We put 3 free money-saving apps to the test

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — I love getting money for nothing. Who doesn’t? So often, we hear about products that claim great things will happen if you just download, buy, or test them out.

The same can be said for the wide world of mobile applications, or apps. How many times have you heard “there’s an app for that”?

One crowded space in this world of apps are money-saving apps. These types of apps claim you’ll save money on clothing, groceries, devices, you name it.

Since we all have to shop for groceries, wouldn’t be amazing if we could actually believe the claim: “Yes! You’ll save money on your groceries by simply using our app!”

So that’s where I went to work. I wanted to narrow down a list of dozens of money-saving grocery apps to three – and see how they performed.

So buckle up, we’re headed to the grocery store.

We tested three, free apps that claim to save you cash: iBotta, Saving Star and Shopkick.

First up, ibotta.

“ibotta is an app that’s completely free to download and you check it before you go to the grocery store or other stores that are available,” says Lisa Rowan a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder in St. Petersburg.

The Penny Hoarder is a collection of bright minds who scour the web for deals. ibotta and Saving Star are their partners – so they knew a lot about how they operated.

I downloaded ibotta to my iPhone, registered an account and immediately started to unlock certain deals. Basically, I was looking for things I could possibly be interested in buying based on the items they were offering. So, if I saw some sunscreen I would have purchased in the past, or consider purchasing, I just click the symbol to unlock it.

Once I unlocked everything of interest, we went shopping.

I purchased about eight items that contained rebates. Normally, you probably wouldn’t want to buy most of what they offer – but once we looked at all the groceries we bought, I was convinced I would have purchased these items regardless. If you are able to sway you brands, the payoff can be pretty good.

“I’ve used ibotta myself and I’ve saved up to $5 that I have gotten back in a single shopping trip, Lisa says.

You figure a person who grocery shops each week – an extra $20 a month in savings isn’t too bad!

Back to shopping – while we were unlocking deals in the car on iBotta’s app, I also downloaded the Saving Star app. I registered a free account and started activating deals.

Saving Star is very similar to iBotta. There aren’t nearly as many products to choose from, but something I noticed that was interesting is that if you like to buy in bulk, say 3 to 4 bottles of laundry detergent, you will save more money.

That’s exactly what we did. The other half of our grocery list was items we activated on Saving Star. We bought several boxes of cereal (great for families with kids) and several bottles of laundry detergent, among other items.

The cash savings was higher with Saving Star because of the fact we bought more than one product. For instance, we saved $4 on four bottles of detergent. So, we basically got a bottle for free.

Keep in mind, we are using two apps at this point, and that is very important because we’re starting to stack our offers. When you stack, you make way more money.

“Stacking is key, because the store that you’re shopping at doesn’t know you’re using one of these savings apps,” Lisa says.

And, since I’ve started stacking my apps, I’ve noticed that some products may be on several apps. Well, that simply means, you’re saving that much more!

Back to shopping – we finished picking up what we needed on the Saving Star app.

While we were grabbing products, we ran into Tina Juan from Tampa. She was staring at her phone and checking off products, she was using money-saving apps (including Target’s Cartwheel App – which I discuss below). She looked like she knew what she was doing and once I asked her if she was saving money, she smiled.

“I have $20 that I can do whatever I want with,” she says.

I asked her how that made her feel. “Awesome!” she says.

There was one last app to test. This time, it’s the free app Shopkick. This is much different from iBotta and Saving Star. The premise behind Shopkick is you try to collect ‘kicks’. The more kicks you earn, you can redeem them for gift cards.

We opened the app and walked into the store. Immediately it notified me that I had earned 25 kicks (just for walking into the store!). Great. Free kicks.

Each store on the app (like Publix, Target, etc.) has a list of products you can scan and buy. For instance, let’s say they have a brand of hair spray listed. You go and find that hair spray and use your phone’s camera to scan the barcode and you earn 10-50 kicks. It’s that simple. I felt like I was on that old game show Supermarket Sweep. This app actually makes shopping fun.

But wait! If you then buy that product, they’ll ask you to take a picture of your receipt and boom, you just earned between 150-200 kicks.

Shopkick takes some work and diligence (for instance, you have to remember to use it when you’re in a store and get in the habit). It’ll take you about 500 kicks to earn a measly $2.00 gift card. 1250 kicks will get you a $5.00 and it goes up from there. But for me, this app is the long game. I’m at about 3,000 kicks. If I earn 50,000 kicks, I can get a pair of Beats headphones (by way of a $200 gift card from the app).

So, the results are not instant with Shopkick. Over time, however, you can earn $2, $5, $25 and up in gift card values from various stores you probably shop every day.

I scanned a few products in the store and I was well on my way to my first gift card.

Time to check out!

First off, it’s very important to use any loyalty cards at checkout first. Take advantage of the first round of savings.

I bought $106.20 worth of groceries after checkout and left the store.

When I got home, I started with ibotta. I opened the app and it wanted me to take a picture of my receipt. I did so. Then it wanted me to scan each product I purchased. This was a pain – but since I was putting groceries away, it was very simple to just shoot the barcode before I put them away.

When that was done, a screen came up congratulating me for saving $7.50 on the products we bought.

HOLD ON. Then they congratulated me for earning $10.00 as a welcome bonus and for submitting my first receipt. BONUS! So we earned a massive $17.50 from ibotta alone.

Next, I scanned my products for Saving Star. Then, I uploaded my receipt. We saved a massive $16.50! Saving Star takes a little more time to review your receipt and send you the funds than ibotta.

And speaking of, how do you get paid? Great question.

ibotta will pay out once you reach $20.00. Then you have the option to have that money transferred to a PayPal account, Venmo account (another neat app that just lets you pay your friends and family quickly with no fees), or they let you purchase gift cards.

Saving Star lets you transfer the funds to a bank account, PayPal account or redeem the cash for several different gift cards.

And again, Shopkick will let us redeem our kicks for gift cards after we reach 500 kicks. So we are well on our way.

In the end, we saved a whopping $34 on our grocery bill. That’s 32% savings of our total bill!

Remember, we focused on buying products listed on the app. You may only want to buy 1-3 items each trip to the store.

“You can see maybe savings up to about $5 per shopping trip, I say that based on the different rebates available,” Lisa says.

But remember, you need to be diligent and get comfortable using these apps in order to see any type of decent savings.

If you remember to stack and strategize, they sky is the limit and you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.