READY, SET, SAVE
Headed to your favorite store? You could be using your phone to earn cash back on the stuff you buy. Some apps reward you simply for walking into a store and buying certain products while others act like digital coupon books, but all of them allow you to save on everything from groceries to cosmetics to clothing and more. There is a catch, of course. All of these money-saving apps and sites require you to create accounts and document your purchases in some way, such as snapping photos of your receipts or allowing them to monitor your credit card activity. But if you're okay with that, you could see some significant savings accumulate over time on your everyday purchases. These 10 are some of the best, according to experts. All of them are free to download and available for Apple and Android phones.
What's the deal? Accumulate points (called "kicks") and earn gift cards you can redeem at retailers such as Amazon, Ebay, Safeway, Starbucks, and Target.
How it works: Shopkick, founded in 2009, was one of the first shopping reward apps and has long been a reviewer favorite for its ease of use. Download the app from iTunes or Google and install it on your smartphone. Shopkick is designed to reward you for both browsing and shopping; it's up to you how much you want to interact with the app. You can earn kicks simply by visiting partner brick-and-mortar stores like Old Navy or Lowe's or online retailers like Jet and Groupon. Make it a little more rewarding by clicking on online offers or scanning barcodes on promoted products in stores, as well as by linking your credit card or scanning your receipts. Deals and kick values change regularly to encourage you to check the app frequently, and you can also get text messages when new deals drop.
Earning and redeeming rewards: The number of points you can earn varies from as few as 10 points for visiting a promoted store to 500 points or more for spending above a certain amount at those same retailers. You can also earn two points for every dollar spent at select shops. Gift cards are available in denominations of $2, $5, $10, $15, and $25, with a redemption ratio of 250 points per $1 in reward value.
What's the deal? Use the app or website to find deals at online retailers, get coupon codes, and print grocery coupons to clip and use in stores.
How it works: Coupon Sherpa may have started as a coupon app back in 2009, but it's grown considerably since to become a go-to site for discounts on everything from pantry staples to clothing, electronics, and home goods. Unlike other sites, you don't need to create an account or link a credit card to get Coupon Sherpa's deals. You'll find discounts like 15 percent off your purchase at Kohl's and promotional links for online deals like $3 off Tide Pods for Target Cartwheel members, plus printable coupon you can use in stores. Coupon Sherpa has a very broad selection of discounts, but shop carefully; some "discounts" are just links to retailer sales that don't provide additional savings. Usually, these are listed as "no coupon necessary" deals.
Earning and redeeming rewards: Think of Coupon Sherpa as your guide to saving a little extra at retailer like Macy's, 6pm.com, Carter's, Gap, Hertz, and more. Browse the site, click on deals you like, and shop. There are no rewards to accumulate or to redeem.
What's the deal? Scan your shopping receipts to earn "coins" you can redeem for Amazon gift cards and cash via PayPal, or accumulate "spins" for a chance to win bonus coins on Hog Roulette.
How it works: Launch the app to take photos of your shopping receipts, making sure that the store name, all of items you purchased, the total amount due, and the date are all visible. Receipt Hog doesn't care what store you go to or who made the purchases; it could be you or any other family member that you regularly shop for (friends and roommates don't count). You can earn "coins" for purchases at retailers including grocery stores, drugstores, dollar stores, and big-box stores like Costco and Sam's. Purchases at clothing, department, furniture, home improvement, sporting goods and office stores earn "spins" instead. Receipts from gas stations, bars, restaurants, and coffee shop don't earn rewards, but each one counts as an entry into regular sweepstakes drawings for bonus coins. At present, you can only earn credit for in-store purchases, but the company says it plans to offer credit for online purchases in the future.
Earning and redeeming rewards: You'll earn a minimum of 5 points for each receipt under $10 that you submit. Purchases of $10 to $50 are worth 10 coins; $50 to $100, 15 coins; $100 or more, 20 coins. Earn 100 coins or more in a week, and you'll get a 5-coin bonus. Receipt Hog has four redemption levels: 1,000 coins are worth $5 in cash via PayPal or in Amazon gift card credit; 2,900 coins are worth $15; 4,300 coins are worth $25; and 6,500 coins are worth $40. Forty dollars is the maximum amount you can redeem at one time.
