How This Frugal Mom Earned $830 With Cash Back Apps

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Shopping for groceries, clothes, and other everyday items can take a toll on your wallet. Taking advantage of cash back apps is a smart move for earning some of what you spend back and saving money.

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Shopping for groceries, clothes, and other everyday items can take a toll on your wallet. Taking advantage of cash back apps is a smart move for earning back some of what you spend and for saving money.

Ibotta and Rakuten are two top shopping apps for earning cash back on purchases. Both can offer cash rewards when you shop partner merchants — but how do you make the most of them? Tana Williams, personal finance expert and founder of Debt Free Forties, shares her best frugal secrets for saving hundreds of dollars with Ibotta and Rakuten.

How to Maximize Savings With Cash Back Apps

Both Ibotta and Rakuten are cash back apps that reward you for shopping in-store or online. Williams has racked up approximately $500 in savings with Ibotta and $330 with Rakuten.

Tana's Ibotta earnings screenshot

It’s easy to sign up for Ibotta or create a free account with Rakuten. Once you do, you can power up your cash back earnings with these tips.

1. Compare cash-back offers before you shop.

Williams’ first tip for making the most of cash back offers with Ibotta and Rakuten is to run the numbers before you shop.

“Compare the cash back percentages and coupons,” she said. “It’s surprising how wildly the amount of savings can vary.”

That starts with getting to know the retailers in each app’s merchant network. Ibotta works with approximately 300 retailers, including grocery and department stores. Rakuten’s partner network includes more than 2,500 stores. But there’s some overlap between the two.

For example, right now you can earn up to 10% cash back at Macy’s through Rakuten, but the rate is only 6% through Ibotta. If you’re not taking the time to compare offers from merchants across both platforms, you could be shortchanging your cash back earnings.

Related: Rakuten Review: How Does the Cash Back App Work? Is it Legit?

2. Time purchases carefully.

Cash back offers can fluctuate seasonally, so it’s smart to keep an eye on the calendar to maximize savings. For instance, Rakuten routinely offers double and triple cash back promotions seasonally that make getting paid to shop even more attractive.

Some of the seasonal deals you may want to keep an eye out for include:

  • Back to school and fall promotions
  • Holiday shopping
  • Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
  • Graduation promotions

While these deals usually don’t apply to every store, it’s worth waiting to make a purchase to snag them, Williams said. If you’re patient, you could easily multiply your savings on things you were planning to buy anyway.

Related: Ibotta Review: Is the $20 Sign Up Bonus Worth It?

3. Don’t miss out on added coupon savings.

Tana's Rakuten earnings of $300+Ibotta and Rakuten can both put cash in your pocket, but coupon deals can add even more to your savings total, Williams says.

There are two ways to make the most of coupons with either app. First, start by checking the coupon deals offered online at Rakuten.

Rakuten features daily coupons and promo codes that can save you money. These coupon deals combine instant savings with cash back, so it’s worth your time to scan what’s available that day before you shop.

The other way to leverage coupons is by stacking them when you shop with Ibotta. Let’s say you have a manufacturer coupon for laundry detergent. You can apply the coupon at the checkout when shopping in the store, and then scan your Ibotta receipt to get cash back rebates.

Coupons and promo codes are a simple way to double dip, but read the fine print and make sure you can stack them with cash back offers. If you can only choose one, Williams says to check the promo code or coupon savings against the cash back offer to see which one has the bigger payoff.

Also, look out for stores marked “Coupons Only” or “No Discount” when shopping Rakuten. In that case, you’ll only get the coupon deal advertised, but won’t earn cash back.

Related: 10 Best Apps Like Ibotta to Earn Rebates and Get Cash Back

4. Compare in-store versus online deals.

Both Ibotta and Rakuten let you earn cash back rewards when you shop online or in stores. But that doesn’t mean cash back deals are always the same.

For example, Dick’s Sporting Goods offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase online, but 1.5% cash back when you shop in the store with Rakuten. On the other hand, you can earn 10% cash back shopping Calvin Klein online, but only 2% cash back in stores.

When weighing in-store versus online cash back offers at Rakuten, consider the trade-offs.

For example, you could earn more cash back going to a store, but you’re also spending time and money driving there. If the cash back gap isn’t that wide, it might make more sense to shop online and save yourself some time.

“If you’re shopping in-store with Ibotta, make sure you’ve added the offers you want to take advantage of before completing your purchase”, Williams says. Otherwise, you won’t be able to redeem the offers after you check out.

Related: 11 Best Shopping Apps to Score Epic Savings

5. Consider a cash back credit card, but weigh the pros and cons.

Cash back credit cards are another easy way to stack cash back savings with Ibotta and Rakuten, Williams says.

Let’s say you have a cash back card that pays you back 3% at grocery stores and department stores. You have an Ibotta rebate offer for 3% back at your favorite grocery store and a Rakuten offer for 10% back at the department store you shop at most often.

If you were to pair your card with those offers, you could easily earn 6% back on groceries and 13% back on department store purchases. That assumes, however, that you’re paying your card balance in full each month.

Carrying a balance month to month means paying interest, which essentially negates your cash back earnings. Before you shop, consider your credit card spending and payment habits to make sure you won’t cost yourself money in the long run.

Saving Money with Ibotta and Rakuten Has Never Been Easier

If the idea of using money-saving apps sounds good, then Ibotta and Rakuten can both help with making your frugal goal a reality. The key is knowing how each one works so you can make the best use of them.

Don’t forget to have a plan for the cash back you’re earning so you can stretch those extra dollars in your budget as far as possible. You can use the funds to save for a down payment on a house, an emergency fund, or as extra spending money in your budget.

Rebecca Lake

Rebecca is a personal finance expert and writer based in North Carolina. She started freelance writing as a side hustle and now writes full-time for sites like Lending Tree, Magnify Money, U.S. News & World Report and Forbes Advisor.

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