Best cash back apps for 2021: My 5-step formula for saving the most money shopping online

Yesterday I bought new tennis shoes. In my cart, the shoes were $80.

Using my foolproof cash back earning formula, I paid $44.64 before tax—a savings of $35.36.

How did I do it?

I created a simple, 5-step formula to earn the most money shopping online using the best cash back apps and websites.

Here’s how it works:

1. Set up deal alerts on Slickdeals.

Slickdeals is a deal-sharing online community. Members find and share deals and coupons which are then vetted by the community.

What really sets Slickdeals apart from other deal sites is its threads and forums. It’s a great opportunity to share and hear experiences about products and get essential feedback on how to reproduce deals.

The best part of Slickdeals?

You can set up email and mobile push notification deal alerts so that you never miss a deal. For deals that are in-store only or marked YMMV (your mileage may vary/difficult to reproduce), deal alerts are essential. You may even stumble upon items that have been mispriced.

I’ve used deal alerts to score huge discounts on in-store-only items and snatch up incredible clearance deals before they’re known to the public.

slickdeals app iphone

To create a deal alert, go to the website and create an account or download the app. Click the “Deal Alerts” button at the bottom of the screen, type in your keywords, and you’re set!

If you’re into retail arbitrage (buying from a retailer and reselling), Slickdeals is essential.

Sites like Slickdeals

CamelCamelCamel: Yes, that’s really the name of the website 😁. With CamelCamelCamel, you can create Amazon price drop alerts, see price history charts, and you can add it as a browser extension.

Deals Plus: Deals Plus operates similarly to Slickdeals in that users mostly post deals to their pages and forums. Although they are one of the best websites for online deals and discounts, Slickdeals still have them beat with the number and variety of deals.

Deal News: Unlike Slickdeals and Deals Plus, the deals posted on Deal News are all curated by their team, which makes it less likely you’ll find a YMMV gem, but more likely you’ll be able to reproduce the deals.

Dealighted: Dealighted is a deal aggregator. That is, they link to the best deals found on other deal sites like Slickdeals. The downside is their website isn’t as user-friendly.

2. If you’re hunting for an in-store-only deal, check Brickseek first.

So you received an alert from Slickdeals or another deal website, but the deal is only available in select store locations. Enter Brickseek.

Brickseek allows you to check the inventory of the following brick and mortar stores: Walmart, Target, Lowes, Office Depot, Macy’s, Home Depot, CVS, Staples, and BJ’s Wholesale.

“But can’t I just check the retailer’s app or website for pricing and inventory?”

Good question.

The problem is that oftentimes retailers won’t actually include the clearance price in their app. Also, the price for a clearance product can vary wildly by location. That’s where Brickseek comes into play.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to Brickseek > Inventory Checker > and select one of the retailers
  2. Type in the UPC (usually found on the retailer’s product page) as well as your zip code.
  3. Brickseek spits out the pricing and availability for that product in a ~20 mile radius. It shows the estimated number of products available as well as the price.

What’s cool is that posts on Slickdeals will often include a link to Brickseek so that you can see which stores near you have inventory.

Now, Brickseek is free to browse, but there are paid options. If you want to be the first to see deals and expand the amount of deal alerts you are allotted, they have $9.99 or $29.99 membership options. Unless you have a serious retail arbitrage business, I don’t recommend the $29.99 membership.

Pro tips: Know that there is a lag between the stores’ actually inventory and what you will see in Brickseek. If the product availability is in the yellow, meaning low inventory, it’s unlikely that it’s in stock, but you never know. There certainly have been exceptions and that’s the fun (or the disappointment!) of going on a Slickdeals/Brickseek YMMV run.

Also, if you’re looking for a YMMV item at Walmart, don’t call them ahead of time. You’re alerting the employee to the sale and as employees it is their right to buy up the product as well.

3. Get the most cash back with Rakuten (formerly Ebates).

Say you’ve set up a Slickdeals alert and got notified that a there is an incredible, limited-time deal for round trip airline tickets to Hawaii. You click through and are ready to book.

Don’t check out just yet!

It’s time to see how much cash back you could be earning. This is where my favorite cash back app comes into play: Rakuten.

Whether you’re on a computer or a mobile device, Rakuten can help you save big—we’re talking sometimes 15% or more at thousands of retailers like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart, but also smaller merchants as well.

And it’s not just retail stores; I’ve used Rakuten to save $75 on Internet. I’ve also used it to save money at restaurants and at clothing retailers.

rakuten desktop app

There are three ways to use Rakuten:

  1. Go to Rakuten.com on your computer and search for the business where you want to shop to see if they are offering cash back.
  2. Use the Rakuten app
  3. My favorite: Install the Rakuten Chrome browser extension. With this extension, Rakuten automatically detects the website that you’re on and lets you know how much cash back you could earn! Just make sure that you disable ad blockers, as they can prevent the tool from recording your visit.

rakuten chrome extension screenshot

In most instances, your Rakuten account will get credited within 48 hours, though I’ve had it take about a week before. Once you reach $5 or more, you’ll receive your first Big Fat Check (paper check or PayPal) at the end of the quarter.

