We picked 15 Web sites and three apps that will save you money all year. Use them to comparison shop and make better choices, online and in stores.
If your number-one goal is to score deals, start by checking out sites that do the bargain hunting for you. Deal sites scour the Web for discounted items -- saving you both time and money.
Deal sites do the bargain hunting for you by scouring the Web for discounted items -- saving you both time and money. Our favorite is dealnews.com, which has a team of deal hunters who keep their eyes on a million products at more than 2,000 reputable online retailers and update the site with new deals at least 200 times a day. Plus, you can sign up for e-mail or RSS alerts for products or stores you're interested in and get gift ideas from the site.
GottaDeal.com is another great source for deals. You may find some here that you won't find at dealnews (we did recently). Slickdeals.net, a user-driven deal-sharing site, features a few deals a day on its home page, but its forums are where you'll hundreds of deals posted daily. And Offers.com features deals from more than 4,000 companies and stores, updated daily and organized into 190 categories (including clothing, electronics, toys and travel). It also points you to local deals in more than 75 cities.
You can find lots of bargains at deal-of-the-day sites, such as Woot.com. But it would take a lot of time to check each one of these sites, which list only one deal a day. DODTracker.com does the hard work for you. It lists hundreds of items from deal-a-day sites and daily deal offers from retailers, such as Amazon.com. It shows how long the deal has been posted, time when sale ends, amount of discount (if available) and whether the item still is in stock. When you click on any of the tabs at the top of the homepage (All, Computers & Electronics, etc.), you'll get a page that lets you sort by retailer, product, price, discount and more.
Find the lowest price
If you’re trying to find the lowest price on a particular product, price-comparison sites make it easy. When you search for an item on these sites, they produce lists of the retailers offering the product, prices, shipping costs, and seller information and ratings. It's tough to beat Amazon.com for price comparisons. For most of the items we recently searched for, Amazon turned up the longest lists of results and the lowest prices. However, other price-comparison sites worth visiting include PriceGrabber.com and Google Product Search, which has a local shopping option to help you find products at stores near you.
You also can download the FreePriceAlerts.com tool, which will notify you instantly if a product you’re viewing online is cheaper at another site. The tool works on 115 sites, such as Walmart, Best Buy and Amazon (see the complete list), and more are being added every week, says founder Bob Wilkins. While you shop online as you normally would, the tool searches thousands of other retail sites and will display an alert in the top left-hand corner of the page you’re viewing that tells you whether you’ve found the lowest price or if another retailer is offering the same product for less (with a link to that retailer’s site). You don’t have to register at FreePriceAlerts.com to download the tool, but if you do register, you can set target prices for items you want and receive e-mail alerts when prices fall to the levels you want.
Shop with cyber-coupons
Before you make any purchase online, search for coupon codes that can help you score a discount at the checkout (basically a sequence of numbers and letters you enter during the payment process). Some retailers advertise coupon codes on their sites when they're available. However, some coupon codes can be found only at coupon sites that work with retailers to create exclusive online coupons.
CouponCabin.com has more than 100,000 active coupons and deals. In addition to developing exclusive coupon codes with retailers, its staff searches merchant sites, forums, blogs, consumer e-mails and even the Sunday Paper for coupons, then updates the site’s listing three times a day. It shows when a coupon expires and when it was last tested so that you’ll know whether it still works. CouponCabin.com also offers a downloadable toolbar that displays coupons and deals if you visit one of its 3,700 participating merchants online.
Coupons.com has thousands of coupon codes that you can search for by store or category. You can sign up to receive weekly e-mails featuring coupon codes and online discounts. Retailmenot.com has coupon codes for 130,000 stores, a downloadable tool (browser add-on) that notifies you when coupons are available for a site you’re viewing, and a weekly e-mail newsletter that features the coupon codes that the site’s users consider to be the best.
Never pay full price for a gift card again. Plastic Jungle and Gift Card Granny sell merchants' gift cards for less than face value. They'll also buy gift cards you don't want (for 80% to 90% of the card's value).
Buying a discounted gift card to use for your own shopping is a good way to score additional discounts. For example, buy a $100 Gap gift card for $90 (instant $10 savings), use it to shop online and use a coupon code for additional savings.
High shipping costs can be a big drawback to shopping online. FreeShipping.org offers free-shipping coupons for more than 4,000 merchants, including Amazon.com, Target and eBay.
At the store, try an application that uses your phone's camera to recognize a bar code and does a quick product search to help you compare prices at other stores. If you have an iPhone or Android, you can download the RedLaser or ShopSavvy apps for free.
The free Coupon Sherpa app lets you download in-store coupons for retailers, restaurants and services (see Coupons Made Easy).
On a final note, if you're shopping online be sure to look for privacy and security seals on retailers' sites, know the return and exchange policies, and check shipping deadlines to ensure your gifts arrive on time. (See 10 Online Shopping Traps That Catch Even Smart Shoppers for more advice.)
And to make sure you're getting the best bargain online, look for the item at the best price from a merchant with free shipping and a coupon to lower the cost even further -- the trifecta of bargain shopping.