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.