The one area of my budget that is consistently out of control is my food budget. I’m just as guilty as the rest of you. So I decided to try out the Ibotta app, to see if my grocery bill could see some savings.
Ibotta is an app for your smartphone where you earn money for purchasing things. Think a coupon book in your smartphone. Without having to give the cashier any of those little pieces of paper. After you finish shopping, you check off the items you bought, take a picture of your receipt and get a credit for the rebates/coupons.
I signed up back in January, thinking it would be a nice boost for my food budget.
Sigh. It seems it has really turned out to be more marketing, less money saving.
Ibotta is Couponing in the Digital World
Ibotta can help you cut your grocery bill by giving you cash back on purchases you make. But like couponing, you have to play the game. The app features various rebates, but like coupons and traditional coupons, they are typically limited in value. You won’t be getting a bunch of free items here. Most rebates range from $0.25 – $1.00 at the grocery store. Some of the other stores, with higher valued items, having larger rebates. A current promotion is $5.00 cash back when you buy Seventh Generation 3 pack diapers, 60 count or larger, at Target. The rebates are typically for very specific products – the name brand products.
The app is free. You don’t have to cut coupons. It is an easy to use app where you don’t need a lot of instruction to get started. Ibotta has done a great job of getting all the major stores near me on the app. Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, and the main local area grocery stores are all on the app. If you want to skip the whole taking pictures of your receipts, you can link loyalty cards to the app. Then when you use the loyalty card, it will apply the rebates for you.
You can really rack up with bonuses. The Welcome Bonus and then they usually have some bonuses for random holidays, start of summer, etc. The bonuses will work best for those that shop often (at least 2 times per week).
After you meet the minimums, you can transfer the money from Ibotta using PayPal or Venmo. You can also transfer it out for gift cards at some of the featured merchants that use the app.
The Bad News
You don’t get instant savings. You still have to pay the grocery store and then when you accumulate enough rebates and bonuses, you can ask them to send you the money. At least with coupons, they take the value off the bill, right there at the grocery store, before you part with your money.
Oh, and when you transfer money from Ibotta using Venmo, it will show up in your friends feed. So they know you are using Ibotta. Some people like their privacy when trying to be frugal, so if this is a concern to you, just know about it going in. The app can also be quite pushy – notifications and emails reminding you to go spend more money. While it can remind you that a rebate is expiring (just like coupons expire), if you weren’t going to end up buying the product, is “saving” 25 cents worth spending more dollars?
While the app is free, it is not without its cost. Ibotta is essentially a marketing company. They need data to sell to their customers – and no, you are not the customer. You are the user. To qualify for a rebate, you have to usually watch a short video, answer a survey, or something similar. You know they are collecting all this data, a la Facebook, and using it to market new products to you in an effort to part you from your hard earned cash. OK. That is all a bit cynical, but you know it is true. If you don’t consider all this bad news, then Ibotta will probably work more for you than me.
I’ve generally found the best money saving tips to be avoiding marketing. Email, TV, web, radio, whatever. So with Ibotta really being a marketing company, you probably won’t succeed too much.
I’ve found that often, you will end up saving more money by going with the generic products that dealing with the Ibotta rebates. Now the “any product, any brand” rebates are nice. But these generic rebates are on the lower end – 25-50 cents – and typically limited in their overall effectiveness.
Obviously, if you are already buying the products listed, a little cash back isn’t going to hurt you. But like coupons and rebates, they are there to incentivize you to buy more and spend more.
Who Will Benefit Most from Ibotta
If you have mastered the art of coupon clipping, then Ibotta will probably work for you. Admittedly, I’ve never been the best at cutting coupons, planning my shopping trips around them, and otherwise rocking out the grocery store game. Ibotta will not change that for you or me.
If you grocery shop regularly, like if you cook at home a lot and for multiple people, you’ll probably do better than me, a single person with no kids. You can really rack up on some of the bonuses offered when you shop regularly. Me, on the other hand, well, I end up grocery shopping once or twice a month and eating out the rest of the time. It took me months to get over the minimum threshold ($20) to Venmo the money.
Honestly, 5 months of work to get $27.25, plus giving up a bunch of personal information, just isn’t worth the effort to me. It definitely is in the “Other 80%” category for the Pareto Rule.
If you want to try Ibotta out to see if you can make it work for you, then use my referral code. Hopefully, you can work the game better than me! I’ll get bonuses for you joining – and bonuses are really how you make the app work. Plus, it’ll help keep the website up and running.