No matter what your budget is, you would probably appreciate more money in your vacation budget. Every little bit helps, and if it’s easy to do, that’s even better. With that in mind, here are three ways we save money for travel a little bit at a time using our smartphones.
Cash Back Grocery Apps
Couponing is nothing new, and it’s an easy way to divert money from something frivolous, like food or toilet tissue, to something more worthwhile. Money for travel, for example. The idea seems simple: You hand the cashier a coupon and your grocery bill goes down by a few cents. Problem is, most people never turn that into actual vacation savings by putting that saved change away.
A bevy of smartphone apps can do that for you, and we use them all the time. Here’s how most of them work:
- Before you go shopping, check in the app to find rebate offers on items you need or want.
- Don’t forget to select or activate the rebates before shopping!
- Shop as normal.
- When you get home, open the app and submit your receipt (by taking a picture with your smartphone’s camera). You may also have to select which items are on your receipt. For some apps, you may need to enter the product codes shown on your receipt for any produce you’ve purchased.
- Sit back and watch the money for travel add up!
Much like coupons, the savings are small, individually. Once you get in the habit, though, you can save a few dollars on most trips. They sit in your app until you are ready to cash out. Method of payment varies by app.
These savings are in addition to any physical coupons or other apps you might use (and, of course, the miles you earn using a travel credit card). As an example, we recently got 25¢ for buying yogurt in one app, 50¢ for buying a specific yogurt in another app, and used a paper coupon for 50¢ off said yogurt. That’s $1.25 in savings for a yogurt that was on sale for a dollar. Cha-ching!
Here are the cash back grocery apps we use the most to help save money for travel:
Note: These apps are available for use in the United States only, and may have additional requirements or restrictions. Participating stores and brands vary.
Ibotta partners with brands to offer rebates on groceries, some consumer goods, alcohol (in some locations), restaurants, and some online retailers. Rebates generally range from 25¢ to $5, sometimes much more. While most rebates are for packaged foods, they often include generic “any brand” items, and loose produce. Some in-app purchases are available, also. There are frequently bonus opportunities for redeeming a specific number of rebates, buying multiple items in a brand family, or reaching specific goals.
The company has an entire bonus category for teams. Naturally, they want more people using the app, and word of mouth is a great recruiting tool. So is extra cash. To get it, recruit friends, family…blog readers…whoever you can to sign up and save with Ibotta. You’ll have a referral code in the app and, when your recruits use it, you get $5 and they get a $10 Welcome Bonus! Then, your team can start earning team bonuses for a few extra dollars. If you’re not using Ibotta yet, we’d be honored if you’d join our team by going here and signing up.
When you’re ready to cash out, Ibotta will send the cash to your PayPal or Venmo account. Easy peasy. Just like that, your travel kitty got fatter!
Checkout 51 is very similar to Ibotta with two important exceptions: It is available in the United States AND Canada, and you can’t cash out until you have $20 in savings. Once you do, they’ll send you a check for your Travel Kitty! Third difference: You’re on your own with Checkout 51; there is no team structure. (Yes, you read that right. Somebody still writes checks. Kids, go ask Grandpa.)
Once nice thing about Saving Star, which is otherwise much like the last two apps, is the ability to link some stores’ loyalty cards. Nice, because it saves you the time and hassle of submitting pictures of your receipts. Another nice thing: There is a Healthy Offer every week, usually on fresh produce.
Saving Star also has One-or-Many rebates. With some, you can buy more to save more, while others require multiples to earn (larger) rebates. Usually, you can make purchases over time to earn the rebates. Sometimes, there are also “boosters” that help you reach goals faster by completing tasks or purchasing other products.
You can cash out once your account reaches $5. Saving Star will send money to your bank, PayPal or Upromise account, or you can choose a gift code for Starbucks, iTunes, or AMC Theatres.
There are sure to be similar apps out there. Feel free to share your favorites in the Comments.
A caveat: This tip will feed your travel kitty indirectly, as it does not reward cold hard cash. However, it is a “cash equivalent.”
Having a job is a sure way to save money for travel, but that’s not what we’re talking about. If you are job hunting, though, you may have heard of the site Indeed, which lists job openings across the country. Ever wonder where those jobs come from?
The other end of Indeed is an app called Job Spotter, which we think is pure genius. While you’re out running errands, traveling, or even job hunting, you can use the app to submit Help Wanted signs you see. Once validated, those jobs will be posted to Indeed to help job seekers and employers find each other.
You, the Job Spotter, are rewarded with points. Each validated Help Wanted sign will earn you up to 150 points. Each point is currently worth a penny, so you’re earning up to $1.50 for each submission. You can then redeem your points for Amazon gift cards to go shopping for just about anything your travel heart desires. Meanwhile, your money for travel is left to grow.
Job Spotter is currently active in the US, Australia, Canada, and the UK.
Another caveat: This one grows your travel kitty indirectly as well, with a variety of gift card redemptions instead of cash.
Pop quiz: What do you do while you’re waiting in line to renew your passport so you can get back on the road? Don’t tell me. You start playing with your smartphone, of course! But, once you’ve run caught all your Pokemon, then what?
How about opening an app and answering a few survey questions, or responding to marketing emails? That’s the idea behind e-Miles and e-Rewards. Both programs are free to join, and you can join both programs. While the two are related, they are a little different in how they work and contribute to your stash of money for travel.
With e-Miles, anyone can join and earn miles/points by responding to marketing messages, completing actions, or shopping. You select a specific airline or hotel chain, then all of your earnings will go to that option in the form of miles or points. However, once you’ve selected your earning partner, you cannot change it without forfeiting any miles or points in your account. Choose wisely.
e-Rewards is more exclusive. They call it “invitation-only.” Essentially, they provide a program for companies like American Airlines or Hilton Hotels, allowing their customers to earn miles, points, or gift cards as rewards for taking surveys. You may see an invitation to join from your airline or hotel loyalty program, for example, but you cannot simply join from the e-Rewards site. Surveys can take anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour to complete. Even if you try but don’t qualify for a survey, you’ll at least get credit for trying. Each survey has a different reward level; once completed, that reward is added to your balance. While your rewards are shown as dollar figures, it’s a cash equivalent which can be spent on gift cards for the sponsor company (in our case, American Airlines), and usually a few other retailers, hotels, and services.
As with rebate apps, there are many other survey reward sites and apps. We’d love to hear about your favorites in the Comments.
Feeding the Vacation Kitty
Whether it’s buying things from Amazon for your travels, paying towards flights or rooms, or padding the bankroll, we think of these all as “feeding the vacation kitty.” Ours certainly has an endless appetite! We would love to hear about the creative ways you have found to save money for travel. If you use, or plan to start using any of these apps, we’d love to hear about your experience, too. Tell us all about it in a Comment!