A couple of days ago some people experienced the madness of Black Friday. This year the competition was fierce with most retailers opening their doors on Thursday afternoon. Obviously, the intent was to get a head start on the race of becoming the retailer with the highest sales of the season. But what about Thanksgivings as a tradition? … nah forget about that, my perception is that for the average Joe is all about the shopping spread (both online or at the store) and not necessarily about stuffing your belly with Turkey and pecan pie.
If you read my post “As Thanksgiving Approaches Think About This” you will notice that I’m not against buying stuff during the holidays or any time of the year. My point was around awareness in putting our expenditures in the context of time. At the end of that post, I mentioned that my plan during the holidays was to get a couple of things that had been on my radar for quite some time but that I was only planning – and more importantly, willing – to trade 6-8 hours of my precious time.
In the end, I stuck to my plan and it all worked out.
First, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “smart shopping”; however, we need to recognize there are strategies that can help stretch our dollars if we play our cards right. This is even more important when we focus on our needs and to a lesser extent, our wants.
So what are some of the strategies I use for my family’s needs and wants :)?
Walmart, Costco, King Soopers, Safeway, Sprouts and Trader Joes are our go-to places to get everything we need. Despite our efforts in cutting cost by having a shopping list, buying store brand products, and using store cards to get the lowest price in places like King Soopers & Safeway (please note these are not credit cards instead they’re points cards), we have not been able to move the needle dramatically in 2017.
We’ve tried using the ibotta app but honestly, we haven’t been able to make it work for us. If you haven’t heard about it, Ibotta is an app that allows you to earn cash back on in-store and mobile purchases with receipt and/or purchase verification. The process is as follows:
Search for the item(s) you intend to buy at one of Ibotta’s partnered stores and add the offer(s) to your account. Go shopping and finally redeem the rewards via 1) manual receipt submission (I’ve done this), 2)preferred partner or loyalty card submission and 3) mobile shopping submission.
In an attempt to give ibotta a chance, we’ve tried adding offers prior to going to the store; however, more often than not, the products we usually get do not have any cash back. This does not mean the app sucks but for us, it doesn’t work. We haven’t completely given up on Ibotta; however, our approach has changed.
First and foremost, we avoid the temptation of letting their offers dictate items we should get. Instead, we build our shopping list based on our needs and we try to stick to it. When we get back from the store, we’ll compare the products we bought against Ibotta’s offers and if we see a match we opt-in and proceed with the scanning of the receipt. Our current lifetime earnings are sitting at $1.50 but hey!! we are at least trying. If you want to check Ibotta feel free to use my referral code Imxeeri.
So aside from Ibotta, what else are we doing?
Well, my strategy is actually quite simple. Since our ability to lower costs in this category is somewhat limited, I did some research and decided to get the Blue Cash Preferred credit card by American Express.
This card gives us 6% cash back on groceries (excludes Walmart, Target & wholesalers such as Costco and Sams Club) up to $6000/year, 3% cash back on gas and 1% on everything else. It comes with an annual fee of $95 but since I spend way more than $1583.33 ($95/0.06) in a year, the card is a no-brainer for me. Last but not least, the card comes with a $200 welcome bonus once you spend $1000 in the first 3 months from account opening. This essentially takes care of the annual fee for 2.1 years.
Drop lets you shop for a bunch of different brands on one cohesive platform allowing you to earn points by simply using any debit and credit cards that are linked to the app. The best part about Drop is that it’s effortless. While you continue spending at your favorite places, you earn points that are independent of the bank loyalty program you’re already participating in. Meaning, there’s no interruption of your daily spending habits.
As for Dosh, the way this one works is you link your debit or credit card (they pay a $1 sign-up bonus per card), and when you make a purchase at a qualifying store, you’ll earn cash back automatically without having to scan a receipt. Again, this makes the whole process super easy and completely hands-off as opposed to having to scan receipts with ibotta.
For Everything Else …
We try to use a shopping hack that requires the following things:
- A credit card to maximize rewards,
- MileagePlus X app to get United miles,
- Ebates to get cash back,
- Store cards for Target & Amazon and finally,
- An optimizer aka Walla.by.
I’m a big fan of travel hacking and as a result, I’ve signed up for credit cards that come with attractive sign-up bonuses (50K up to 100K points) and pretty nice perks. To get the sign-up bonus most cards require cardholders spending X$$ in ~3 months. In my case, once I get the card, I pay all my fixed expenses until I hit the minimum and then the optimization begins (see optimizer below). I recommend visiting nerdwallet, magnifymoney, travelmiles101 or the Mad Fientist to check the latest and greatest on best credit cards available in the market.
The MileagePlus X app is a great tool to earn extra United miles. Working somewhat like a traditional shopping portal, you buy electronic gift cards from retailers and get 1 to 5 bonus miles for each dollar spent on a gift card (occasionally, the bonus can be as high as 10 miles per dollar). Below is a short video that explains how it all works.
