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Online shopping codes: Virtual coupons

Free shipping, free products, discounts on your order or your next shopping trip -- the savings can be considerable.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 28, 2012 1:21PM
Image: Shopping online (© Comstock/SuperStock/SuperStock)Shopping online? Don't forget your coupons.

Online shopping codes are virtual coupons, providing discounts, free or discounted shipping and maybe a free gift besides.

Are they worth your time? You bet. Why would you pay for shipping if you could get something  delivered for free? (Not that all shopping codes are for free shipping. More on that in a minute.)

Often you can use more than one kind per order. A woman I interviewed "stacked" a couple of types of codes with a coupon code from an apparel company's paper catalog, then shopped the online clearance section. Want to know how much she paid for 15 items?

Twenty dollars. Yes, she paid $20 for 15 good-quality clothing items shipped to her home. Not everyone can get prices that impressive, but you can save some serious coin by using these codes.

Start by searching

Before you buy anything, from prom attire to contact lenses, look for a discount code. Seriously: anything. I've seen discounts for things like acupuncture, dating sites, pet medication, basement waterproofing kits and genealogical research. (Post continues after video.)
Don't just type "online discount code" into a search engine, though. You'll get millions and millions of responses, some of them potentially dodgy. (Hint: Don't buy a "subscription" to a coupon code site. These things are free!)

Instead, look on sites like Coupon or Sunshine Rewards. You'll find codes good for: 
  • Percentage off. It's like using a coupon at the supermarket. There may be minimum-purchase requirements and certain brands may be excluded.
  • Dollars off. Generally associated with a minimum purchase, e.g., "$10 off a purchase of $40 or more."
  • Free or fixed-price shipping. This is an especially good deal for heavy items.
  • A gift. An extra item added to a specific purchase, such as socks with the purchase of shoes.
  • Discount on your next purchase. Deals such as "$10 off your next order with a $50 purchase now" aren't as common as the other four, however.
Apply these codes at checkout and watch the total expenditure drop. If you're the kind of person who's embarrassed to use coupons in the store, relax. No one has to know.

A few more tips:

  • Join the club. Facebook fans and Twitter followers can get exclusive codes from their favorite coupon sites.
  • Try in-store pickup or ship-to-store options. The percent- or dollars-off codes might be better online than in the bricks-and-mortar store ad. So order online, but pick it up down the street. Or maybe they'll bring it to you: One woman I interviewed bought four appliances this way, and three were delivered for free.
  • Try cash-back shopping. Sites like and Mr. Rebates  generally have the same offers that the coupon-code sites do, along with some proprietary ones. Note: Do not use a code you found somewhere else, because it will likely void your rebate. (Some stores that offer in-store pickup can be accessed through a cash-back site; for details, see "2 ways to save on shipping costs.")
  • Check the totals. Make sure the discount was applied before you click "buy." If the code doesn't work it may have expired; go look for another one. Or maybe you just misspelled it.
  • Get real. Do you need the item or did the coupon make you think you do? A discount on something you don't need is not a good deal.

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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.


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.