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There’s been a proliferation of apps dedicated to earning consumers cash back while they shop. The options include Ebates, Ibotta, Checkout 51, Mobisave, and Shopkick. But are they really a good idea?

The answer is absolutely yes — with a few caveats. These apps offer a lot of the same advantages as old-fashioned coupon-clipping, with the added ease of search features and the ability to access your deals anywhere you go. The offers can be significant: As I write this, Ibotta is offering $1 cash back on Sabra hummus, Ebates is promoting 9 percent back on purchases from Puma, and Checkout 51 is promising $4 back on diapers.

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Used wisely, the apps can offer enough savings to be worth your time. But be realistic, and don’t expect cash back on the scale that some of these companies promote — at least not for some time. One eBates ad features a woman claiming she reaped more than $2,000 in earnings. Even if she had been able to realize a cash back return of 5 percent — which would be relatively high — she would have needed to spend $40,000 to realize those savings.

Also, make sure you approach this savings endeavor with the proper mindset. Use your shopping list to guide your rebate hunt, rather than letting available deals dictate your spending. Getting 50 cents off a box of brand-name applesauce pouches might seem appealing, but it probably isn’t a better deal than the store-brand jar you usually buy.

And be wary of the subtle psychology of shopping for deals. Successfully scoring a few bargains can leave you feeling financially virtuous and like you have extra money to play with. Then you spot eBates’ 2 percent cash back offer at L.L. Bean and remember you’ve been thinking about getting a new sweater — before you know it, those initial savings have been erased.

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Now that the warnings are out of the way and you want to forge ahead, which apps should you try? Of the current crop, Ibotta and Ebates are the best bets. Ibotta has an impressively sized roster of offers — many of which can be redeemed multiple times and at different shops — and redeeming your savings is simply a matter of uploading a photo of a receipt. Ebates offers ongoing savings at a wide range of retailers and promises never to sell your information to outside parties.


Sarah Shemkus can be reached at seshemkus@gmail.com.