Ebates is a company that gives cash back for shopping through their affiliated stores. Ebates has relationships with thousands of stores and offers discounts or cash back when you shop at these stores through Ebates.com.The process is simple. You (the customer) go to Ebates.com, search for the store you want to shop at, click the “shop now” button, and shop at the online store (as you normally would). Once you’ve made a purchase, a percentage of the purchase shows up in your Ebates account. If you want to make this even easier, I suggest downloading the Ebates chrome extension which will automatically pop up and ask you to activate the cash back if you’re browsing one of their affiliated stores.
Maximizing Your Rewards
Now that you have a better idea of some of the tools that are out there (totally free) then let me show you how I combine them to maximize returns.
Step 1: Download MileadgePlusX and sign in with your UnitedMiles number and password. If you don’t have an account with United you will have to create one at united.com.
Step 2: Go to My Account and add the credit card you’d like to use for purchasing the gift cards. Note that if you add a United or Club card you automatically qualify for a 25% bonus on every purchase. Keep in mind you can do this and still pay with a different credit card.
Step 3: Go to Nearby and check available offers in terms of miles/dollar. Press Pay now and enter the amount you wish to purchase. Be advised some merchants allow you to specify the exact amount of the purchase (between $5 and $1000) but others such as Amazon have pre-defined denominations ($25, $50, $100, $250 and $500).
Step 4: Once you select the amount to purchase you will need to type in your United password to confirm the transaction. Once completed you will see the gift card on the screen. You can proceed with providing the information to the cashier (I’ve done this many times) or if online you proceed with step 5.
Step 5: Go to ebates and check available cash offers from thousands of affiliated stores. Once you see the store of interest press shop now and you’ll be taken to the store website where it will be business as usual.
Step 6: Once you’re ready to check out, choose gif card as option of payment and paste the code you received on the MileagePlus X app. Complete the purchase and voila.
Let me share an example from a recent purchase I made at oldnavy.com:
Total Amount: $122.42
|1st Kicker||Credit card (1.5X ultimate rewards points)||183.63 points or $1.83|
|2nd Kicker||MileagePlusX (Old Navy – 10miles/dollar)||1224 miles or $12.24|
|3rd Kicker||Ebates (Old Navy – 8% cashback)||$9.79|
In terms of savings, my $122.42 purchase came down to $98.56!!!
I could go for a 4th kicker and perhaps a 5th kicker by linking a United Card (I don’t have one just yet) which automatically gives a 25% booster (even if you don’t use the card for payment) and use United’s Shopping Portal which instead of giving cash back like Ebates gives customers additional miles per dollar spent.
Personally, I prefer the cash instead of miles. The reason is simple, even though I’m getting United miles, I like getting UR points which gives me the flexibility to fly partnered airlines instead of being 100% committed to United. Nonetheless, be aware that is an option if United is your airline of choice.
Target & Amazon Prime Store Card
OK, these are not officially part of the hack but I thought I’d bring them up. Target offers what they call their Red Card which essentially is an extension of your debit card allowing you to get 5% off on qualifying purchases (pretty much everything except Target’s gift cards) both in store and online and free shipping regardless of the purchase amount.
Similar to Target, Amazon offers the Prime Store Card which gives you 5% cash back on every purchase or special financing based on purchase amount. In order to qualify for these benefits, you need to have an eligible Amazon Prime account.
With Wallaby every time you shop, you have the ability to see the best card to use and why. You’ll be in the know about special bonuses with just a tap. Once your credit cards have been added (no need to provide login information just type of credit card) you can start maximizing rewards, minimize interest, and optimize your cash flow.
This app is also location-enabled which helps it narrow down exactly where you’re at so that it can advise the card to use based on reward potential. Simply put this is an outstanding app that has a built-in credit card advisory system that will empower you to optimally maximize your credit card rewards 24/7. I use this app ALL the time so that I know which card to use regardless of the type of transaction. Why keep up with a cheat sheet with your individual credit card benefits if you can have an app that does it for free?
- The intent of this post is not to promote consumerism but to bring awareness on how you can lower your expenses when making purchases for your needs and hopefully not so much your wants.
- Every dollar saved, especially on fixed expenses, is a major win as it translates into a dollar that can be invested.
- I plan on continue to use ibotta, dosh, and drop. For the most part, they’re effortless (except ibotta) so I need to take advantage of them as much as possible.
- The Blue Cash Preferred credit card by American Express has the highest % cash back on groceries at 6%. If you forget about the 3% cash back on gas, you only need $1583.33 to make it a wash with the $95 annual fee. For our specific situation, it is a no-brainer.
- When combining a solid credit card that gives you 1 or 1.5% cash back on every purchase with the MileagePlus X app and Ebates you can save a substantial amount of money especially on money you were gonna spend anyways.
What do you think about these shopping hacks? Curious to hear about yours so feel free to share in the comment section.
Until next time … JJ