5 Ways To REALLY Save Money When Shopping Online

'Tis the season for shopping and spending all of our hard-earned cash! Christmas is right around the corner and since most of us in education aren't raking in the big bucks, I thought I'd share some money-saving tips. On the world news tonight, they interviewed a "shopping expert" (Really? Can I have THAT job?) and his advice was really, well, pretty dumb if you ask me. Don't we all know to compare prices for big-ticket items and stick to our list? Sheesh!

Okay, so maybe the tips I'm about to share aren't earth shattering, but hopefully they'll be new to a few people. I pride myself on being a pretty savvy shopping and can usually score some pretty great deals with a little extra effort.

Register Before Shopping! What does that mean? Well on any site that you might decide to buy from, you should register with them first. That might mean signing up for their newsletter or sale notifications or just registering as a shopper instead of a "guest". Different sites call it different things. The reason you want to do this is because a lot of sites will send you coupons. Some of them will send you one immediately just for registering. I've gotten as much as 25% off an entire order just for registering on a site. Nice, huh? One side tip... give them a fake phone number just to make sure you don't get onto some kind of call list. 

Bookmark the site RetailMeNot... right now!  There are a lot of websites with coupon codes but I like this one the best. There are tons of stores listed and I've had really good luck finding current, valid codes. Users can leave comments about specific coupons to let you know if and when it worked or if there were any restrictions. 

Another site you should bookmark and visit often is SlickDeals. This one has coupons and SO much more. The forums are a treasure trove of information. People post deals they find so you can find them too. It makes shopping for the best price a lot easier. The main page on SlickDeals lists trending deals. They are updated constantly so you know when one expires. This is a great site to visit well ahead of your online shopping trip.

Shop with gift cards that you buy at a discount! There are quite a few websites that sell gift cards for less than face value. How this works is someone has a gift card they don't want. Maybe it was a gift or maybe it came from returning something without a receipt. So they go online and sell it to one of these sites for much less than it's worth. Then the site, turns around and sells the card to someone who does want it. You can really save a lot of money buying gift cards this way. For example, I just bought a $247 Macy's gift card for $219.  It came in my email a few minutes later and I used it on the Macy's website (combined with a coupon code and cash back, which I'll explain more later) to buy my parents' Christmas present .

The gift card sites I like the most are CardCash, CardPool, and Raise. There are others, but those are the ones I can recommend from experience.

One word...Ebates! If you aren't signed up yet, you need to hop to it! This is a free site that pays you cash back for shopping online. You just go to the site, find the store you want, and click their link. They earn advertising dollars which keeps them in business and you get a percentage of your purchases back in cash. They pay either through Paypal or by check. Right now, Ebates owes me $164 which I'll get in the next quarterly payout. I just bought a refurbished Macbook Pro from Apple last night (woo hoo!!!) and am getting $30 back. Not a lot, but still...it's $30, right? 

So when I first started using Ebates, I would forget to go to the site and click through. Then I'd be kicking myself for missing out on my cash. They have a solution for this now... a brower add-on. After you sign up, you can install the add-on. Then, whenever you visit a website that is affiliated with ebates, a bar will pop up for you to activate your cash back. Automated money saving...yes! 

You'll hear more about Ebates in a minute, but for now... go sign up!

My last tip is for when you aren't in a hurry to buy. If you've done all of the above and still aren't happy with the price, you can put the item in your shopping cart, start to check out (long enough to enter your email address but before paying) and then leave it. Don't worry... it's not like walking away from a cart full of groceries like a crazy person. No one will know, except the website. Why in the world would you do this? Because some sites will try to get you back, to pull the trigger on your purchase, by sending you a coupon. Now don't rely on this tip for saving a lot because the majority of websites don't do this. But if you're really on the fence about a purchase, this is something you could try while thinking it through.

So those are my best tips for shopping and saving online. I left out price comparison because I think most people do that already and that's where you should start. Remember...Google is your friend. If you want to know if these tips really work, let me share my shopping experience from Thursday...

I was stuffed full of turkey and stuck to my couch, so I decided to buy a Christmas present for a family member whose name I won't mention (in case they stalk my blog to find out what they're getting.) I knew what I wanted to buy, so I went to Google and typed it in to get a list of current prices. I found several sites that had this top-secret item on sale for $249. So here's what I did...

  1. I went to RetailMeNot to find codes and found one for 15% off and free shipping at Macy's (one of the stores on my list of possibilities).
  2. I went to CardCash and got the above mentioned $247 gift card for only $219.
  3. I went through Ebates which was giving 8% cash back at Macy's.
  4. I put the item in my cart and entered my coupon code which lowered the price to $211. My gift card covered the whole amount with a little left over for future shopping.
  5. Now I just wait for my $29 cash back from Ebates! 
  6. All in all, I saved about $57 on this one item, plus I still have $37 on my gift card. Awesome!
Do you have any other money saving tips? Leave me a comment. I'd love to hear them!

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