • Total: -$0.23
  • 2x Dove Advanced Care Antiperspirant, on sale for $4.99
    • $4/2 eCoupon loaded onto my card
    • $4/2 MC found in paper (5/4/14 RedPlum insert)
    • Total: $1.98 ($0.99 each)
  • Diamond toothpicks, on sale for $0.69
Other deals:
  • $10 off $50+ store coupon that printed at checkout last week
  • $3 Catalina coupon from last week's shopping
  • $5 Catalina coupon from last week's shopping
I'm slightly confused because I get $11.74 when doing the math myself, so somehow I saved another $0.52 somewhere.  The cashier did have to enter some coupons manually so it's possible she mistyped (or maybe I just miscalculated).  I'll take it!

I also got a $5 Catalina coupon at checkout for buying the St. Ives body wash, Suave lotion and Dove antiperspirant.  It was a deal when you spent $15 on Unilever personal care products.  The $15 is determined before coupons and before any Price Plus Shopper's Club discounts, though, so I only spent $1.74 to get the $5 coupon!  I'll use it next week along with another $5 Catalina I have from last week's shopping trip (it couldn't be used this week because it has specific dates).

I'll be getting 20% back on my corn purchase as well, thanks to SavingStar (more info on SavingStar soon -- it's great!).

And another $10 off $50+ coupon printed at checkout for next week.  Woo hoo!

In the coming weeks, I'll be breaking down many of the little tips and tricks I've learned that help make shopping trips like this possible.  I promise, it's not hard!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Save instantly at Target with a rainy day Shopkick scavenger hunt

It was an awful, rainy morning. I'd been planning on taking the little one for a walk before the rain hit. We needed out. There were a couple of good deals I'd wanted to pick up at Target anyway, so I took the opportunity to go on a Shopkick scavenger hunt to earn us some cash toward our purchase!

(When I told my husband we were headed out on a scavenger hunt, he asked if that's what I was calling grocery shopping now. Ha!)

But no, really. Shopkick is a great, free app for iOS and Android that lets you earn gift cards. You earn "kicks" for entering certain stores, scanning certain items, and sometimes just for buying things with a linked credit card (Visa or Mastercard only right now, and only at certain stores). Target is a great place to use Shopkick because it has kicks for entering, usually has a bunch of items to scan, and you can instantly redeem 500 kicks for a $2 Target gift card.

When you walk into a store that offers walk-in kicks, you just need to open the app as you're entering the store. The app can detect that you're in the store -- I believe by an audio signal -- and should give you the points almost instantly.

Here's the screenshot from after I entered Target:



At the top, you can see I'm looking at Target under the stores. The number next to the walking person is how many kicks you'll get for walking in. Here it's showing zero because I already claimed my points before taking the screenshot (whoops). You can see that when I tap that little guy:



The number next to the barcode shows you how many points are available for scanning items. If you tap it, it will open up a special page that shows you just the scannable products:



Here you can see I've already scanned some from our successful scavenger hunt today.

Let's say I just found the Crystal Light in the store. If I tap it, I see this page, with a cute little ad and the opportunity to scan for kicks:



If I tap the button where it says "25 kicks" it will open up the scanner to scan the barcode. Once it scans, a blue bubble will pop up showing that you earned your kicks. If you scanned the wrong product, an error will appear to let you know and you can try again. After you get the kicks, an optional survey will appear. If you're not up for answering the survey, just hit the little arrow at the top left of the survey to back out of it. You'll still get the kicks for scanning, even if you don't answer the survey.

Unfortunately, just because an item shows up on the list doesn't mean that your store necessarily carries it. So you likely won't be able to scan every possible item. In a store like Target, though, you can usually find most of the products pretty easily. Today was great because several of the items were right next to each other on the shelf. There were 7 different varieties of Quaker Chewy bars available to scan, for example, and each earned 25 kicks. Almost 200 kicks, just like that. Easy!

Given that I had a toddler approaching her nap time, I didn't get around to checking for everything. But I managed to get myself up to 500 kicks, and redeemed my reward right in the store. I just tapped on the little person at the top left of the app to open the menu, and scrolled down to "Browse Rewards."



From here you can select what you'd like to spend your kicks on, assuming you have enough. If you tap on the Target gift card it'll open up your options for Target and allow you to purchase. Once you've purchased your gift card, you can access it under "My Rewards" in the app menu. When you tap on your gift card under My Rewards, a barcode will appear to show at the register, just like if you were redeeming a mobile coupon or Cartwheel offer (if you don't know about Cartwheel, no worries -- I'll fill you in soon!). The gift card will come off your order just like if you were holding an actual gift card.

Scavenger hunts with my little one aren't super exciting for her right now, but she likes going from aisle to aisle so she's pretty cool with it. When she gets a bit older I figure we can try to find the items together and she can help me scan them.

Another great place to rack up some kicks is the mall. Many stores in the mall offer walk-in kicks, so you just need to pop into the store real quick until it registers (or sometimes, if you're lucky, standing just outside the store will work too!). Once you've downloaded the app, you can scroll through the different stores to see which ones near you offer kicks.

I'll admit, I have had some occasional issues with the app. With my old phone, the app needed so much memory to run that it would basically freeze. I think they've made some improvements, but you're likely going to have the best luck with a newer device. I also had to temporarily uninstall it recently because it was eating up all of my battery. I suspect it was because I had the setting enabled for it to notify me when I was near someplace that offered kicks, so it was constantly accessing my GPS and running in the background. I've disabled that feature and haven't had too much trouble since. But for a free app, you really have nothing to lose in giving it a shot.

Check out this link to download Shopkick and go on your very own, free money scavenger hunt!