Between bonus cash-back offers from credit cards and religiously using cash-back tools like Cently and Fetch Rewards, consumer savings and lifestyle guru Andrea Woroch earns anywhere from $50 to $100 or more each month in cash-back.
That may not sound like a huge haul to some. But amid uncertain economic times when every penny counts? That's grocery money, cash to pay a utility bill, or spare change to cover the cost of something you might not have otherwise been able to afford.
"Consumers often overlook the benefit cash-back apps offer because they may see it as minimal return on their purchases or they may simply forget to take the steps to earn money back," Woroch says.
By ignoring the burgeoning industry of cash-back apps, however, especially at a time when we're all doing a tremendous amount of everyday shopping online, you're leaving money on the table.
"Given that the average mobile order was just over $86 as of 2019 and the average online order was $112 according to Statistica, earning 1 to 6 percent cash back with a digital tool each time you shop is an easy way to make some money back on what you're buying," Woroch says.
Long viewed by some consumers as too good to be true, or even slightly scammy, the world of cash-back apps has come a long way. For those not in the habit of clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper, cash-back apps have modernized such frugal habits, making it incredibly easy to save money—and in some cases, practically gamifying the art of being a savvy shopper.
Ready to get in on the cash-back action? Here are some of the best ways to use cash-back apps and browser extensions to maximize the money you're earning on everyday purchases.
Choose an app that works at stores you already frequent
If you shop for household items or spend money someplace nearly every week or month, why not earn a few dollars back in the process? One of the best ways to make sure that happens is to select cash-back apps or browser extensions that work with your favorite retailers or e-commerce stores, whether it's Amazon, Target, Walmart or anyplace else.
"Dosh is very convenient because you can simply link your credit card to your Dosh account and get cash back from shopping at Pizza Hut, Walmart, or other popular businesses and brands," says Reynolds.
The app works at thousands of places, allowing users to earn cash back when shopping, dining and even booking a hotel stay. When you swipe your credit card at participating businesses, Dosh deposits cash back into your account. When the money in your account adds up to $25 or more, it can be transferred to your bank, PayPal, or Venmo.
Dosh is really just one example of this type of simplicity. The key takeaway is to do your research and opt for an app that works with the places you spend the most money.
Check in with your cash back apps regularly
With so many apps in our lives these days (the average smartphone owner uses 10 per day and 30 per month) it can be easy to forget about using some of them once they've been downloaded.
But not checking in with your cash-back app regularly would be a mistake if you're looking to maximize earnings, says Arthur Iinuma, president and co-founder of ISBX, an app development and consulting agency serving such household names as Apple, Nike, L'Oreal, and Warner Brothers.
"The apps refresh every day, so it's often worth it to open your app each day to be informed about new deals," says Iinuma. "Write out your shopping list with the app open so that you can take advantage of any deals on your regular purchases."
Turn on app notifications
Getting constant notifications can be annoying. There's no doubt about it. But for the good of your bottom line, or the newfound cash back maven you've become, it can be a good idea to allow the notifications from your cash back apps.
"Offers from cash back apps tend to be available for limited periods, so by allowing notifications on your phone you'll be informed of new offers as they appear," says Iinuma.
Stack your cash back
This is a pro tip that experienced cash-back app users have become incredibly savvy at implementing: stacking rewards or app usage, which essentially means not limiting yourself to using merely a single app or cost-cutting approach during checkout.
"Spend some time researching and learning the various ways you can earn cash back through stacking," says Reynolds. "This means you use more than one cash-back app, in addition to printed coupons and paying for the purchase using a credit card that provides cash rewards. Don't be afraid to find multiple ways to save money buying groceries, gas, and more."
There are websites, online forums and entire articles dedicated to detailing the art of cash-back stacking that can help you maximize this technique. You can utilize stacking to its fullest potential by thoroughly understanding the order in which the cash-back apps should be applied, as well as well as by linking store loyalty cards to your apps, which Reynolds says can make a significant difference in your savings.
Pay attention to sales events
Vipin Porwal, founder of the shopping tool Smarty, says about 21 percent of Americans try to earn cash back on every single online purchase they make. And he has a tip for those folks, as well as consumers who may just be joining the party: Keep your eye out for special sales events.
"During these sales events, cash-back is often increased so you earn as much as possible," says Porwal.
Most of the special cash-back events Porwal is referring to happen during major holidays throughout the year, when retailers up the ante to compete for your business. App users can earn up to double the normal amount of cash-back, and on rare occasion, triple the normal rewards during peak shopping seasons.
Look for apps that are easy to use
The last thing you want is to miss out on cash-back because you skipped a key required step or did not set up an app properly, says Oleg Segal, CEO and founder of the deal and coupon site DealA. When considering which apps to download, look for those that are most user-friendly.
"Capital One Shopping, for example, automatically tries to apply coupon codes for you and alerts you if there's a cheaper item available," says Segal. "It sends helpful reminders to help you save even more money while being easy to use."
Cashback Monitor is a good starting point
Here's another expert hack to take note of: bookmark the Cashback Monitor website and use it as a starting point in your search for the best cash-back options. The site helpfully compares the cash-back rates available from various browser extensions and apps side by side, including: BeFrugal, ExtraBux, Mr. Rebates, Rakuten, RebatesMe, and TopCashback.
"By going to this site first, you will be able to compare the best cash-back sites and apps to use to get the most out of your purchases," says Patti Henry, who along with her husband Jason writes the blog Our Life On Fire, which details the couple's journey to financial independence. "You can also use this site to search for a particular store you'll be shopping at. Cashback Monitor also lists the cash back sites and apps available to be used at that store, as well as the percentage of cash back each app is offering at the moment."
Don't become an impulse buyer
Earning cash back can be great fun. It can even become addictive once you figure out how to make the most of the process and all of the tools available. But be careful not to go overboard and start buying things you don't need. (Which, let's be honest, has been known to happen.)
"You might find an item that you can save money on. But if you aren't going to use it, you're wasting money on products that will go to waste," says Reynolds. "Focus on purchasing things that are necessary or that you do use."
If you can keep the shopping habit under control, the minimal effort you'll put into getting established with a few key cash-back apps can pay off.
As Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation likes to say: if you're a fan of free money (and who isn't?) cash-back apps are a no-brainer. They won't make you rich, but it's money that can certainly come in handy.
"It's not a lifestyle-changing amount of income, but every little bit helps," says Loper.