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Your personal bargain shopper

Price comparison websites find the best deals, get you extra discounts and may even show you how to get a refund if the price changes.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 5, 2012 6:23PM

Image: Shopping online (© Creatas/SuperStock)Want the best price? You need a personal shopper -- and the Internet is full of them.

Price comparison websites like FatWallet.comFindersCheapers and PriceGrabber.com exist to serve deal-seeking consumers. Tell them what you want and they'll tell you how to get it for the least amount of dough.

Please note: These sites are not a license to overspend. If you really can't afford to shop, don't do it. But price aggregators may actually help some people avoid impulse buys.

How?

By giving time for your rational mind to kick in, that's how. By the time you've checked a bunch of prices, that nifty tool or cute shirt starts to look either (a) less interesting or (b) too expensive after all. Put a little time between "Want one!" and "How much?" and you could save some dough.

What they can do for you

Price aggregators search all major retailers but also uncover great deals from lesser-known or specialty merchants. That's a boon for shoppers who might never have found these companies any other way.

But the sites do more than chase down hot deals. They also offer one or more of the following services:

  • Price alerts. You say what you want to pay. The site e-mails you when that price comes up.
  • Refund alert. At least one site, PricePlease, monitors price guarantees for 160 companies. If one of those retailers drops the price on what you just purchased, PricePlease clues you in on the refund process.
  • Additional discounts. Online coupon codes and rebate offers; FatWallet.com also offers cash-back shopping.
  • Local price comparisons. For folks who prefer to shop in-person, or who buy their gifts on the way to the baby shower.

Which aggregators are the best? ConsumerReports.org recommends starting with PriceGrabber.com and using at least one other site. That's because no single search is completely comprehensive. (Post continues after video.)

Others that are tops in CR's estimation: GoogleNexTag and Bing. (Bing is owned by Microsoft, which publishes MSN Money.)

Things to know

Some deals -- especially closeouts -- are fleeting. A stated price could change in a matter of minutes if a promotion ends.

Factoring in shipping costs (and maybe sales tax) may mute that screamin' deal a little.


Even if the site offers coupons and free-shipping codes, take a minute to look elsewhere for better ones. See "Online discount codes: Virtual coupons" for details. (If you're doing cash-back through FatWallet.com, however, codes from a different site will likely void the rebate.)

Be realistic about those price alerts. Typing in"“Coach handbag, $2" won't yield much success. To keep from asking too little (or too much), look for a "price history" link on the aggregator site.

Here's a long shot that might pay off: Check the "eBay typos" function at zooLert. If sellers misspell the name of a product, their auctions get fewer bidders. That means you'll likely pay less.

As noted above, some retailers offer price guarantees. Find out the rules and then set a price-drop alert with several other aggregator sites. If the item you bought gets cheaper during the guarantee period, apply for a refund.

Finally: Plan ahead. Instead of waiting until the week before your BFF's birthday, set some price alerts a couple of months in advance. Just be ready to pounce when you get the email -- as noted, these prices may not last.

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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.

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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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