10 Shopping Tools to Try This Holiday Season (and Every Day)
What’s that sound I hear? Could it be jingle bells? Nope, sorry — it’s just the sound of cash registers scanning away as the holiday shopping season is officially upon us.
Given the current circumstances, fewer people are cruising around town looking for deals and are, instead, doing the majority of their shopping online. Luckily, this method comes complete with plenty of savings opportunities. Specifically, it means making use of one or more tools that can help you save on gift cards, earn cashback when you shop, and more.
With that, I thought I’d highlight some of my top shopping tool picks and share some tips for how to get the most out of each:
Shopping Tools — From Cashback and Coupons to Price Tracking and Rewards
If you haven’t heard of Rakuten, it’s probably because you know it better by its previous name: Ebates. Despite the questionable change in moniker, the site and app remain among the best shopping tools you can find. In short, to earn cashback on Rakuten, all you’ll need to do is visit their site, search or browse for the retailer you want to buy from, and click their link to do your shopping. Alternatively, their browser extension will alert you when you land on a page where cashback might apply, allowing you to easily toggle on an offer. On top of that, there are also in-store deals you can score by linking a credit card and activating the relevant offers.
What’s also cool is that Rakuten currently offers a welcome bonus for new users (who sign-up using a referral link), allowing you to earn $20 cashback when you join and make your first purchase of $20 or more within three months. Even better, if you come across friends who aren’t yet Rakuten users, you can also refer them using your custom link and earn $20 once they unlock their welcome bonus. Plus, if you’re an American Express customer, you may be interested to know that the site recently rolled out the option to earn Membership Rewards points as opposed to straight cashback — so keep that option in mind if you want to use your Rakuten savings for travel.
Finally, as I recently discovered, Rakuten also allows you to buy gift cards for certain brands and earn cash back. This could definitely come in handy if you don’t want to worry about shipping and/or don’t know exactly what to get someone on your list.
Speaking of gift cards, another tool I’ve recently used to purchase gift cards is Fold. Like with Rakuten, you can earn a percentage of your gift card purchase back when using this platform. However, in a unique twist, you’ll actually be rewarded in Bitcoin.
From my experience, Fold has a pretty good line-up of gift cards to choose from and does have an option for forwarding these cards to another recipient. They also have a variety of denominations available, although these will differ by brand. As for how much you’ll get back, this will actually depend on what method of payment you choose. If you use Lightning, you’ll be able to claim the highest percentage possible. Meanwhile, if that’s not a thing you’re familiar with, using a credit or debit card will result in a lower (but still notable in most cases) reward.
I should also note that 1) you’ll need to have an external Bitcoin wallet in order to transfer the rewards you earn on Fold and 2) you’ll need to accrue at least 50,000 Sats before you’ll be able to cash out. Personally, I managed to set up my Cash App to receive Bitcoin, which worked well once I was ready to make my transfer. With that warning out of the way — and with Bitcoin currently roaring back — I think Fold is worth checking out if you have an interest in cryptocurrency and a need for gift cards.
This past year, PayPal ponied up $4 billion to buy the service known as Honey. So what does this tool do that would make it worth that kind of coin? It helps consumers find applicable coupons online and earn rewards for their purchases.
Honey started out as a browser extension you could use to automatically try coupon codes at checkout to see if you might be able to save some money. While that functionality is still intact, the company now also offers Honey Gold for earning more perks. Like Rakuten, Honey Gold allows shoppers to earn a percentage of their purchases back. The difference here is that, while Rakuten users accrue cash back (or MR points), Honey awards Gold. Ok, not actual gold but essentially Honey Gold points that can then be redeemed for gift cards.
Full disclosure: I’ve installed Honey but haven’t used it too extensively since, unfortunately, you cannot earn Honey Gold and Rakuten cashback at the same time. Because of this, I’d recommend looking at each platform’s offers ahead of time, choosing one, and ensuring that you don’t accidentally enable the other during your shopping trip lest you accidentally override your pick.
