Bargain finding (11)

Don't you love a good deal? I do, although I hate having to sift through a million sites to find a bargain worth buying. The following sites do a good job on delivering the goodies without making you wade through a lot of crap. (You'll notice there are no "social deal" sites such as Groupon listed. My experiences with those sites have been so mixed that I haven't included any here.) Don't hit the "buy" button until you've searched this site for free shipping codes. You can set up email alerts to be notified when your favorite stores offer the same. This handy guide lets you look at store ads in your area and compare prices on products at comparable stores. One interesting feature is that as soon as you log back in to the site, you get a notice about the number of sales in your area (typically in the thousands) and the amount you could save if you hit all of those deals (typically in the hundreds of thousands).

Dealnews: This tops my list for bargain-hunting sites because it guarantees that the deals it highlights are the lowest prices the site could find for a particular item from a reputable store. I also like the fact that you can rank the deals by "hotness" as well as by category and how recently the deal became available. Check out the "Editor's Choice" section for the most outstanding deals. FatWallet not only tracks deals but also offers money back. You can set up alerts for specific items and find even more deals in the forum section. This site focuses on deals that appeal to women, particularly moms and crafters. But the deals are solid, with the lists filled with 40%- and 50%-off deals. In addition, you can search by store for coupon codes. Track all the advertised and unadvertised sales at local grocery stores (plus Target and Wal-Mart), and learn when to combine a sale with Sunday newspaper coupons for the best discounts. CouponMom will direct you to the relevant week's circulars so you clip only what you need.

The Grocery Game: The Grocery Game highlights sales and lets you know when to deploy your coupons, but it does so in a more user-friendly way than does. The difference will cost you: The Grocery Game charges a few bucks a month for its service.

Hot Coupon World: In addition to coupons, this site provides honest-to-goodness shopping and sales news, including which stores will no longer honor competitors' coupons. More than 50 forums address topics of interest to those who want to save money, spend wisely, create a business, etc.

PP Gazette: Get an overview of all the grocery ads in your area, with the best deals highlighted by a five-star rating system that distinguishes the great deals from the minor discounts.

CouponCabin: This site features printable and online coupons for daily and general use. If your grocery accepts online coupons -- many don't -- visit here before you go.

RetailMeNot: If I'm looking for an online coupon, chances are, I'll find the best ones here. As with other sites, though, you have to watch for out-of-date coupons and those prone to technical difficulties.

Saving and investing (5)

Help your money make more money. Bankrate started by tracking interest rates and now has a wealth of articles on most finance topics.

Find a Credit Union: Credit unions offer better rates on savings and on loans than most banks. If you're not already a member, this handy tool helps you find credit unions you may be eligible to join.

Morningstar: Research stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds and other investments with the site's free content. A subscription gets you access to premium content, including analysts' reports. One of Morningstar's best features is its Instant X-Ray, which tells you how your portfolio is allocated among stocks, bonds and cash, with further breakdowns showing sectors and global exposures.

Financial Engines: For $40 a quarter, you can get personalized investment advice to help you plan for retirement and pick the right funds for your 401k, IRA and other retirement accounts.

Jubak Picks: If you insist on investing in individual stocks (instead of the index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds I favor), you need to keep up with what my MSN Money colleague Jim Jubak has to say about the markets and economic trends.

Paying for college (3)

A few decades ago, a college education was the ticket to moving up. Pretty soon, you'll need a degree just to stay in the middle class. If getting an education for yourself or your kids is an important goal, these sites can help you achieve it.

The College Solution: Far too many families nearly bankrupt themselves on educations while ignoring better values that may be better fits for their offspring. Higher-education journalist Lynn O'Shaughnessy knows there's a better way, and she'll help you find it.

FinAid: This is an indispensable site for anyone hoping to navigate the choppy waters of financial aid, with some of the best information available anywhere on student loans. Publisher Mark Kantrowitz also runs Fastweb, a site for finding college scholarships. When 529 college savings plans were created, accountant Joe Hurley was an early evangelist. He started this site to explain how they work, the details of each plan and how to choose the right one for your family. The site's best (and scariest) feature is the world's simplest college calculator, which you'll find in the middle of the home page.