We all know about the paper coupon. But as RVers, we don’t get the usual newspaper subscriptions, and we don’t get the local sales flyers mailed to us. We want to save, but don’t want piles of coupons cluttering the RV. Saving money is possible without cluttering the RV using mobile apps like Ibotta. Ibotta offers discounts similar to what you might be used to with scissors in hand, but makes it a lot easier.
What is Ibotta?
At the most basic level, it’s a tool for merchants to get you into their stores and buying certain products. For you, it’s a rebate program that gives you cash for certain things you might have been doing anyways. Of course, merchants/advertisers get the opportunity to develop a profile of what you’re buying, but they already do that. Especially if you’re using a credit/debit card and a store rewards card, most of that information has already been shared to some degree.
While it’s somewhat similar to carrying a coupon into the store, you don’t have to do anything in the store. You can find stuff in the app, sometimes even after you’ve gotten home, and claim the rewards for the purchase. If you have other coupons for the same thing, use the coupons in store and get the rebate from Ibotta. Stores that double coupons won’t double the Ibotta deals, but you can stack the in-store deals (coupons or ads) on top of the Ibotta deals. Here are a few examples:
- $1 off any purchase
- $0.25 off carrots
- $2 off any 12-packs of Pepsi cans
- 10% off at Sears.com
- $10 off Sam’s Club memberships
I happened to have a HyVee rewards card bonus worth $10 that had to be spent before July 4th. Needing just a few things, we checked out with a total of $10.52 on the bill. The cashier subtracted the $10 credit we earned last week, and after leaving the store, we claimed the $1 “any purchase” rebate to make the bill for the trip $0.48 in the black. That trip last week netted $17 in savings, and a large electronics purchase on Jet.com last fall saved me 10%, or $100.
It’s real money, and it’s pretty easy. Depending on the store, you either use the store’s loyalty program or take a photo of your receipt. For online-only offers, you use the store’s app to place your order, which automatically confirms to Ibotta that you made the purchase. The rest of the post explains how to get started, set a few in-app settings (my preferences anyways), and start saving money.
- Visit Ibotta (click here) on your PC/tablet to sign up. I find it a little easier to browse that way, and it’s a little easier to set your preferences. Also install the app though, on your phone, as that’s how you’ll collect rewards. Good news–you earn $10 on top of your first reward!
- After you sign up, and while you’re thinking about it, set your e-mail notification preferences. Click/tap your name in the top right corner, and select settings. Then find “E-mail Alerts” on the left side, and choose what you’d like to see. So long as you have the app, most of the e-mail alerts for deals are redundant. Tweak the “App Alerts” section similarly.
- Decide whether you want to participate in “Teamwork”. You can form a team of friends using Ibotta, where there are extra savings bonuses if your team reaches certain levels of participation. While this sounds like it’d be a tall order, it’s pretty easy, usually with a few dollars in bonuses if the team hits 5 purchases in a month.
- Then proceed to Ad Tracking, and decide whether you want to allow ad tracking and customized ads. The subject of ad tracking is more complex than I’ll get into here, though as mentioned, most stores track your activity already.
Finding and Redeeming Offers
So this is the part that takes just a little bit of time. Offers are organized into categories, and some are store-specific. The in-store discounts are typically more specific to certain items, and are fixed dollar-value discounts. Most of the online deals are percentage-based rebates tied to certain retailers.
Remember that these are rebates paid directly to you, not the merchant, so your total at checkout doesn’t change. Unlike mail-in rebates, there’s nothing to fill out and mail, and the process is generally complete within 48 hours, not 6-8 weeks. Saving money this way pays off quickly.
I’ve started to make a habit out of taking a look through the offers as I’m making a grocery list. Obviously, if there’s a specific product with a coupon that you’re interested in, add it. But also look in the “Any Item” category–there’s almost always a $0.25 coupon for any grocery item purchase, and usually at least a few similar coupons for buying milk, carrots, or eggs, where the brand doesn’t matter.
When you go to the store, simply buy those items and check out making sure to use the store card if there is one (the free ones they hand out in-store, no credit card needed). When you get home, go back into the app and redeem your offer. Ibotta will ask you to confirm which items on your list were purchased. Depending on the store, it may ask you to take a photo of the receipt. Your rewards show immediately as “Pending.” Often within an hour, but almost always within 24 hours, Ibotta confirms the credit in your account.
A nice bonus is that you can save your store rewards card information within the Ibotta app, and it will load the card’s barcode when you check out–let the cashier scan it, and you’re saving money just a tad more.
These work a little bit differently than the in-store deals. Generally, you open Ibotta, select a merchant, and it will forward you either to the merchant’s website or app on your phone/tablet. You make the purchase, and that’s it! Usually these take a little longer than the in-store deals, but Ibotta will notify you after you make the purchase how soon to expect confirmation. Depending on what you’re buying, these savings can be substantial. They also stack with any other coupons/deals, so that 10% eBay Bucks deal or the 5% promotional category on your credit card can add up to significant savings.
Of course, the goal of Ibotta is as an advertising tool for merchants, so take the time to shop around a bit when you’re considering a big buy. Places like Jet.com (owned by Wal-Mart), Sears.com, and Petco often have 10% discounts, with some specialty merchants going even bigger. Wal-Mart almost always has a 1% rebate broadly, with other discounts for certain categories. Given that you can order online and pick up in store a few minutes later, these kind of bridge the gap between “online” and “in-store” deals.
I admit I haven’t bothered with some of these, but I’m aware of their existence. There are a number of tools for setting up a “team” with your friends (real ones) and Facebook cohorts. When you do, you can earn bonuses as a group–sometimes for a certain number of uses in a month, sometimes for redeeming a certain type of offer, and lots of times for hitting a certain savings level. You can get them solo, but the rewards are often bigger with friends. Like I said, the feature exists, even though I haven’t used it much. My “team” is only a small handful of close friends.
Turning Ibotta Rewards into Cash
We always ask with rewards deals like Ibotta how you get to spend the cash. Fortunately, with Ibotta, it’s pretty easy. As soon as you accumulate $20, all you need is your phone number to have the cash sent to you using PayPal. So you get real cash, that can be spent anywhere. Since you travel, that’s better than a gift card or store credit that might not be usable at your next destination.