In these troubled economic times, it is more important than ever to stretch a dollar. Most people know that taking advantage of sales and store brands are effective ways to save money, but the savings may not be enough to stay on budget. Below are four lesser-known tips you can use online to help you get the most out of every dollar you spend at your favorite stores.
Visit Your Favorite Company’s Website
Most companies offer a variety of special offers directly on their website. Some e-commerce sites have a code that can be typed in at checkout for an immediate discount. Others offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount of money. Many also feature sale or clearance tabs that serve the same function as sales in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. If you scroll all the way down to the bottom of the web page, you may even find a special offer reserved for only the most diligent.
These promotions tend to favor a company’s newest products and services in an effort to entice customers to try them out. For example, a restaurant chain that recently introduced online ordering may offer a discount on online orders that you cannot get otherwise. The food is the same, so why not give it a shot and save some money?
Corporate websites also frequently allow you to subscribe to the company’s email newsletter. While some of what they send you will be junk, you will also get valuable coupons, priority access to certain sales, and/or free merchandise on your birthday. The exact incentives vary by merchant. Following a company on social media sites such as Facebook can yield similar rewards as well.
Join the Rewards Program
Speaking of rewards, if your favorite company offers a rewards program, you should sign up for it right away. Whether it means that every 11th sandwich is free or you get members-only preferential pricing, rewards programs are almost always worth your time. They may also send you junk mail, but the potential savings are worth it.
Once you sign up for the program, learn every detail about it so you can maximize its value to you. Make sure to swipe your membership card for every transaction. Take advantage of any bonus points or limited-time offers. Never let a coupon or reward expire. The best rewards programs can save you hundreds of dollars per year if you use them regularly.
This does not mean you should purchase items you do not want or need just to get rewards points, which is exactly what the company wants you to do. The key to using a rewards program successfully is to benefit from transactions that you would have made anyway without being tempted to buy something you don’t want.
Use Third-Party Discount Sites
Once you get all of the savings you can out of the company, it’s time to look elsewhere for additional discounts. Third-party sites such as RetailMeNot.com, GoodSearch.com, and BeFrugal.com scour the internet to bring as many special offers, coupons, and sales to you as possible. Many of them provide electronic access to a store’s weekly ad as well, making them a useful substitute if you did not get one. The best sites of this kind update frequently, removing expired deals while adding new ones as they become available.
They also adopt gimmicks to stand out among a crowded field. For instance, RetailMeNot has a mobile app that allows you to flash your phone to the sales clerk to use a coupon. It also locates special offers near you and saves all of your digital coupons in one convenient location. GoodSearch is affiliated with Goodwill and makes a charitable donation to the cause of your choice every time you use one of their links. Participating charities include UNICEF, the ASPCA, American Red Cross, Girl Scouts, and Feeding America. BeFrugal rewards you with cash back for using their site, receivable via check, PayPal, or Amazon gift card.
There are some downsides to using these sites, however. Retailers need to participate in the various discount programs, and the percentage of the charitable donation or cash back varies by store. Some stores also have a different policy for online coupons, so always be sure to read the fine print. Promotions on these sites may also have expired, be limited to a different geographic region, or already used up. Still, effective use of these sites can save you significant sums of money over time.
You’re not necessarily done trying to save money just because the transaction is over. Manufacturer’s rebates allow you to recoup some of what you paid for the item after the fact. They usually have you fill out a form and send it, along with proof of purchase, to a designated address. Your rebate arrives a few weeks later.
However, getting the rebate can be tricky, as the process can be more complicated than it needs to be. According to Consumer Reports magazine, there are a few steps you should follow to get your rebate. First, make sure you read all of the conditions of the offer to ensure you truly qualify for it. Purchase location and product size can matter, so be sure to double check them. Next, print the rebate form as early as possible. They may take it down if you wait too long. Then, send in all of the required paperwork at the earliest possible time. This way, you have time to correct any technicalities you may have overlooked the first time before the promotion expires.
Some retailers streamline the process by allowing you to file multiple rebate forms at once, so take advantage of this added convenience whenever possible. Many rebate checks initially appear to be junk mail, so do not be too quick to discard anything while you are waiting for your check to arrive. An individual rebate may not be a lot, but they can add up to significant savings if you are diligent.