How to Find and Use Online Coupon Codes

While many savvy shoppers are familiar with achieving big savings by using paper coupons available through most department stores, only 38 percent of American households report having used an online coupon when making a purchase from online retailers.

Online coupon codes offer consumers a chance to save money on their online purchases, just as paper coupons do inside traditional stores. Most shoppers who've never used an online coupon say they're missing out because they don't know how to find online coupon codes.

Stephanie Nelson, of www.thecouponmom.com, joined ABC News' "Good Morning America" to offer tips on how to find and use online coupons. Check out Nelson's tips below.

Understanding Coupon Codes: These codes can be entered in a "coupon code" or "promotional code" box on an online order form for most online retailers. The coupon code has a specific offer attached to it. Offers can range from free shipping to 25 percent off of purchases or more. Once the shopper enters the coupon code, the discount will be taken off the order form automatically. Coupon codes are not found on the retailer's own Web site. They usually are placed on other sites as a method of advertising to bring shoppers to the retailer's site.

Finding the Best Codes: Use a search engine, such as Google, Yahoo! or another you prefer, to do a search for the specific coupon you desire. For instance, if you're looking to buy something at Gap.com, you should search for "Gap Coupon Code." Hundreds of results will occur and it's up to you to find those that are most current. If you're not sure where you want to buy a specific item and you want to determine which retailer is offering the most savings online, do a search for simply "Coupon Code." This search will result in the most comprehensive coupon code Web sites. Major coupon code sites have full time staff that searches for and updates coupon codes daily. Specialty coupon code sites are geared to a specific audience, like mothers of young children, and will focus on retailers for their market.

Using Online Coupon Codes: When you find a coupon you want to use, just click on the provided link and shop at the merchant's site as you normally would. Before checking out, enter the provided "coupon code." Be sure to check that your savings are applied in your shopping cart before completing the order and keep in mind that coupon codes may expire at any time.

Maximizing Your Savings with Coupon Codes: Research and find the best coupon code sites for your retailers before you need to do online shopping. Select a few favorite coupon code sites and bookmark them so that you'll be able to save quickly when you need to shop online. Make it a habit to search your favorite coupon code sites for a coupon code before any online shopping order. Check online retailers and available coupon codes before shopping at the same bricks and mortar store. There may be more savings available online for the same merchandise. Plan and consolidate your purchases to reach minimum purchase requirements for free shipping. Subscribe to e-mail newsletters of favorite online retailer, which will frequently include short-term online coupon code offers in their newsletters. Lastly, subscribe to e-mail newsletters from your favorite coupon code Web site for up-to-date codes and special retailer offers.

Stephanie Nelson's List of Coupon Code Web sites:

www.thecouponmom.com: Coupon code section features coupons from more than 850 retailers.
www.couponcabin.com: Popular coupon code site.
www.ebates.com: This site provides coupon codes and gives rebates to shoppers in a cash account
www.dealhunting.com: This coupon code site also features rebate offers and a message board where shoppers post their best finds to share with other shoppers.

Nelson says shoppers can also get coupon code information from one site and shop through their preferred rebate site to get automatic rebates.

Nelson's List of Rebate Sites for Online Shoppers:

www.upromise.com: Rebates accumulate in a college savings account.

www.babymint.com: Rebates also accumulate in a college savings account.

www.ebates.com: Rebates accumulate in a cash account.

www.clubmom.com : Rebates accumulate as points to be redeemed for prizes and merchandise targeted to women and mothers.

Here's an example of how you can save more by combining offers from both online coupon codes and online rebate sites:

You plan on ordering three books for holiday gifts. Via a search engine, you locate a coupon code that offers free shipping on orders received on www.barnesandnoble.com. Then you go to www.cutouthunger.org and locate a coupon code that offers $5 off a $50 order on purchases made on www.barnesandnoble.com. Then you go to www.upromise.com and click through to www.barnesandnoble.com, a move which earns you a 3 percent rebate or $1.50 into a college savings account. You order the three books for a total of $55.37, with free shipping. Total savings with $6 free shipping, $5 coupon code and $1.50 in college savings plan: $12.50

Find out how you can use the Internet to save money year-round by going on Nelson's Web site, www.cutouthunger.org. Nelson's Web site, created with help from Georgia Tech, is a virtual coupon organizer that is kept current with help from volunteers, who provide information on grocery sales in 18 states across the country. Nelson, of Marietta, Ga., hopes satisfied shoppers will share their savings or a few of their purchases with local charities, which are also listed online.

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