Smart Buying

Best Ways to Get Online Coupon Codes

Here are the top sources and times for finding discount codes to save money on online purchases.

If you’re not in the habit of looking for a coupon code before you make any purchase online, you’re missing an opportunity to save. These codes – typically a combination of letters and numbers – can be entered at checkout to score discounts. There are a multitude of Web sites that offer discount codes, and retailers themselves provide them through a variety of channels.

Here's a rundown of the best ways -- as well as the best times -- to find online coupons. You'll find that all of these strategies are relatively easy and can save you big bucks.

Where to get codes

Retailers’ sites. Retailers tend to promote discount codes at the top of their homepages. Take note of the code because you might not see it again once you get to the checkout page where the box to enter the code is located. Bath and Body Works, Kohl’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sears and Victoria’s Secret are among retailers that most frequently offer codes that apply to items sitewide or to broad categories, according to DealNews.com. Several of these retailers also allow customers to use more than one code at a time. Jones says a 10% to 20% off coupon code for electronics is a good discount; whereas 15% to 20% off for clothing is common, so hold out for 40% or more. However, sometimes the coupon codes offered on retailers' sites aren't the best available discounts, says DealNews.com coupon editor Sarah Jones. That's why you should check other sources, too.

Coupon sites. Sites dedicated to providing coupon codes occasionally list exclusive coupon codes in addition to those that retailers are promoting on their sites. So you can find codes at these sites that you won’t find anywhere else because they have partnered with retailers to offer these special discounts. Some of our favorites are Coupon Sherpa, DealNews.com, PromotionalCodes.com, RetailMeNot.com and Savings.com. As the name suggests, FreeShipping.org is a good source of free shipping codes.

Facebook and Twitter. Following a retailer on Facebook or Twitter is a good way to find out about coupon codes – as well as one-day sales and giveaways, says Ashley Recio Nuzzo, founder of FrugalCouponLiving.com and a Savings.com contributor. Sometimes the only way to get a retailer’s discount code is to “like” its Facebook page.

Email alerts. If you sign up to receive emails from retailers, you will get coupon codes and sale notifications. Many of the codes sent by email are universal, but sometimes retailers send exclusive codes for use only one time, Nuzzo says. Create a separate account to receive these emails so that your primary account doesn’t fill up with notifications and offers from retailers, she says.

Customer service. Both Jones and Nuzzo say it never hurts to call a retailer’s customer service to ask if any unpublished coupon codes are available. I once called customer service when the discount from a coupon code I was trying to use for an online purchase wasn’t being applied. The customer service representative applied the discount to my purchase then gave me an additional 10% off to compensate for the trouble I had trying to place my order online.

When to get codes

First of the month. DealNews.com recently studied coupon release patterns and found that retailers offer a higher volume of discount codes on the first day of the month. Most of those codes tend to be valid for the entire month, Jones says. So if you can wait until later in the month to make a purchase, your patience might be rewarded with a better deal as retailers release codes for higher discounts to spur sales before the end of the month. If a deeper discount doesn’t appear, the code released at the beginning of the month likely will still be valid.

Early in the week. Check for new coupon codes on Sunday, which is when many stores release offers. If the retailer of your choice doesn’t release any then – or you’re not impressed with the discount – check back later in the week to see if new codes have been released in advance of the weekend, Jones says.

Around holidays. DealNews.com found an increase in coupon codes released around major holidays – usually about two weeks in advance. Many retailers have sales around holidays, too, so you can increase your savings by applying coupon codes to already discounted items. According to DealNews.com, the best coupon discounts tend to appear on Cyber Monday – the Monday after Thanksgiving when online retailers have sales.

August and October. These two months see a higher than average volume of coupon code releases, according to DealNews.com. Back-to-school shoppers can take advantage of discount codes to cut the cost of school supplies and clothing (see 10 Ways to Save on Back-to-School Shopping). And savvy shoppers can take advantage of the abundance of coupon codes in October to get a head start on their holiday shopping.

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