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Never Pay Full Price: The Ultimate Guide to Online Coupon Codes

Using coupon codes wisely can maximize your potential savings — but it may take a little know-how to navigate the vast amount of coupon information out there.

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Extra Credit for Coupon Experts

Were you the Hermione Granger of your classroom growing up? Excellent, because now it's time for extra credit that will make you outshine your fellow deal-hunters. It's one thing to find a coupon code on your own, but it's quite another to weigh the pros and cons of a variety of stores and discounts in the quest for the ultimate best price.

Do the Math to Decide Where to Buy

Once you have located coupon codes for a store or a few stores, you may discover that there are a variety of different types of codes available. There may be offers for a certain percentage off, a fixed dollar amount off, or free shipping, and each might have different minimum purchase requirements. Since many stores only allow one coupon code to be applied for each order, you'll want to figure out which coupon is ideal for your particular purchase.

One of the biggest considerations is whether you will be charged shipping. There's nothing like a hefty shipping charge to downgrade an otherwise great deal. For instance, you might be pleased to discover a store is offering a 25% off code with no minimum, perfect for your $30 order. But then a $9.95 shipping charge is tacked on.

Unless you know you're getting free shipping, you'll want to figure out how much shipping will cost you and compare that to the discount another available code would provide, to see which is greater. In the above example, the 25% off coupon would save you $7.50 on a $30 purchase, but if the store also offered a coupon for something like free shipping on $25, that would save even more at $9.95. Of course, coupons that give both a discount and free shipping are even better.

If shipping isn't a factor, choosing a coupon code is simply a matter of figuring out which discount reduces your particular order the most. Generally speaking, smaller orders are more likely to benefit from a fixed discount amount off, such as $5 off $25, than a percentage discount like 10% off, since the percentage amount on a small order can be minimal. As the order gets larger, it is more likely that a percentage discount will be the best.

Spend More, Save More

Spending more on an order can have its advantages. When multiple coupons are available, you'll want to think about whether increasing your order total to meet a minimum for a larger discount might actually work out better for getting maximum value out of your order. Stores often release coupon codes in tiers — or various discount amounts depending on your purchase size — either with the same coupon code or with different codes. As your purchase size goes up, you may become eligible for a larger discount. If you reach a level where a higher discount applies, you might find that you can get more in product value by spending a relatively small amount extra.

As an example, a store might offer a code for 10% off $50 or 20% off $75. Let's say your order amount is right at $50, which would end up at $45 after the 10% discount. However, if you add $25 worth of merchandise to your order to meet the $75 minimum, your order will be $60, which is only $15 more for $25 in extra items.

The same concept can apply to shipping charges. Stores often have ongoing free shipping offers that don't require a code, or they may have a coupon for it. If your order is close to a free shipping minimum, consider what shipping will cost and how much extra you would have to spend to get it free. If shipping is $9.95 and you are $10 away from getting it free, adding another item would be worth doing. If there's a larger difference in what the total will be, and you're not prepared to spend more, then you may have to bite the bullet and pay the shipping charges.

Granted, it isn't always easy to exactly meet a minimum or get very close to it at many stores, due to their pricing structures. And spending more might not be a favorable option for you, if you really don't need additional items. But it's definitely something to consider if your order is hovering near the minimum for a better offer, and you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Stack Up the Savings

While most stores only allow one coupon discount per order, there are some stores that will allow for stacking online codes, which means more than one coupon can be applied. These stores might display several coupon code boxes at checkout, or there may just be one box for applying each code one at a time. If there is only one box, and you still see that box available after applying a code, you might be able to add another one. Stores that have stacking available include Best Buy, Kohl's, Victoria's Secret, Gap Inc. stores (including Banana Republic and Old Navy), Office Depot, and Sears.

What's the catch? There may be heavy restrictions on the type of codes you can combine, and the store may not have more than one coupon available that applies to your order. Combining two percentage or dollar off coupons is less likely to work, but a free shipping code with one of those offers typically will. Regardless, it never hurts to experiment with available codes at any store that allows for stacking, to find out if they are accepted together.

Final Word: Always Use a Coupon

There's plenty of potential to turn your good deal into a great one using codes. If you see that little coupon code box in the cart, make sure that you take that opportunity to save. New coupon codes come and go every day and many stores always have a coupon of some kind available. It's simply a matter of understanding the basics of how codes work and taking the time to do a little research before placing your order. And, remember, we have an entire staff here at DealNews tracking down deals and coupons for you every day, making it even easier to locate this information quickly.

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Coupon Editor

Sarah Jones joined DealNews in 2005 and currently manages the team that publishes coupons and breaks down the info in Black Friday ads, one item at a time. She enjoys family, music, writing, and fashion.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I needed 12 bottles of a non-prescription drug that is price controlled by the manufacturer. I found a seller who gives points on each purchase. You can apply those points to a purchase by cashing in points for a coupon. Unfortunately, only one coupon applies to a purchase. I followed their instructions to a t, but had to make 12 separate purchases of the same item due to their coupon restrictions. It was also necessary to restart my browser 12 times to clear the cache. It all worked out, but I guess they figured it out, since they sent all 12 bottles in the same box. I saved about 15% on the price-controlled drugs.
For maximum discount, also click through one of the cash back rebate sites.

And does a great job of compiling cash back, coupon codes, and special offers for most online shopping sites.
If a store says you've already redeemed a coupon, try creating a different account. How? Use another web browser (or clear your cookie from that store) and a different email address. You'll find that with many stores, that's all you need. (For the others, you'll need another credit card.)
Good article! Just the type of info that DealNews readers can use to keep saving.

I have Priceblink installed on Firefox. It's an "add on" that you can attach (I go to the Tools menu on the browser and select Add-ons). When you shop, it automatically shows some coupon codes and also compares prices at several other stores. It's saved me a lot of time and effort to find coupons or codes, not to say there aren't additional codes to be found elsewhere, sometimes with better savings. Users can also submit codes that are not listed so that Priceblink can check them out and add them to their list.

Also, don't forget coupons/deals and points/cashback that you can earn from on-line shopping through your credit card's shopping mall.
If a coupon code doesn't work, try calling customer service because they often have a little extra lattitude. Once I was trying to get a code to work on and called customer service. The agent figured out that the coupon threshold was $75 and the item I was buying was $74.99. He did an override and got me the discount anyway. Several times, when I have called Musician's Friend to place an order, the agent has managed to find me a coupon code to bring the price of the item (which was already on sale at a very good price) down even further.
When searching for a discount code, you should search based on what the site is asking for. In other words, if it asks for a "coupon code" use those words as the search parameters. If it asks for "promotional code", search with those words.

I never make an online purchase until do a thorough search for a code. Usually I will get to check out and see what type of code they are looking for and then do my search.

If no code is found here's another trick. Fill in name and email and go all the way to check out short of entering a credit card if possible and then close the browser window. Sometimes you will receive an email from the site inquiring why you didn't complete the purchase and they offer a discount then -10% off seems most common.
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