What's the deal? Use the app to find deals on featured products and services, then scan your receipts from those purchases, and earn cash back or an equivalent amount in major-retailer gift cards.
How it works: Launch the app before you go shopping and spend some time reviewing deals on groceries, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, apparel, restaurants and bars, travel, and more. Deals change weekly and are good for 14 days. Ibotta has more than 500,000 partners, including Publix, Walmart, CVS, and Dick's Sporting Goods, so finding deals on things you buy regularly isn't a problem. Can't be bothered scanning receipts? Ibotta also will let you earn points by linking store loyalty cards or by making in-app purchases on the same featured items. You can earn bonus dollars by completing in-store tasks like scanning certain items or by linking your Facebook account and asking friends to join.
Earning and Redeeming Rewards: The amount of cash back you can earn varies based on what you buy and where you shop. Buying a dozen eggs at your local Kroger will earn you 25 cents, for example, while three boxes of your favorite cereal is worth $3. Other deals are worth a little more, such as $5 off a $50 purchase at Express or $4 back for ordering a Budweiser or Bud Light and food at Chili's. Once you accumulate $20 in cash back, you can redeem it for money via PayPal and Venmo or receive the same amount on a gift card from any number of partner retailers, including Amazon, Stitch Fix, Hotels.com, Groupon, and brick-and-mortar stores like Whole Foods, Target, and Fandango.
What's the deal? Browse and select discounts on products, buy them at any store, upload your shopping receipts to prove you've purchased the item, and earn cash rewards with Checkout 51. You can also earn cash back for shopping at retail partners such as Whole Foods and Walmart.
How it works: Install the app and create an account using your email address or Facebook profile. New deals are posted every Thursday and are valid for one week. Most of the offers are for grocery items, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, and personal-care items, such as 75 cents off Honey Maid graham crackers or $1 off Clorox cleaning products. But you'll occasionally find more lucrative rewards, such as $4 off a five-pack of Bic Flex 5 disposable razors or $10 off a Sunbeam Aero Ceramic steam iron. And unlike some other apps, you can use many deals more than one time, although you can only use each receipt once to document a purchase.
Earning and redeeming rewards: Once you've accumulated at least $20 in rebates, use the app to request your payout and you'll receive a check from Checkout 51, usually within two weeks of making the request. Or, you can let your balance grow; there's no limit to your savings. The company says it plans to add PayPal payments in the near future.
What's the deal? Launch the app and browse deals at stores like Albertsons, Costco, Kmart, and Walmart. Select deals on the products you want to buy, then buy those items in-store, and accumulate cash back or donate to American Forests, a conservation nonprofit.
How it works: Download the app and create an account with an email address or Facebook account. There are two ways to earn rewards with SavingStar. For some stores — including BJ's, CVS, KMart, and Wegmans -- all you need to do is link your shopping rewards card to the SavingStar app and then swipe it when you check out. For other retailers, like Albertsons, Costco, Target, and Walmart, you'll need to scan and upload your receipts. Unlike some other apps, SavingStar requires you to also snap a photo of the barcodes on all products you buy. If you don't have a smartphone with a camera, you can upload your receipts and barcode photos via the SavingStar website. Most of the deals are for grocery or personal-care items and range from a fixed dollar amount (for example, getting $5 back when you purchase $20 worth of Goya products) to a percentage off of the sale amount (20 percent loose lemons and limes).
Earning and redeeming rewards: SavingStar rebates are deposited into your account within a week of making your purchase. Once you accumulate at least $20, you can cash out and have your funds sent to your bank account, your PayPal account, or receive that amount on a gift card for AMC theaters, iTunes, or Starbucks.
What's the deal? Ebates, founded in 1998, is the elder statesman of cash-back shopping. Link your Visa or American Express credit card to your Ebates account, then choose the deals you want at your favorite stores, and earn cash back on those purchases. You can also earn cash back by using the Ebates app to shop online at partner retailers.
