smart spending

9 secrets to online bargain hunting

Read the fine print

Great online deals can save you bundles of money. However, if a particular promotion looks too good to be true, it probably is.

For starters, many Web sites offer price reductions on select items but carry cost-prohibitive shipping and handling charges that can offset savings.

Location can be another impediment to a great deal. Many Web-based businesses are scattered around the world. Make sure you're dealing in U.S. dollars when making a purchase. If not, use an online currency converter to get a more accurate idea of what you can expect to pay.

Also, examine return policy details, such as whether returns are allowed, whether items can be returned in-store and who foots the bill for shipping returned goods.

"With a small mom-and-pop store, you can get some good deals," Webb says. "But often they have a no-return policy and that can be difficult if the item is inferior (in) quality to what you expected."

Nor are there any promises that a particular promotional offer will actually save you money.

"You're not guaranteed a deal until the merchant accepts the promotion code and that money is taken off your purchase," says Freedman.

That's especially true if you're using a coupon that isn't necessarily "merchant-sanctioned," so closely examine your order summary before submitting your credit card number.

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