Maybe you’re an extreme couponer. Maybe you’re an extremely stupid couponer (It takes one to know one. I know, I know.). Or maybe you take a more laid back approach, only occasionally using mobile apps or perusing weekly ads. In a lot of circles, it’s the first piece of financial advice you’re given. Shop the sales. Buy what’s on sale. But there’s one secret missing from that advice: sales are meant to benefit the seller, not the consumer. Take heart, fellow deal lover, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of low prices without getting gamed.
Remember Their Purpose
When I first stumbled across Ibotta, I thought to myself, How nice. Then, I quickly realized it was nothing more than a cleverly packaged, fancily dressed rebate of sorts. Like any coupon, rebate, weekly ad, or screamin’ deal, its job is to get shoppers in the door of a store that carries the advertised company’s products. They can’t make money if they don’t have any buyers.
It’s true that some of these deals and discounts put a tally on the consumer side of the scoreboard. But it only holds true to an extent. Stores might dangle a loss leader in front of shoppers every once in awhile, but they’re not going to give all of their products away. That’s just bad business.
And when it comes to mobile apps like Ibotta, marketers really crafty. They play to consumers’ competitive nature by setting up leaderboards and putting users on teams. There are badges and notifications and emails of encouragement. You can do it! You’re almost there! You’re two purchases away from a bonus! It’s like the secret round of your favorite childhood video game crossed with the unexpected kudos from your boss. They know what makes people tick. They’re smart cookies. But you are, too.
Spend with a Plan
I love Ibotta. In fact, I adore a handful of mobile rebate and receipt apps. But I always make sure that I use the apps to reward my current spending habits, not to create new ones.
Take, for instance, a get together we hosted last month. Summer was in full swing, so cue all the thirsty patio people, right? I knew we were going to serve alcohol, so I compared what I needed with the rebates that were currently available on the app. Cha-ching. A handful overlapped, and I earned some cash back.
But you also have to know when to walk away. Just the other week, I restocked household essentials on a Target run to the tune of $5.50 cashback on Ibotta. I’m not a millionaire now, but it was a nice finale to the Cartwheel discount and a peelie coupon on the toilet paper mega pack I bought. But then, I saw the magical notification: you are one Seventh Generation purchase away from a $2 bonus.
No, I did not turn my cart around. No, I did not go back for more. Because I didn’t need any other Seventh Generation items. If I did, I would have had them on my list and bought them the first time.
The moral of this story is I can be fooled
once 947,327,021 times when it comes to couponing, but eventually, I.will.learn. And you should, too. Because the goal is to make deals work for you, not to fork over your hard-earned money for deals on things you don’t really need.
Do the Math…Correctly
So now that you’ve scored your savings, how do you talk about it? In the world of extreme couponing, the math doesn’t always add up. In fact, it rarely does.
Let’s go back to Target for one moment (Ha! Mr. P, did you hear that? I put Target and one moment in the same sentence.). I spent $31.87 at Target. I earned $5.50 on Ibotta. If I shout from the rooftops, send a clever tweet, or write a clickbaity blog post headline, I can say one of two things: my trip to Target only cost me $26.37 or I have $5.50 more to cash out of Ibotta. I don’t get to have it both ways. Because that’s not the way the math works. Cue the sad face.
Whatever shopping you’re doing and whatever way you’re hunting down deals, remember that the ultimate goal of the store and the brand is to make money. Your money. And remember that your goal is to keep as much of your money as possible. To make that happen, here’s my approach:
- Find deals, coupons, and rebates after determining what you need.
- Write everything down and stick to the list.
- Ignore the bells, whistles, and siren songs.
- Track your spending and do your math correctly.
When you’ve got that down, you can rest assured that you are using deals, not the other way around.
So Tell Me…What are your best tips and tricks for saving money? How do you avoid come-ons from stores?
PS – If you’re not on Team Ibotta and you’d like to join, here’s my link. I make a few bucks, and so will you.
PPS – If you want to read all about how I deck the halls (read: buy booze for everyone for Christmas to make shopping easier), don’t miss this love letter to Ibotta as well.
I’ve been using Ibotta for about 3 years now, and the $352 I’ve earned has cost me at least $600 in extra, unplanned purchases. As you said, sometimes I can get a small rebate on something I was going to buy anyway, but other times I’m buying $8 sunscreen for the $2 rebate when I already have 6 bottles at home.
Very few times, I’ve bought something on sale AND received a rebate, and I feel like I’ve won the grocery store game.
I like In a lot more when I could redeem as little as $5 into my PayPal account. It takes me forever to get to $20 now…
Ibotta has been very good to us when it comes to booze and natural cleaning products (Seventh Generation). After getting burned so badly with real life coupons, I think I’m cautious enough to only use the app to buy what I really need. But those sunscreen deals are tempting!
Mrs. Adventure Rich
Oh man, I always have to work on this one. I use Ibotta but try to only look at it after I make a list of things I need. That way, I can take advantage of deals without falling into the trap of buying random items just because they are on sale. Thanks for the reminder!!!
Exactly my strategy! And when I get those bonus notifications, I try so hard to resist.
I believe finding the deal after you decide the what is the most important on your list. Deals and coupons can be great, but only if they don’t convince you to spend more.
Where was this logic when I was couponing like bananas? Ha. It’s definitely easy to do things the other way around, but you’re so right!
