We've tested and picked 15 Web sites we think are easy to use and will help you save money all year. Even if you don't end up buying online, it never hurts to find the best deals on the Web before you hit the stores. Then you can comparison shop and make better choices. We also list three smart-phone applications that will help you get deals in stores. Take a look:
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.
Our favorite deal site still is dealnews, which has a team of deal hunters keeping their eyes on a million products at more than 2,000 online retailers. Plus merchants and the site's visitors tip them off to bargains. The deal hunters hand pick the best deals among the thousands they get daily and update the site at least 200 times a day, says Dan de Grandpre, founder and chief executive of dealnews.
The site also bans stores with poor customer service. 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. Dealnews also has added a local deals section to help you find discounts at brick-and-mortar stores near you.
GottaDeal.com is another great source of deals. You may find some here that you won't find at dealnews (we did recently).
A reader favorite is Slickdeals.net, a user-driven deal sharing site. It features a few deals on its homepage daily, but its forums are where you'll hundreds of deals posted daily.
Read on for more great deal websites.
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.
For baby or mom, membership in zulily (sign up free) entitles you to as much as 70% off brand-name clothes, toys and nursery furniture at this online store.
Find the lowest price
If you really want to score a great buy, use a price-comparison site. To be honest, it's tough to beat Amazon.com for price comparison. For most of the items we recently searched for, it turned up the longest results lists and lowest prices.
However, we found two worthy competitors. Pronto.com fetches prices on 70 million products from more than 25,000 online merchants, including eBay. It also lets you sign up to receive e-mail alerts when your favorite brands or products go on sale. Google's shopping search engine, Google Product Search, is great if you want just a bare-bones price comparison tool. What you'll get are lots of results for your search, product reviews, seller ratings and a "local shopping" option to help you find products at stores near you. What you won't see is a home page full of hot products, shopping guides, product categories and colorful images.
Shop with cyber-coupons
To sweeten any deal you find, search for coupon codes to get an even bigger discount. Plenty of sites offer coupon codes (and printable coupons) for online and brick-and-mortar retailers. The nice thing about our picks is that you don't have to register on these sites to gain access to the coupons.
CouponCabin.com has more than 150,000 active coupons and deals. Its staff searches merchant sites, forums, blogs, consumer emails and even the Sunday Paper for coupons and updates its listing three times a day. It shows when a coupon expires and when it was last tested, so you know it still works. CouponCabin.com also offers a downloadable toolbar that displays coupons and deals if you visit one of its 3,300 participating merchants online.
CouponWinner.com has more than 28,000 coupons from about 12,000 retailers. What we like about the site is its Coupon Scout tool that lets you compare coupons from up to five retailers. Click on a category, such as women's apparel, and the Coupon Scout tool will appear on the left-hand side of the page.
Not only does Alex's Coupons offer coupon codes for more than 1,200 stores, but also it helps in the fight against childhood cancer. Alex's Coupons has donated more than $20,000 to childhood cancer charities.
And if you're shopping for children, check out CleverBabies.com. It has coupons for stores such as Toys R Us, DisneyShopping.com and babyGap. The site also posts sales, has forums and has its own coupons.
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 1,800 stores, 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.
Check out these smart stories from Kiplinger: