Shopping online can be daunting at times. There are so many money-saving choices and countless sites where you can purchase the same things. So, how do you know when you're getting the biggest bang for your buck? When is it the best deal?

What if you could make fewer trips to the store? Would you save time? Gas? Money?

Many of us tend to run right out to the store when we need stuff. These things we need are the necessities in life. (Sounds much better when a bear sings it.) We make lists so the trip isn’t wasted on a single item or two, but how often will you add non-necessities to the list to make it worth the drive? Or how often do you end up with more than was on the list? Hmmm...more time, gas and money. Ouch.

Getting those necessities online.

The current economy has us searching for alternatives. Retail merchants are realizing that if shoppers are going to keep spending less, stores need them to come in more frequently. So they’re offering a greater range of necessities. Convenient yes, but also tempting. Even online choices are increasing in this segment and here’s where an alternative just might have some advantages.

It doesn’t seem the norm, but shopping for paper towels, soap, vitamins and coffee in your bathrobe might be rather convenient. Imagine answering that doorbell for deliverables that would have taken an hours worth of time, through traffic, waiting in line and pushing the wobbly cart back out to the car in the rain.

It sounds easy, and it can be, but you’ll need to have some discipline. Develop some habits like making lists and shopping at one online store. If you’re smart, you’ll look for added coupons, discounts (often better than in-store) and additional rewards like Cash Back . Don’t forget to look for free shipping. That’s where planning ahead really kicks in because the shipping costs go down when you’re not in a time crunch.

Search for Coupon codes, Discounts, and Free Shipping

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced online user, there are several things to consider. Many of you have picked up on some secrets that give you distinct advantages as a consumer. When time equals money, you may or may not practice these secrets every time, but they do pay off if you start to develop regular habits. 

Here's a basic list of some tips that will help you find a better price and quite possibly, a better value on your purchases.

Finding Coupons: A good place to start, when looking for coupons, is on coupon search web sites such as Retailmenot, Coupons.com or even Offers.com Coupon Search. Most of them offer comprehensive search bars that can provide accurate product, store or category results for the terms you enter. Search engines such as Google will help you find the coupon sites available for you to use as your main resource.

Once you’ve found the coupon “code”, you can either proceed directly through the link (usually associated with your search results taking you to an online store), or save/copy the code and go to the online store at your leisure. The code is usually applied in the check-out process towards the end of your online purchases.

Tip: Coupons are in high demand. Subscribing to RSS feeds, emails or other means of receiving updates will keep you in the know. Codes can have limits, either as expiration dates or even as limited quantities. Read!

Deep Discounts and Free Shipping: Like coupons, discounts and free shipping often have expiration dates and codes (sometimes referred to as “Promotional” codes) associated to them. They are a little more difficult to find in a general search. I would recommend visiting deal sites, shopping forums or sites that also offer cash back and rewards. They are the one-stop for these kind of promotions.

The other thing to do when on a retail site is to purposely keep an eye out for extra incentives to save (the home page is a great place to start).

Tip: Read the restrictions notices (sometimes referred to as terms and conditions) to make sure the discount will apply to your particular purchase.

Add in Cash Back, rewards, and points programs. While they seem small at the first purchase, these can really add up to nice bonuses when repeatedly considered.

Compare prices. One store's 20% off is another's everyday price. Do the research if it's important, expensive or available.

Stack coupons, discounts, and free shipping. Some retailers allow multiple coupons, cash back and free shipping on one purchase.

Pay attention to the details. When combined, some discounts cancel out others.

Weigh shipping costs vs. brick and mortar shopping. Consider the cost of gas and the value of your time traveling to the brick and mortar.

There’s something really gratifying about getting your necessities without using the extra muscles. Obviously there’s always going to be a moment or two where even the most dedicated online habits fall short (toothpaste would be one thing I couldn’t wait for). The options are there for you to take advantage of. I’ll go for the warm and cozy route whenever possible for my necessities.

We will be digging into these tips in greater detail in following posts. Until then, make sure your information is safe and secure. Happy deal hunting!

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