Emily @ JohnJaneDoe
I’ve been guilty of buying stuff just for the rebate, and it’s such a bad idea. On the other hand, I’ve tried new products thanks to Ibotta that we really like (even if we wouldn’t have bought it otherwise.) I still call that a win. And yeah, sometimes it’s stuff I would have bought anyway, like whenever we get that Any Brand of Milk rebate. Definitely, a win.
Sometimes, though, it can be hard to make the call. Like Swagbucks has this pretty sweet deal at Kohl’s that ends today. ($12.50 in Swagbucks if you spend $50 in store.) And of course, it can be stacked with discounts, because I have a Kohl’s card. I wanted to take advantage yesterday with some new Jeans for the kid, but Jon talked me out of it.
Did we make the right call? She does need jeans, but she wouldn’t wear them until September at the earliest and she might grow between now and then. The rebate’s significant. On the other hand, this is supposed to be a tighten the budget month. Eh. Talking things over before and getting on the same page was probably a good idea.
That’s a really good point, Emily! I do think that’s why some brands are so generous with their rebate offers. It’s a low-risk way to try new products when you get so much of the purchase price back via rebates.
And I hear you on those shopping deals. It sounds like you’re right to get on the same page and even hold off. I hadn’t considered a growth spurt between now and September, but you and Jon are totally right!
I stopped using ibotta once I realized we were looking at ~ $1 / week in rebates with our spending. For me, it was just too much hassle.
I can see how it would be worth it to others, especially since I think they have a fair number of baby products in there that HP can help you qualify for. ?
Yes. I think the baby products will be great. I don’t use it every week because we are definitely an Aldi family first. But when it comes to stocking up on cleaning products from Target or alcohol for parties (or gifts), I do think I can score some pretty great rebates.
Mrs. Picky Pincher
Yes! I fell into the deal trap when I was obsessed with extreme couponing. If I saw the words “deal” or “savings,” I would spend the money, no questions asked. And you know what? I spent a lot of extra moolah that I otherwise wouldn’t have spent. I stocked up on Goldfish crackers once and everyone in my house HATES Goldfish. I got used!
I think I had four or five bottles of contact solution at one point in our bathroom. Do you know who wears contacts? No one. Sigh. It made for a nice donation or so I tell myself.
Well, I’m not a couponer nor a hunter of rebates and only look through the sales notifications when I’m in need of a particular thing. I’m sure those apps and rebate clubs and things like Kohl’s Swagbucks work well for a lot of people but they don’t for me. I know that I’d be tempted to spend money that I hadn’t planned on spending on stuff I really didn’t need to meet whatever the threshold is. Too many years and too much money down the drain has taught me that spending five dollars on something that I didn’t need to get a dollar back on something I do use is silliness. Lol!
That’s probably the best shopping secret there is: only look when you’re in need.
I’ve never been a couponer, but I will use the peelie kind if it is on the package. I do use Ibotta, but really only because they regularly feature a particular brand of liquor I enjoy. Other than that, I don’t pay much attention. I have a friend who gave up her Sam’s Club membership because she said her grocery bill went up by 25% because she was getting so many “deals” on bulk purchases. I can attest to that. I estimate we throw away 30% of the produce we buy at Sam’s. Am working on my spouse to reduce the waste, but the siren call of a bulk deal is almost too much. It’s like the marketers know what they are doing. Hmm. . .
Haha. Those crafty marketers! We don’t shop at Sam’s very often. I’ll go with my mom on occasion for holiday gifts or something like that, but we couldn’t go through that much food that fast. We also don’t have a pantry. Our kitchen isn’t designed for warehouse purchases!
Ms. Frugal Asian Finance
I totally agree with you some that sometimes deals make us spend money instead of saving. I personally have never used Ibotta, but I’ve seen it mentioned by a lot of PF bloggers. I guess for me, it all comes down to buying what I need at a reasonable price. If not, chances are I’ll say no. 🙂
I do really like Ibotta, but I don’t go out of my way to use it. Like you said, it’s all about buying what we need. We tend to shop at Aldi, so I don’t even really think about Ibotta most weeks. But if I’m making a Target run or using another grocery store, then I’ll check!
I stopped using these apps when it seemed like everything you needed to buy was a brand-name item. Then Mr. Smith took over most of the grocery and he doesn’t really use apps.
But you make a good point that can be applied to spending in general, USE YOUR BRAIN! You should always be aware of what you’re spending money on and not let advertisers or apps convince you that you need extra things.
Yes. And to remember that people are looking to make a buck, not necessarily save us one!
I check coupons after I do my list. If it is not on the list, coupons are not used, most are processed foods, or products I don’t use.
I hear you with the processed foods! That’s one thing that I do enjoy about Ibotta. They seem to have a fair about of rebates for fresh produce.
So true, Penny! Using self-control with these apps is so, so much harder than anyone thinks it is- even if you are aware of who the coupon app really benefits. A coupon-induced dopamine rush is addicting, like cocaine, and we are masters of justifying purchases to ourselves – “Oh, but I’ll use it someday.” “Oh, but it never hurts to have lots of these.” “I can afford the fancy name brand stuff now cause I’ve got a coupon.”
Remember: an item not bought is always 100% off, and when coupons make you make a purchase now that you could have made later, you miss out on having that money available for an emergency, or earning interest/dividends.
That’s what I always think when I go on those extreme couponing sites. It takes a lot of $$$ up front to stockpile like that. And as you said, it’s money that could be spent or saved elsewhere.