Cash Back Shopping: Death by a Thousand Cuts

“Find coupons and earn cash back at over 2500 stores when you shop at Rakuten!”  Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it?   Websites will pay you cash back on your shopping purchases.  You make a purchase and get 3% (or more) back. 

I want to share with you some of my experiences using a few of the cash back websites out there to save you some time and effort before you go opening a bunch of accounts giving away your precious email address and a ton of personal information only for those websites to sell it for a nice profit.

So what’s so appealing about getting cash back?   Everyone loves easy money but you have to be a consumer to begin with in order to see anything ‘back’.  I think these websites are beneficial if you already had a purchase in mind and had the purchase budgeted for.  The problems start when you start to become manipulated by the idea of chasing 1% here or 2% there.  Do you really think you’re going to become a millionaire by getting even 10% cash back on a purchase?!??   NO WAY! Are you out of your mind!? 😉

You say “But LateFI, I’m going to buy this gizmo anyhow, why not get a better deal for it, even it’s 3% off?”   I see your point but I want to think thru the Pros and Cons.

Rakuten.com: (Previously known at E-bates) – Rakuten.com is a Japanese online electronics e-commerce website. Rakuten has been around since 1997. I’ve previously purchased electronics from a subsidiary called Buy.com, however I see that online store has been consolidated into Rakuten.com. Probably due to all of the other online electronics websites out there and of course, the success of Amazon.com

I signed up for an E-bates account on July 8, 2018, the same day that I posted my first blog post in fact. It’s now November 2019 and I’ve accumulated a lifetime cash back total of a cool $100.28! Or roughly $6.25/month on average. What a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take the easy money, but I’m not going to count on this as being a ‘pillar of FI’ under any circumstances. Don’t kid yourself folks there are better ways to look for deals and spend your time.. or rather, NOT spend your hard earned money.

How it works is that you can use their mobile phone App or website to search for a store you’ll shop at or search for an item you want to buy. They direct you to the website that has the item and will activate a cash back reward for your shopping session via Rakuten.com. If you complete the purchase, you’ll see the cash deposited into your account in a few others, in some cases, a few days and in other cases a few months AFTER you’ve stayed at a hotel or used a rental car service.

I mention your Rakaten account. The money you earn goes there and then every 3 months, they send you the money you’ve accumulated. I chose to have them send the money to my Paypal account where I then transferred it to a bank and then on to my brokerage account and into a low cost index mutual fund.

Here are some examples of my earnings:

  • Walmart.com: $3.59
  • Lowe’s: $1.20
  • Our Campus Market: $2.24
  • Undercover Tourist: $2.00
  • Groupon: $2.88
  • Apple.com: $16.80
  • Shutterfly: $0.26

You’re probably able to guess some of these. These purposes were going to happen anyway, so we picked up a little here and there. The trick with Walmart is to buy it via Walmart.com and have it delivered for free to the store for pickup. This worked great for regular stuff in the store. I could sit in the parking lot, order 10 bags of mulch via the Rakuten App on my phone and walk in to pick it up. That money shows up pretty quick in your account.

Please note, the biggest catch I saw was that Rakuten and these stores were that the cash back is only on a few categories and those categories can change. I got really lucky on the mulch at Walmart as it fell under ‘outdoor’ that week I used the App. Where I found this limitation the most frustrating was via Amazon.com. For as often that we find the best deals on Amazon’s website, I rarely received any cash back from them.

Pros:

  • Many stores offer cash back through this website.
  • Can easily buy via App or website.
  • Quick transfers via Paypal.
  • No minimum dollar required before you’d see a cash back ‘check’.
  • They have buying plug ins for the Chrome web browser that would alert you if you were shopping at a website with a potential cash back offer.

Cons:

  • Cash back only allowed on purchases through limited categories.
  • You must wait 3 months between cash back transfers.

Bottomline, I could recommend Rakuten.com to anyone wishing to get back 1-3% here or there. Just don’t plan on getting rich this way. You might as well sign up for a Cash Back Credit card and benefit from ALL purchases all the time or get something like the Target Debit card and get 5% off all the time at that store. In fact, if you sign up using my referral link here, you will get $10 in your account for doing nothing other than signing up. Thank you for reading this far and giving them a try.

Ibotta.com: is a Denver based mobile technology company that enables cash back rebates via it’s mobile App.

I’m going to keep this one brief. You get cash back on every day purchases here as well but I really found this solution to be very limiting. You must use their mobile phone App only which I felt really limited access and ease of use.

I primarily used this mobile App while shopping in a physical store to search for digital coupons. After checking out you scan your receipt to receive credit for those purchases, but I can tell you right now, this application feels really like digital marketing or digital advertising. If you know what you want to buy, good luck getting a cash back coupon for it. When you did find a cash back reward, it might be 10 cents on a gallon of milk or 10 cents for scanning in your receipt. ]

You have to wait until you accumulate at least $10 in cash earnings before you can transfer that money out. I couldn’t wait until I earn my first $10, so I could cash out to never use that App again! Hallelujah. Praise Jesus, I’m done with that App!

The only positive thing I can say about the experience is that my wife and I got really close to each other while shopping for groceries or running to Target. I’d have the ibotta App going on my phone as I shadowed her going from row to row trying to match a cash back reward to what she was getting. Unfortunately, if you buy a lot of ‘house brand’ items, you’re not going to be getting cash back from ibotta.

At the end of the day, I felt like ibotta was making money on digital advertising from manufacturers on the front end and then making money on my information on the other end. ibotta’s App says the average user gets $150/year cash back. I’m not buying it.

Cons:

  • Must purchase through the mobile application.   
  • Most transactions give you back $0.10 at a time or requires you to upload a receipt for that $0.10. Life is too short.  Carry on with your life and STOP WASTING TIME away from your friends and family farting around for a measly $0.10!
  • You’ve got to wait until you meet the minimum of $10 in order to cash out your ‘big fat check’. I think I went on for 6 or more months before I got to my $10 minimum.
  • If you’re eager to invest those dineros into the stock market, don’t expect it to be very quickly.

Pros:

  • At least you’re getting something back!
  • I still bend down to this day to pick up a penny, so what am I doing complaining about a getting a dime back?
  • When I see a penny, that’s IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION as I plop it into my pocket (then get out the hand sanitizer.. bluck!!  Who knows where that penny’s been!?! Gross! Ew!
  • You know what, while we’re on the subject, I take those pennies and put them into a tin can to take to the bank to be counted and deposited… it might be 2-5 years before I get to a bank, but with a ‘big fat cash back’ check, I’m more likely to electronically transfer that into my brokerage account within minutes of receiving it. 
  • See a penny, just do it! Put it in your pocket to put in your tin can to put in your bank.

There’s no way I’m going to give you my referral code for ibotta.com. I value our relationship too much.