Recently, Google Pay overhauled its app and added some new features. As part of this refresh, the app added online and in-store cashback offers. Currently, this line up includes the likes of H&M, Adidas, Banana Republic, and more.
Interestingly, while this feature is powered by the Rakuten In Store Network, it works a bit differently than on that platform. Most notably, instead of needing to shop using provided links for online offers, you’ll just need to make an eligible purchase using your linked card. As a result, I was actually able to “double-dip,” using Rakuten to make a purchase while also using my linked card. Your results may vary, but it seems to have worked for me.
Lest you think that Google Pay is exclusive to Android users, the app is also available for iOS (which is what I use). So while I don’t have a ton of experience with this one yet, I can already see value in it.
Another one of my favorite cashback tools is Dosh. With this app, you can earn a percentage of your in-store purchases back in cash simply by linking your credit or debit card and using it to pay for your purchase — no need to even activate an offer. That said, there are now different types of offers in the app, with some requiring you to shop using provided links, while others only need a linked card. Therefore, be sure to pay attention to the details each retailer’s deal sets out so that you can earn rewards without issue.
On the surface, Ibotta might seem like a lot of the other options on this list. After all, they do have online offers that reward you with a certain percentage of your purchase in cashback. Yet, if you look a bit deeper, you’ll see that this app does have unique features to take advantage of.
Perhaps Ibotta’s greatest claim to fame is their grocery store deals. Instead of just offering a flat amount of cashback across the board, Ibotta has several item-specific coupons you can redeem by making your in-store purchase and digitally submitting your receipt (or, in some cases, linking a loyalty card). What’s also cool about this is that the app allows you to scan a product to ensure you’re picking up the right one before you buy. On top of that, the app has different challenge bonuses you can achieve by completing specific tasks. All this adds up to some potentially big savings as you stock up on necessities for yourself amidst your holiday gift obligations.
As cool as cashback can be, what if you could earn stock in your favorite companies instead? Well, with Bumped, you can. That’s right — instead of rewarding users with cash for their purchases, Bumped allows users to accrue fractional shares of actual company stock and ETFs.
Following a major overhaul, Bumped now features a variety of online and in-store offers. In each case, you’ll earn a percentage of your purchase back in the form of stock. Specifically, you’ll earn shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF ($VTI) by default and can select up to four additional stocks you’d like to be rewarded in. Among your choices are the likes of Disney, Amazon, Apple, Uber, Delta, and many more. Then, when you complete an eligible purchase, your stock-back will be split across all of your selections as well as $VTI, with any remainder also going toward $VTI.
With the updated version 1.0, Bumped also opened to the public after years of being invite only. So, I’d recommend signing-up as this is still a worthwhile app to have.
Credit card offers
Yet another place you might want to check for discounts, cashback, or other bonuses is on your various card issuers’ sites. This includes Visa Offers, Amex Offers, and some issuer-specific portals you’ll want to explore. In most cases, all you’ll need to do is activate one of the offers you want to use and then make sure you pay with the proper credit card to earn whatever reward.
Not only have my wife and I regularly made use of offers found for her PNC Visa but I actually also redeemed a pretty lucrative Amex Offer last Black Friday, earning a $60 statement credit for spending more than $300 on GoPro.com. Meanwhile, another offer I have my eye on will earn me an extra eight Amex Membership Rewards points per dollar I spend at Amazon (incidentally, this means I’ll need to choose between this and the 5% cash back my Discover It card currently earns this quarter). If you haven’t checked your card issuer’s website in a while, now may be a great time to do so.
Visa Local Offers
Oddly, “Visa Offers” and “Visa Local Offers” are two significantly different things, making this one worth talking about on its own. I’m not 100% sure how this platform came about but it actually doesn’t live on its own site or app. Instead, Visa Local Offers can be found in your Uber app and each deal will reward you in Uber Cash.
