How to Use Cash-Back Apps to Save Money on Everyday Purchases

Cash-back apps have come a long way. They make being frugal easy, modern, and (dare we say?) fun.

Between cash-back offers from credit cards and using cash-back tools like Cently and Fetch Rewards, consumer savings and lifestyle expert Andrea Woroch earns cash-back savings from $50 to over $100 each month. That may not sound like a huge haul to some but—in times when every penny counts—that's cash for groceries, a utility bill payment, or free money to spend on something you couldn't otherwise afford.

By ignoring the burgeoning industry of cash-back apps, especially with the growing popularity of shopping online, you're leaving money on the table. "Consumers often overlook the benefit cash-back apps offer because they may see it as minimal return on their purchases," Woroch says, "or they may simply forget to take the steps to earn money back."

"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.

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. Cash-back apps have modernized frugal habits like clipping coupons from the Sunday newspaper, making it 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 earnings on everyday purchases.

01 of 08

Choose an app that works at stores you already frequent

If you shop for groceries, clothes, or other items weekly or monthly, why not earn a few dollars back in the process? One of the best ways to ensure that happens is to select cash-back apps or browser extensions that work with your favorite retailers or e-commerce stores, whether that's Amazon, Target, Walmart, or anyplace else. The key is to do your research and choose an app that works with the places you spend the most money.

One of the apps that's particularly useful on this front is Dosh, according to Ben Reynolds, CEO and founder of investment firm Sure Dividend. "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," he explains.

Dosh works at thousands of places, allowing users to earn cash back when shopping, dining, and traveling. When you swipe your credit card at participating businesses, Dosh deposits cash back into your Dash account. When your Dash account exceeds $25, you can transfer it to your bank, PayPal, or Venmo.

02 of 08

Check in with your cash-back apps regularly

With so many apps in our lives these days, it's easy to forget about using them. But not checking in with your cash-back app regularly is a mistake if you're looking to maximize earnings, warns Arthur Iinuma, president and co-founder of ISBX, an app development and consulting agency.

"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."

03 of 08

Turn on app notifications

Getting constant notifications can be annoying, but for the good of your bottom line or to bolster your newfound reputation as a cash-back maven, it's a good idea to allow notifications from your cash-back apps. "Offers from cash-back apps tend to be available for limited periods," says Iinuma, "so by allowing notifications on your phone you'll be informed of new offers as they appear."

04 of 08

Stack your cash back

Stacking rewards or apps means using multiple approaches to maximize savings during checkout, as opposed to using a single app or cost-cutting approach for each purchase. Experienced cash-back app users have become savvy at implementing this pro tip, and Reynolds contends that stacking can result in a significant increase in savings.

"Spend some time researching and learning the various ways you can earn cash back through stacking," urges 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."

Maximizing savings by stacking requires a bit of homework, though. You must thoroughly understand the order in which the cash-back apps are applied, and link your store loyalty cards to those apps. For further study, look for websites, online forums, and articles dedicated to detailing the art of cash-back stacking.

05 of 08

Pay attention to sales events

According to Vipin Porwal, founder of the shopping tool Smarty, about 21 percent of Americans try to earn cash back on every online purchase they make. His tip for those folks, as well as consumers just joining the party, is to keep an eye out for special sales events. "During these sales events, cash-back is often increased so you earn as much as possible," he says.

Most of the special cash-back events Porwal is referring to happen during major holidays, when retailers up the ante to compete for your business. During peak shopping seasons, app users can earn double—and on rare occasions, triple—their cash-back rewards.

06 of 08

Look for apps that are easy to use

The last thing you want is to miss out on cashback because you skipped a required step or didn't set up an app properly, says Oleg Segal, CEO and founder of the deal and coupon site DealA. When considering which apps to download, he suggests looking 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."

07 of 08

Cashback Monitor is a good starting point

Here's another expert hack: Bookmark the Cashback Monitor website and use it as a starting point in your search for the best cash-back options. This site— recommended by Patti Henry who, along with her husband Jason, writes the blog Our Life On Fire, which details the couple's journey to financial independence—provides side-by-side comparisons of cash-back rates from various browser extensions and apps such as 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," she says. "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."

08 of 08

Don't become an impulse buyer

Earning cash back is great fun, but it's easy to go overboard once you figure out how to make the most of the process and all the tools. Be careful not to go overboard by 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."

The bottom line is: If you can keep the shopping habit under control, the effort you put into getting established with a few key cash-back apps can pay off.

"It's not a lifestyle-changing amount of income, but every little bit helps," says Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation. "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."

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