It Is Finished

The exhausting adventure that was the Cheap Sally Bring Home The Bacon contest is officially, finally, over. How did it turn out?

Girl in first place (not me) has a $100,000 new job to look forward to in 2012.

Girl in third place (me) has three weeks of work from her real job to catch up on and two days to get ready for Christmas.

While I don’t have a new job, the three weeks of exhaustion and stress and anxiety and 15-hour days in front of my computer were not a complete waste. I now know exactly how to not pay full price for just about anything online. Here are a few of the tips I learned in online couponing boot camp:

Patience Is A Virtue

Some things just can’t wait, but if you know you are going to be making a large purchase in the near future, start looking and getting an idea of the price early. Prices are extremely volatile! One day in the contest, our product challenge was an XBox Kinect. No contestant found a price lower than $110, even with coupons, but the very next day the price on Amazon dropped to $99 with free shipping. Hey, it’s ten bucks! You can sign up for price-watching sites like DealItem or DealzOn (and many others) that keep tabs on the price of a product and alert you when it changes. Also, here’s a little secret that I wasn’t expecting to discover: if you think you know where you want to purchase something, try putting it in your online cart and checking out all the way to the last page, just shy of actually submitting your order. Then leave it. I did this (accidentally) dozens of times throughout the contest, and very often the retailers would email a coupon or link for an additional 10% or 15% off of the items in my cart if I would go back and complete the check-out. Who knew?

There Are A Lot Of Stores Out There

I’ll admit it: my go-to online store for anything and everything is was Amazon. It’s all in one place, shipping is almost always free, their wish list is genius, and their customer service has always been great in my experience. But I have learned that they are very often NOT the best price. There are hundreds or thousands of online stores (even ignoring the suspicious ones) and they are all trying to attract your business. A lot of the lesser-known retailers offer larger and more frequent coupons than the well-established ones. Search engines and shopping-specific search engines make it very simple to do a quick online price comparison (Google Shopping and The Find are my current favorites).

There Is A Coupon For Almost Everything

Some manufacturers restrict the use of coupons on their products to control the price, but it’s definitely worth trying more than one retailer. Our last product challenge was a pair of Beats by Dr Dre Studio Headphones. When I did an initial search, it looked like the price was the same on every single site, and every coupon I tried was rejected because “the items in my cart did not apply.” However, after spending a little more time on it I found several stores that accepted coupons on the headphones, and even coupons up to 25% and 40% off (Guitar Center, Musician’s Friend, SkyMall, and Dr Jays had the biggest coupons)! Even if you don’t have all day to look, a quick scan of a couple coupon sites can likely save you some money. I found Coupon Cabin, Brad’s Deals, Cheap Sally, Offers.com, and ShopAtHome to have pretty reliable coupons.

New Isn’t Always Better.

The rules of the contest specified that we could only submit prices on new products, but while searching I was constantly surprised by the discounts available on open-box, factory re-sealed, and refurbished products. These products are most often of a quality equal to their “new” counterparts, and I think the discounted prices are usually worth any conceived risk of buying “not new.”

Most importantly, don’t make yourself crazy. If you spend ten hours looking for a coupon that saves you five dollars, I’d say the overall value of the deal is negative. But with the plethora of online resources available, ten minutes could easily save you ten dollars or more, which really can be worth it.

And now I will not be thinking about coupons again until 2012.

Amen.

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