Admittedly, this is one offering I’ve only really taken advantage of by accident. That’s partly because accessing the list of available deals isn’t so easy. First, you’ll want to open your Uber app, tap “Payment” from the sidebar, and then look for Visa Local Offers to opt-in. Then you can (hopefully) view a list of available deals in your area. Although this is far from the best cashback platform I can think of (mostly because “Uber Cash” isn’t exactly cashback) it’s still likely worth enrolling in as you might just get lucky — as I have in the past.
First off, CamelCamelCamel isn’t like other tools on this list as it won’t earn you any cashback. However, its superpower is helping you time out your purchases and perhaps even better stick to your budget. How does it do this? By allowing you a track pricing history for Amazon.
As you may or may not know, prices for certain items on Amazon can fluctuate frequently. Thus, CamelCamelCamel comes in handy as you can see how low items have gone for in the past to determine if you’re currently getting a good deal or not. What’s even better is that you can also enter a target price for any given item and the site will email you an alert if/when that ideal price becomes a reality. That way, you can ensure you’re keeping your holiday spending in check and only pay what you want to for items on your list.
Tips and Cautionary Notes for Using Shopping Tools
Some deals are stackable, others aren’t
As cool as these shopping tools are on their own, they’re even better when used together. For example, you could potentially track an Amazon price on CamelCamelCamel, score cash back on Rakuten when you make your purchase (assuming it’s in one of the applicable categories), and still score bonus points on your credit card. Or you may encounter some retailers that offer in-store cash back on Rakuten, Dosh, and Visa Local Offers all at the same time! However, there are some cases where these deals don’t stack as nicely.
Case in point: when I went to take advantage of that GoPro Amex Offer, I intended to also earn cash back on Rakuten. Unfortunately, as I was checking out, my Honey browser extension kicked in, which — unbeknownst to me — overrode my Rakuten link. While I did end up earning Honey Gold for the purchase, this amounted to only 1% back while Rakuten would have been 3%. Therefore, the moral of the story is to check which option is better ahead of time and maybe temporarily disable one or the other to ensure your purchase is properly credited.
You may not get your cash back right away
One minor downside with some of the cash back tools we discussed is that you may need to wait a bit for your money to arrive and/or reach a certain amount before you can cash out. For one, Rakuten only pays out on a quarterly schedule and you’ll need to have accrued at least $5 in order to get your money (otherwise it will rollover to the next quarter). Meanwhile, Dosh requires that you earn at least $25 before you can transfer your cash, Honey Gold gift card purchases can only be made for $10 or more, and Ibotta has a $20 threshold you’ll need to clear. Still, while you may need to be a bit patient, I think the rewards are usually worth the wait.
Do your due diligence on recommendations
Just because a cashback service has a deal for a certain site doesn’t exactly mean it’s worth shopping on. In my experience, this is especially true of less established travel sites. Recently, I noticed that Capital One Shopping (formerly Wikibuy) suggested a different hotel booking site when I was using Expedia. While the price was better, Googling this new-to-me platform revealed some less than complimentary reviews. Now, I’m not saying that this other site would have definitely been a bad idea or that Capital One Shopping was wrong to even suggest it — I’m just advising that you do your own research on retailers you may be unfamiliar with just to make sure you’re actually comfortable buying from them.
Don’t make purchases just to get “deals”
Finally, while everyone loves saving money and scoring a good deal, it’s always important to ensure that you’re not just buying items because you have an offer for them. Similarly, if buying something will require you to hold a balance on your credit card, you’ll definitely be losing on the deal. Therefore, before letting yourself be tempted by any of these offers, make sure that the item you’re buying is a good purchase and that you can afford it.
Unless you’re supporting a small business that only offers a brick-and-mortar component, it’s probably best to skip in-person shopping this year. Instead, you can stay at home and let these shopping tools help you score cashback and other rewards. Plus, while some of these platforms might have enhanced offers for the season, all of these options can still be used year-round! With that, have a happy and frugal holiday.
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Also published on Medium.