How to save money while shopping online
Make sure you always get the best deal when you shop online. Seven tips for comparing prices, finding coupon codes, saving on shipping, and encouraging retailers to offer you discounts.
7 min read
Searching for the best price online can seem like a chore. It’s easy to spend hours trawling the web only to come up empty-handed, or worse, with a bunch of overpriced impulse purchases.
Websites compete for our attention with discounts, deals, limited offers, seasonal sales, coupons, cash back programs and loyalty schemes. So how do you make sure you’re actually getting the best deal?
We’ll show you some time-saving shortcuts for comparing prices, finding deals, cashing in on coupons and more.
1. Make an online shopping list
Have a clear idea of what you want to buy before you head online. This will help you stay focused, so you don’t become distracted by unrelated items or spend hours leaping from store to store. By listing your potential purchases, you can clarify what you actually need—and what is simply “nice to have.” When you cut out unnecessary items, you’re already saving money.
While your main goal is to get more bang for your buck, it’s still worth noting that the cheapest option is not always the best. We recommend keeping in mind factors like sustainability and quality when making your list. If you’re shopping for a laptop and you pay peanuts, you’ll get a monkey computer (so to speak). That said, once you’ve selected a high-quality product with good green credentials, there’s no harm in shopping around for the best price.
2. Compare prices and visit deals websites
Gone are the days when we had to manually check different websites to compare prices. Today, there are lots of price comparison websites with search functions that make it easy to find the lowest price.
These websites and browser plugins will help you price compare while shopping online and find deals on your desired products:
PriceBlink is a free browser extension that automatically finds lower prices while you shop
Honey is a free extension that compares every seller on Amazon and shows you the best price (but that’s not all—more on Honey later)
The “Shopping” tab in Google Search lets you browse suggested products from countless retailers (prices are clearly marked) or set a price filter
RetailMeNot offers a browser extension called Deal Finder that automatically finds offers (including cash back) on the product you’re looking at in any online store; if you’re in the UK, visit VoucherCodes
Whichever website or plugin you use, be aware that the prices shown may not include shipping, warranties and other services, so the final price might be slightly higher.
3. Get coupons online
Coupon codes are another great way to shop and save online. There are several ways to get coupons:
Sign up to newsletters: Retailers will often reward you for subscribing with a coupon. Plus once you’re on their mailing list, you’ll receive codes for other sales and seasonal discounts. Tip: consider setting up a separate email for your online shopping accounts and newsletter subscriptions so your main inbox doesn’t get flooded.
Search for coupons on trusted websites: Head to sites like CouponFollow (USA, UK), The Krazy Coupon Lady (USA), CouponCabin (USA), RetailMeNot (international), HotUKDeals (UK), DealsLab (France), MyDealz (Germany), Meliuz and Cuponomia (Brazil). If you can’t find a code for your desired product, sign up to receive notifications when discounts become available.
Use coupon browser extensions: When you add items to a shopping cart, these plugins automatically search for and apply any relevant coupon codes. They’ll also notify you if they find better offers on other online shops. Honey even lets you add items to a Droplist and pings you when they become discounted. Well-known extensions include Honey (USA, Canada, Australia, UK, European Union), Capital One Shopping (USA) and Cently (USA and others). According to CouponFollow, the makers of Cently, around 40% of all purchases made using their plugin were matched with a valid coupon code, resulting in an average saving of 17%.
Be strategic with your timing: More coupons are available during sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday—these are also great opportunities to save money on your online Christmas shopping.
Watch out for fake coupons that may contain malware: Warning signs include coupons without expiry dates and coupons for free items. If you’re unsure, check the blacklist at the Coupon Information Center.
4. Sign up for online reward programs
Loyalty pays off. Some websites offer reward programs that let you earn points on your purchases to gain discounts later on. If there are particular products you tend to buy again and again from the same sites (e.g. a particular shampoo or tea), it’s worth checking if they have a reward program you can join. Tip: here too, it’s a good idea to use a different email address so you can keep marketing emails separate from your other mail.
You’re probably familiar with the reward programs offered by airlines and credit cards, but you might be surprised to learn how many retailers are now getting in on the act. Check the app stores to see if your favorite stores and brands have apps that let you collect points on your purchases.
5. Leave items in your shopping cart
This classic trick works well for items you don’t need urgently. Go through your shopping list and select the “nice to haves” and other things that can wait. Once you’ve found an item online, open an account on the merchant’s website and add the product to your shopping cart.
Now it’s time to play the waiting game. Online stores usually have systems for encouraging you to finish your purchase. You might be sent email reminders, and ads for the product will probably start appearing on other websites you visit (this is called retargeting). Hang in there and don’t be fooled by attempts to create a sense of urgency, like “last chance!” or “only 1 item left in stock.”
Many retailers will eventually offer you a discount code for the item in your cart so they can close the sale. Bingo!
6. Try curbside shopping and save on shipping
Curbside shopping has taken off since the start of the coronavirus crisis. It’s a mix of online and offline shopping: you make your purchase on a store’s website, then pick up the items yourself. It’s fairly common in the USA and is catching on elsewhere around the world.
Benefits of curbside pick-up:
Help to keep yourself and others safe during the pandemic
Avoid shipping fees and reduce the overall cost of your purchase
Pick up your items when it suits you; you won’t need to worry about being home when the delivery person comes knocking
Support local businesses while still enjoying the convenience of online shopping (more tips for shopping local online)
7. Create a budget for your online shopping
If money is tight at the moment or you’re trying to build up your savings, it’s worth setting a budget. Having a plan in place will help you avoid temptations like “free shipping on orders over X amount,” “buy one get one free” or discounted “related products” you don’t really need.
Your budget is closely tied to your shopping list. The essential, non-negotiable items you need to buy online each month represent your fixed costs. Roughly calculate the total amount. Then do the same for the “nice to haves”: your variable costs. Now you’ll need to see how these things fit into your overall budget.
Don’t have an overall budget for all your monthly costs? Our smart budgeting tips will help you.
Take control of your shopping list with N26
N26 makes it easier to manage your online shopping list, save money and stick to your budget.
Spaces sub-accounts let you put money aside for your online shopping, so you don’t accidentally run out of funds and can easily check what’s left in your budget. Each time you buy something online, simply move the required amount into your main account with just a few taps.
You can also add a personalized tag to your purchases (e.g. #clothing, #electronics, #books) and view statistics about your tag categories to gain an overview of your spending.
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