It's A Steal!

An unfortunate side effect of the virtual office is the opportunity to shun responsibilities and scour the net for that ever-elusive holy grail of bargains: the deal that will leave your friends and foes envious for years to come. The designer sweater at 80% off, the hot suede boots for $50. You have felt the glory of this victory before, and you know you can again... if you just keep at it a little longer, you'll be rewarded. That next great deal is within your reach, and you'll just keep shopping until you find it.

As a fashion writer, the lure to qualify this habit as "research" makes it ever the more tempting. Writers have a fun gig, indeed, but much like other creative vocations, not a lot of pocket change to go with it. Thus, the pursuit for the ultimate in deals and steals becomes one of great passion, drive... and, well, necessity.

Style meets savings

What to do in a field where fashion-savvy is a requirement, but limited means is often a reality? "We are constantly scouring the earth looking for the hottest fashions and understand that the thrill of bargain hunting is not just in the hunt, but in the success of finding a great bargain," says Shari Shakun, VP and General Merchandise Manager at SmartBargains.com.

Shopping their site is a great outlet for getting couture dress you want -- at a price that won't keep you out of martinis all season -- the site saves customers up to 70% off every day, and stocks all the of-the-moment designers.

The benefits of membership

"People are always looking for a bargain when it comes to finding good clothes. An easy way to save a few extra dollars this fall season is to take advantage of loyalty programs that retail stores offer," says Lecrecia A McGregor, marketing director at Francesca's Collections, a popular boutique offering fashion finds at affordable prices. Subscribers to the Francesca's e-newsletter get bi-monthly updates on new arrivals, coupons, special offers and discounts. "By offering special incentives to our loyal readers every month, customers who join our mailing list are always the best dressed ones with a few extra dollars in their pocket."

Always inquire with your favorite e-tailers to see what benefits they offer to frequent shoppers. You may be spending more money than you need to! For example, shoe-lovers can find great incentives at Shoebuy.com and Zappos.com. Customers can subscribe for new style updates from favorite brands and for announcements of seasonal promotions.

Many of us are set in our ways, and desire bargain options where we are already comfortable shopping. From clothes and shoes to makeup, several sites out there offer shoppers free secret coupon codes that save the consumer a fortune at stores like Nordstrom, Amazon.com, Sephora, Bloomingdale's, and hundreds more (often as much as 50%!).


Savvy shopping tips and tricks

According to Barry Boone, CEO of CurrentCodes.com, there are some important steps to getting the best deals out of your Internet shopping experience:

1. Always check for a coupon or promotional code before checking out. Visit sites like Points & Prizes or CurrentCodes.com -- and getting a coupon only takes a few seconds and could save you anything from free shipping to 50% off or more.

2. If you know the exact product you want to purchase, it pays to visit several online retailers to get the best price. Several different sites can help you find that best price by giving you a list of online stores in the category you're shopping for, and showing you the coupons that those stores are offering.

3. In general, it is far safer to use a credit card than a debit card for shopping online. Most debit cards do not offer the same level of safety that a credit card does, and when an unexpected or erroneous charge shows up on your debit card, the money is taken from your bank account and you can end up with bounced checks or other issues before you even realize the problem has occurred. Talk to your bank or card issuer if you need details.

4. Some merchants are required to collect sales taxes in your state while others might not. It can pay to check several online retailers if the merchant you're about to purchase from wants to charge sales tax. Depending on where you live, you could save 8% or more on tax alone.

5. Some sites offer incentives for using their payment services. For example, eBay sometimes issues coupons valid for purchases made on their site with PayPal -- and this is especially true near the holidays. Google Checkout also sometimes offer incentives for using their service -- see some promotions here.

6. Pay close attention to shipping charges. Some retailers make up their low prices by padding the shipping, so you want to be sure you're getting the lowest possible overall price.

7. Read the site's privacy policy on information sharing, and be sure you don't unintentionally opt in to having your information shared with third parties.

8. Always be sure that the final checkout screen shows the correct items, quantities and pricing before you submit your order.


Finding feedback first

If you seek instant guidance in your bargain pursuit, no need to send hysterical texts to all your friends. (Eventually, they stop answering.) Shopping.com help consumers quickly and easily make smart shopping decisions by comparing product prices side-by-side, while Epinions.com offers reviews and advice on millions of products and services in more than 30 different categories.

Other sites that offer valuable reader reviews include Overstock.com, Amazon.com, Drugstore.com, Macy's and eBags.com, among others.


The more you spend, the more you save

The remaining danger? It's quite possible to get so excited about the money you save, you'll end up on a spending spree! Whether or not what you buy was on sale (even clearance!), buying what you don't need and will never use is not spending-savvy. So, before you start embracing the annals of shopaholic legend, learn that being a good shopper is getting what you need at the best possible value. Leave the rummage bins for garage sales!

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