How it works: Create an account with your email, Google, or Facebook accounts. Ebates gives all new members the choice of a $10 Walmart gift card or $10 in reward credit to get started. Unlike other cash-back apps that focus on grocery and drugstores, Ebates rewards members for shopping at outlet stores and big-box retailers like CB2, Gap Outlet, and Macy's. Launch the app and choose the deals from the retailers you plan to shop at, such as 2 percent off your total at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The discounts aren't significant in most instances, but Ebates also posts "hot deals" daily that can significantly increase your savings, like a recent deal for 25 percent off your Macy's purchase, free shipping, and 12 percent cash back. To start saving, all you need to do is use the credit cards you've linked to your Ebates account. You don't need to scan barcodes or send photos of your store receipts. Like many retailers, Ebates also has a branded Visa card that will reward you with an additional 3 percent back on all purchases made through the site.
Earning and redeeming rewards: Unlike other apps, which let you cash out as soon as you hit a certain credit limit, Ebates makes payments on a quarterly basis. Members can have their funds deposited into their PayPal accounts or receive a Big Fat Check (that's what they call it!) in the mail. The only catch is that you must have at least $5 worth of cash-back credit to get paid; otherwise, the money will roll over in your account until the next payout.
What's the deal? Use your phone like a digital coupon book to save money on grocery and personal-care items.
How it works: Once you've created an account using an email address and your mobile phone number, link it to your grocery store reward cards, then scan the app to find favorite grocer and find deals they're offering. To receive credit, just use your reward card when you check out. Recent discounts include $1 off two boxes of General Mills cereal, $3 off Tide Pods, and $5 off Crest 3D White teeth-whitening strips. Participating retailers include Foodtown, Kroger, Safeway, ShopRite, and Vons (about 5,000 nationwide, the company says), but you won't find other big chains like Albertsons, Publix, or Whole Foods. Cellfire plans to add more grocers in the near future. Like paper coupons, deals and discounts are posted and expire on a regular basis. Although you can't stack e-coupons to increase your savings, you can do it with paper coupons (something Cellfire pointedly discourages on its FAQ).
Earning and redeeming rewards: The savings are instant; no receipts to scan or requesting payouts. But Cellfire does keep track of how much you've saved over time, and as any dedicated coupon clipper can attest, those savings do add up.
WALMART SAVINGS CATCHER
What's the deal? If you shop at Walmart regularly, this app is a must. Submit your receipts and earn store credit whenever the app finds a lower price somewhere else.
How it works: Download the app, create a Walmart.com account, and activate Walmart Pay (which allows you to pay with your phone much like Apple Pay or Google Wallet). Then, shop online or in any Walmart store for groceries, personal-care items, and consumables like paper towels or bleach. Once you make your purchase, you have seven days to submit a picture of your paper receipt or send a digital receipt (something you can do with just a tap of the app). The primary drawback is that Savings Catcher doesn't apply for big-ticket items like auto parts, electronics, home goods, and clothing. You're also limited to submitting a maximum of seven receipts per week.
Earning and redeeming rewards: If the app finds a lower price or a buy-one-get-one-free offer advertised by a competitor, it will refund you the difference on your Walmart Pay account up to $599.99 per year. You can redeem your credit in stores or online by using the app, as well as keep track of how much you've earned over time.
What's the deal? Link your debit and credit cards to your Drop account, then accumulate points you can redeem for online gift cards from retailers.
How it works: This Canadian import arrived in the U.S. at the end of 2017, making it one of the newest reward apps. Their target audience may be Millennials, but anyone can use the app to earn cash back for shopping. Download the app and enter your phone number to begin, then link as many credit and debit cards to your account as you like. When you join, you'll be asked to choose the five retailers you shop at most often, among them Amazon, Starbucks, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods. Use the app to track and redeem points and to find limited-time deals.
Earning and redeeming awards: Any time you make a purchase using a linked card, you'll earn a percentage back, usually 1 or 2 percent, as Drop Points. For instance, purchases at Amazon will earn you 20 points per dollar spent. You can also earn points by clicking on one-time deals, like 200 points for shopping at CVS. Every 1,000 points is worth $1 you can redeem in $5 increments, depending on the retailer (such as a $5 Starbucks card). You can also let your points accumulate for bigger discounts, like $100 off American Airlines travel for 100,000 points.