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The Basics

Your 5-minute guide to online bargains

For shopping options, it's hard to beat the Web. But it can seem overwhelming when you're trying to find the best deal. These 20 tips can improve your chances of success.

By MSN Money staff

A good deal rarely falls into your lap. You have to look for it. And there's no better place to hunt for bargains than the Web.

The key word is "hunt." According to the experts, it's best to continually check prices. Don't wait until the last minute; instead, be looking on a regular basis for the things you want to buy. For new ideas, check out "Hot Deals" on MSN Money's Smart Spending blog.

Do your research

Start with shopping sites such as MSN Shopping and price-comparison search engines like and MySimon to get an idea of what a product is selling for. Using Microsoft's Live Search can also net you savings with its cashback program. (For more, see "The Web's best shoppers.")

Then let sites like Dealnews, MyBargainBuddy and Slickdeals do some of the research for you. They scan the Web for sale and clearance items and pair them with coupon codes, rebates and other discounts. (See "6 sites every shopper should know.")

Do your own price comparisons, too: Open multiple windows and shop two or more sites at once until you land the best deal.

Where to beware

  • Remember that online sites try various strategies to get you to spend more money. Easy checkout pages make the process less intimidating, and customer reviews encourage you to feel more comfortable buying from the site. (See "5 reasons you overspend online.")

  • Sites that look expensive generally are. Although aesthetically pleasing, those sites tend to have higher prices than sites that offer a simpler shopping experience. Why should you pay for their fancy Web page?

Be flexible

  • If you're flexible on travel, you'll find last-minute booking deals, but you need to know when to jump. Hotels tend to get cheaper as the date nears and they want to fill their rooms, for example, but rental car prices tend to be higher in the week before. (See "Do procrastinators get better deals?")

  • You might have a brand preference, but don't let that get in the way of a rebate or coupon making a similar product more affordable.

Limit spending

  • Load a gift card for your favorite department store with a specific amount of money and use it to shop. That way, you don't pay interest, and it limits impulse buying.

  • Buy items used at online auctions, such as eBay, and from Craigslist ads.

  • Sometimes, free really does mean free, including free online music, credit reports and samples. (For more ideas, check out "26 fabulous freebies.")

Continued: Find it locally

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