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The Top 6 Online Coupons And How To Use Them

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Thanks to shows like "Extreme Couponing", the quest for savings has sent bargain-hunters online. While great deals are an important goal to have, some newbies just don't know where to look. It's tough to know whether a deal is actually good, and bargain-hunting is a definite learning process. Overcome the learning curve with this crash-course introduction to the six most common types of online coupons. (How much is too much? Don't miss 5 Signs Your Coupon Habit Has Gone Too Far.)

1. Printable Coupons
These types coupons are available online and are redeemable at local stores. They work just like deals from a coupon book, newspaper or magazine. You find them, print them, and keep them with you when you go to the store. You do not need to print them in color, and you can't use them online. Sometimes, you need to install specific software to print these. To avoid viruses, you should only download coupons from a reputable source. If a deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Usually, chain restaurant websites are great sources for printable coupons. (Learn more in 6 Easy Ways To Save At Restaurants.)

2. Dollar-Off Coupons
These types of deals let you take a fixed amount off your online purchase. Usually, they come in increments of $5, and increase as you spend more. Usually, these types of deals are available for online purchases only, so you will need a coupon code when you check out. Sometimes, these deals are stackable, so it's worth a try if you find a couple from different sources.

3. Percent-Off Deals
These types of coupons are much like dollar-off coupons in that you can use them to reduce your bill. They are different in that percent-off deals vary proportionally with the amount of money that you're spending - when you spend more, you save more. Sometimes, percent-off deals require that you spend a minimum amount. Unlike dollar-off coupons, percent-off deals become more valuable the more you spend.

4. Free Shipping
Using a code, these types of coupons will waive the shipping fee that you would otherwise pay. In general, shipping costs can vary between $5 and $10. However, even if you get free shipping you will often have to pay shipping to return an item. Even when there are no other deals available, free shipping offers are valuable and can add up over time. It's even better if you can find a free shipping deal with free return shipping.

5. Group Buying Deals
You might have seen deals from places like LivingSocial or Groupon. These types of deals are known are group-buying offers. The premise is simple: the company negotiates a deal with a local business. If enough people buy the deal within a certain time frame, you will receive the deal at the price that you committed to paying. Usually, group-buying deals expire after a few days, so you need to act quickly if you're interested. One key disadvantage is that you can't return the deal that you buy. (Don't get caught - check out Protect Yourself From Group Buying Scams.)

6. Georeferenced Mobile Deals 
Technology is evolving so that companies can pinpoint your location. Especially if you have a smartphone, you may want to consider subscribing to a deals service, especially for your favorite restaurant chains. Basically, you will receive a free alert when you're in the vicinity of a place with a deal. This type of service is especially helpful when you're visiting a new area. If you use this type of coupon service, you should be careful to avoid additional fees (like texting or media fees).

The Bottom Line
Even though online couponing comes with a learning curve, the savings potential is high. Learn the basics of couponing so that you can get creative with your savings strategy and evolve beyond the basic coupon book.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgif=/g/a/2011/06/14/investopedia52894.DTL#ixzz1PP6t4YVp

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