Anyone who has visited a grocery store lately knows that food is only getting more expensive. Fortunately, a new generation of digital grocery apps give consumers a high-tech way to save. Unlike coupons that deliver a discount at the register, these apps pay you back, in cash, directly. All you have to do is purchase an eligible product and take a picture of the receipt. The app verifies your purchase, and then pays you back. Some apps require another step, such as scanning a barcode, but the process is usually fast and painless. As a bonus, you can sometimes scan the same receipt with more than one app, multiplying your return. And you can combine apps with in-store coupons for deeper discounts, and even make money on a purchase.
Groupon's grocery app is simple to use and works at any store. All you have to do is send a picture of your receipt to qualify. The items that are eligible can be a bit random at times, everything from Robitussin to jars of salsa, but they are updated frequently. The app sends you a check once you have $20 in your account.
This app focuses on healthy foods, so if gluten-free chocolate or non-GMO stevia sound appetizing, this is the one for you. BerryCart works only at participating stores, but the list of stores includes some major chains: Whole Foods, Sprouts, Safeway, Kroger, and Target. It requires you to learn a "fun fact" about a product before taking photos of your receipt and the item's barcode to earn money back. Cash out via PayPal or a store gift card once you've reached $5.
Shrink combines cash-back offerings on groceries with the added potential of earning extra coupons from brands. See a $1 cash-back offer for your favorite yogurt? Redeem that and you may be able to unlock an additional coupon to use on your next purchase. Shrink is all about major brands, so it works at every store. Collect your earnings via PayPal once you reach $20.
This app is a bit more complicated. In addition to sending a picture of your receipt you need to "unlock" the rebate by answering a question about the product or sharing the product on your social network. You also need to scan the eligible product's barcode. While other apps let you make your purchase anywhere, iBotta works only with partner stores, but the list of stores is long. iBotta started with grocery items and continues to have one of the largest selection of eligible products. It now also offers similar deals at restaurants, electronics stores, pet shops, movie theaters, and more. Cash out at $10 via PayPal, Venmo, or with store gift cards.
One of the simpler apps, Shopmium requires just a picture of your receipt, from any store. It also stands apart from the other apps because the money you earn is automatically transferred to your PayPal account, no minimum required.
GROCERY STORE APPS
Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game, a site that aggregates and compares coupons and savings for members, reminds us that most stores have their own apps. Often, each app contains a general coupon section, as well as personalized coupons linked to the store's loyalty program. You can save the discounts to your account and use them at checkout without clipping anything. The one downside is that if you're a coupon user, sometimes the app's digital coupons are worth less than the paper variety.
To benefit while grocery shopping with SavingStar, you can either take a picture of your receipt or automate the process by using a linked credit card. The company recently released a SavingStar American Express credit card that earns up to 10 percent on groceries. Collect via PayPal, bank deposit, or donate your earnings to charity once you reach $5.
This app works with receipts from any store. There aren't a lot of products to choose from, but every week you can pick one generic item like corn or tomatoes and get $.25 back on your purchase. Cash out via PayPal at $20.
WALMART'S SAVINGS CATCHER
Cheapism did an in-depth review of Walmart's Savings Catcher when it was released. The app checks the prices of what you bought against local competitors and refunds the difference in the form of Walmart gift cards. In practice it doesn't always work so well, but it's an interesting concept and worth keeping an eye on.
OUT OF MILK
A surefire way to overspend on groceries is to buy more than you need. Out of Milk lets you create, manage, and share shopping lists so you always know what you need and what you already have at home -- and what you're significant other or roommate has recently purchased. You can also track coupons and more general to-do items within the app.
Letting food spoil is just like throwing money down the drain. Big Oven lets you list ingredients that you have on hand and finds recipes to prepare with them.