Rakuten also has a generous referral offer: As of this writing, $40 for every person you refer (when they join and spend at least $40).

Pro tip: Once you sign up, head to the “My Wallet” section of your account to add credit cards so you can link offers and earn cash back in-store.

Sites like Rakuten

(Note that you cannot stack/combine deals from different cash back apps, because cookies)

TopCashback: Similar to Rakuten with both a website and an app, TopCashback has more merchants and, in some cases, offers more cash back. Although TopCashback has in-store offers, you can’t link your card for in-store shopping like you can do for Rakuten. TopCashback also allows you to withdraw your money earned at any time. With Rakuten, you must have $5 in your account, and the payment will be sent out quarterly.

Dosh: With Dosh, you must download the app to get cash back online and in stores—there’s no web interface. The app is intuitive and you get immediate cash back. You can link your card for offline shopping and it has over 100,000 merchants. You earn $5 for each friend you refer who signs up with your link and connects a verified credit or debit card—no minimum spend requirements.

Lemony: Lemony is a similar concept with one notable difference: every time one of your friends in your community shops, you earn a commission. If you have a tight group of friends or social base that likes to share referrals and commissions, Lemony is for you.

Bonus: Easily find the best cash back deals on one website with Cashback Monitor.

If you’re into extreme online couponing like me, you’re probably wondering:

“Do I have to visit all of these sites to see who offers the best cash back deal?”

Enter Cashback Monitor.

Cashback Monitor lets you see which cash back apps and websites pay out the most for the merchant that you’re shopping. You can also set up alerts to get notified when a site offers a certain amount of cash back.

4. Automatically add the best coupon codes at checkout with the Honey browser extension.

Stop searching for the best coupon codes online and start using Honey and Rakuten to automatically add codes at checkout with the browser extensions in the Chrome Web Store. It’s extreme couponing for the digital age.

When you’re ready to check out, if Honey finds a discount, they’ll automatically add it for you.

Remember those tennis shoes I saved big on?

I was all set to buy them at $80 until Honey found a 40% off coupon that saved me $32!

honey chrome extension savings

If you can earn cash back, it’ll add that, too. They call it Honey Gold and similar to rewards points you get from a credit card, you can turn your gold into gift cards.

That’s not all: Honey has a price history chart that works like CamelCamelCamel. If you’re waiting on a product to go on sale, you can add it to your Honey Droplist and get notified as soon as the price drops.

Apps like Honey

Piggy: Piggy functions as a website, an app, and a browser extension, and it has over 5,000 stores where you can save. Like the other cash back browser extensions, Piggy automatically applies coupons, deals and cash back. Your cash back will be eligible for withdrawal from your Piggy account once your balance is at least $25.

5. Pay with the right credit cash back credit card.

There is one final step before you check out: Use the best cash back or rewards credit card.

Especially when it comes to travel, dining, entertainment, and grocery stores; I’m partial to the Visa® Inspire Cash Back Signature Card which gives you up to 3% cash back. You’ll earn 1% cash back on every other purchase.

Cards that offer rotating quarterly bonuses are often great to have in your wallet.

If you’re looking to compare cash back credit cards, NerdWallet and Wallet Hub are good places to start. Note that these sites do not include local banks and credit unions and therefore don’t list the best credit card offers.

Bonus tip: Use these cashback apps when you go grocery shopping.

Ibotta: As the saying goes, I eat my own cooking. I’ve earned over $336 cash back in 3.5 years casually using Ibotta. You’ll find cash back offers for Target, Meijer, Walmart, Kroger, and Jewel-Osco just to name a few. Ibotta gives you cash back on everything from frozen food to alcohol and household essentials. It’s simple: Check off the items in the app that you want before or after going to the grocery store. After you make your purchase, take a picture of your receipt and Ibotta will credit your account within a few hours, or you can link your credit card and you’ll automatically earn cash back.

Target Circle: If you shop at Target, Target Circle is a must and is perfect for stacking with Ibotta. Pro tip: Because it’s hard to prep for a Target run, use the in-app barcode scanner. It will instantly tell you if your item qualifies for a Cartwheel discount and will even list similar items.

Shopkick: If you like scavenger hunts, you’ll love Shopkick. Basically, you earn points (called kicks) by scanning barcodes of products in-store. You don’t have to buy the product, but you often get more kicks if you do. Qualifying purchases are shown in the app and you can get kicks more quickly if you link a credit card. You can also get points by turning on Bluetooth and recording walk-ins. Then, you can redeem kicks for gift cards to stores like Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart.

Bottom Line

Using these money-saving techniques for your online shopping can yield huge savings. On the flipside, the deals can convince even the most frugal online shoppers to make impulse buys. Trust me, I know!

Use these cash back apps and your newfound money-saving powers for good.💰

Johnny CU

An advocate for credit unions through and through, Johnny CU loves sharing his knowledge of practical money-saving and money-earning advice with members. Follow Johnny CU for the latest tech-focused articles and ways to improve your financial future.
phone icon 800-323-2611 message iconMessage Us branch locationsBranches & ATMs pay my loanPay My Loan calendar icon Schedule Appointment
Routing Number:
271990198