Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saving Money Online

Anyone else fascinated by the show Extreme Couponing? I have to admit, I kind of have mixed feelings about it. I completely admire the people who spend some time to provide for their families in a way they wouldn't be able to otherwise - especially the ladies who "make up" their income so they can stay at home with their kids - but some of those people make me sad, cuz they seem so motivated by fear. :( This isn't really what this post is about, though, lol, so I'll get off my soapbox.

I'm a "sale queen." When my dad wants something, he usually tells me, and I can usually find it for him at 50-75% off. While I'm not usually a couponer (I can't seem to find coupons for products I use, in amounts that I could consume in my lifetime lol), I am a huge sales freak, and I want what I want for less. :)

Disclaimer: I'm not someone who never pays full price for anything - if it's important enough, or if I'm in a pinch, I will sometimes buy something right off the shelf.

Here are some of my favorite places/ways to scoop up bargains when I'm shopping online.

What it is: For anything electronic - laptops, mp3 players, cameras, etc - I almost always turn to 1saleaday. The trick here is to start looking long before you need something, and to check every day; they tend to sell things in cycles (in other words, if you pass up or miss a laptop sale, you might have to wait 6 weeks - 3 months before they come around again). Things are marked anywhere from 25-80% off, depending on the item. Each day they offer one sale in five categories: "main," wireless, family, watch, and jewelery. They also offer "flash" sales that you have to register to access, but registration is free and easy and this is where the really hot deals - tablets, higher end electronics, laptops, computers, etc - show up.
My own experience: I think I'm up to three digital cameras bought through 1sale, as well as my Asus Transformer tablet, and too much various stuff - skins for electronics, accessories, etc - to count. The prices are amazing, shipping is minimal, and I've never had any issues with them. My dad and best friend are also fans, and we've all been very pleased. :)

What is it: Ebates is an online cash-back rebate company. It seems so simple that I was distrustful of it for a long time, until a trusted blogger shared how she used it frequently, and now I'm a complete fan. Not only do you get cash back without needing to use a special credit card or toolbar, but it also offers coupon codes, free shipping codes, etc. Here's the deal: you sign up through ebates.com. When you want to buy something online, you go to ebates.com first, sign in, search for your retailer (let's say "walmart") and any coupon codes you might want, and click on the link to be redirected to the retailer site. Your purchases are automatically logged, and every three months they send you a check for the rebate amount (usually 2-5 percent, but occasionally as high as 10). Cash check. That's it. :) (A really good in-depth review can be found here)
My own experience: I signed up in... 2009? And have made $22.78 per year in cash back rebates, and saved countless dollars through coupon codes. When you consider that I make only a few online purchases a year, this is well worth the few extra seconds that is takes. I've used this for plane tickets, Wal-Mart purchases, clothing, hotel rooms, etc, all using my favorite retailers (Orbitz, WM, Avenue, Lands End, etc). Although I don't always remember to check this site before buying, I find it's always worth my time when I do!

First, some guidelines:
The best way to buy online (at least that I've found) is to buy from retailers that you're already familiar with. Especially when purchasing clothes, you want to be familiar enough with the brand to be fairly confident in your sizing and quality- does it run small, large? Is the quality hit or miss (if so, be doubly sure to check out material descriptions and/or reviews)? This will save money in returns and exchanges!
Also on that note: make sure you read the return policy carefully. Often you can return things you purchased online to a brick-and-mortar store with no problems. I've done this before if I wanted something that the store either didn't carry, or didn't have in my size/color.
Another note: if you find something in a store that you love, but it isn't in your size, color, etc, ask a store employee if they offer free in-store shipping. You'd be amazed at how often they do!
Look closely at the details; use the pictures wisely. If the neckline/waist seems to gap on the model, chances are it won't treat you any better. :)
Finally, read reviews, both on the retailer site and on any other blogs, columns, etc you may find. I find this especially helpful on sites like Old Navy, whose clothing size and quality is all over the board. If something runs large, is much more sheer than shown, or otherwise abberant, reviewers are usually quick to point this out! And write a review, either positive or negative, when you've received your item. :)

What it is: If Ebates is easy to use, RMN is even easier. Visit the site, type in the name of the retailer, and scroll down a list of discount codes for everything from free shipping (sometimes with minimum orders, often not), percent off, BOGO, etc. Find whichever one works best for you, copy, and use it at checkout. Save. :)
My own experience: I have to admit, when I first heard about RMN, I was super excited... until I tried it. It seemed like I could never find codes that were relevant to me - either the minimum orders were $100 (and mine are usually under $50), offered minimal savings (10%? Really?), or were for retailers I never used. In the past year or two, however, either RMN or I have completely changed. Off the top of my head, I can think of two times I've used in the last few months, and I've saved a total of $40, and spent less than $100. RMN is especially great for free shipping codes, which I LOVE - I HATE paying for shipping! - but also offers some amazing savings codes.

Retailer emails
What is it: Most retailers will take your email address and send you emails if you let them. What's in these emails can range from the ridiculous (Catos comes to mind - they frequently send out emails that basically boil down to "check out knit tops in our store") from the immensely helpful (Kohls, for instance, who sends me more coupons that I know what to do with!). If you love a particular retailer, see if you can sign up for their email list. Often you will get a coupon or sale code just for signing up, and if they're worth their salt, you will get weekly or daily coupons to use either in store or online.
My own experience: Today I received a 15% off offer from Kohls, a $5 T-shirt offer from Old Navy, a "free shipping on all dresses" code from Lands End, and an email listing fare sales from D.C. from Expedia. While I won't be using any of them today, I'll definitely be checking out dresses at Lands End over the weekend, and this summer I booked a hotel room using a sale email from Expedia. The trick is to use these offers to buy what you already need. :) Don't be tricked into buying something just because it's on sale!

Buy used with Amazon
What it is: Amazon is my go-to site for used books, DVD's, or CD's. And, to be honest, also pretty much anything else. :) The great thing about the Amazon "used" marketplace is that a lot of "used" things are still factory packages, sealed, etc, so it makes gift-giving a lot less expensive!
My own experience: Looking through my past purchases, I've bought a statuette (still sealed, about 30% off), an herb drying rack (still in plastic, about 25% off), a season of Star Trek (mint condition, about 50% off), and too many books and CD's for myself to name. Around Christmastime, I hit Amazon hard and fast. :)
Books are especially cheap on Amazon. Often you can find an excellent-condition "used" book for literally a few cents, so all you're paying is really shipping (which is usually minimal).

What is it: PBS is a free book-swapping service (hardbacks and audio books are also accepted, despite the name lol). You register, and post a list of books that you're willing to give away. Someone else wants your book, and you send it to them, paying shipping, which is usually around $2.50. Once they receive the book, you get a "credit" for it, which you can redeem for another book (one credit=one book).
My own experience: I just discovered PBS this year and I've fallen in love. Not only has it allowed me to "cash in" a pile of unwanted books, but I've used it to fill in a series I was reading and I still have plenty of credits left over. I don't mind paying the minimal shipping to have access to so many books for "free." Tip: Use wishlist, and turn it on to automatically request books on your list as soon as they become available.
PBS also has two sister sites, swapacd.com and swapadvd.com. While I haven't used them myself, only because I really only buy DVD's and CD's if I really like them, and thus don't really get rid of them, lol, if you have extra multimedia it could be well worth your while to trade them in!

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