Bargain hunters know to go online to score discounts-especially this time of year. But there's a good chance that even seasoned Web shoppers are dropping more cash than they need to every time they click "Check Out." Follow our guide to sidestep hidden fees, avoid spending mistakes and instantly bolster your holiday budget. Watch out for these 5 common traps.
Filling your cart to meet shipping minimums
HOW IT HAPPENS: Many e-tailers promise free shipping, but read the fine print and you'll often see that you have to spend a certain amount to get it. It's tempting to stock up on more than you need in order to nab the discount.
AVOID IT: First visit freeshipping.org to find stores that offer no-cost shipping without minimums. If you're willing to pick up purchases yourself, shop at a website that allows you to ship to a store for free-sometimes on the same day. Sears, the Container Store and Walmart (which now allows customers to order online and pay cash in the store) all offer this option.
Buying into flash-sale false urgency
HOW IT HAPPENS: "Score 70 percent off. For 12 hours only!" The manufactured frenzy of websites such as Groupon and LivingSocial encourage impulse overspending-and usually on things you don't really need. Proof? Nearly 22 percent of daily-deal coupons are never redeemed.
AVOID IT: Never buy into a deal until you've reserved a time to use it-even mark it in your calendar. If you can't find a date, you shouldn't buy. Even better: Nab an offer from scoutmob.com, a mobile app-available in select cities-that lets you pay for many deals upon arrival. And, instead of subscribing to every last daily-deal newsletter, check out yipit.com (which aggregates the major flash sales) when you're in the market for a certain item.
Related: When Free Shipping Isn't Worth the Cost
Paying a penalty to make a return
HOW IT HAPPENS: Even when e-tailers advertise free returns, some charge a restocking fee, which can add up to 25 percent of the item's cost. (This happens often with opened electronics.)
AVOID IT: Before you buy, check the site's return policy to find out how long you have to send it back and if any fees apply. Endless, Shoebuy and Zappos are known for their free returns and generous return windows. Zappos' is a full year. And JCPenney, Sears and other chains make it easier, with dedicated return areas at their stores. At Sears' more than 800 curbside locations, for example, you don't even have to enter the store to take back your purchase.
Related: Shopping Sites That Can Make You Money
Failing to notice delayed shipment dates
HOW IT HAPPENS: Never assume that an item you see is ready to ship, especially around the holidays. Many large sites use third-party retailers whose inventory might not be robust and could cause delays. Before you know it, you've bought a gift that won't arrive until January-and you're stuck having to shell out for a replacement in time for Christmas.
AVOID IT: On Amazon, buy.com and similar sites, look for a Sold By icon on the product page to indicate a third-party retailer. Amazon, for example, doesn't offer its Prime free two-day shipping option (free with a yearly $79 subscription) for all its third-party retailers' products. Check with customer service to confirm the inventory, or see if another store has the item. Macy's allows Web shoppers to search local brick-and-mortar stores' inventory if items are sold out online.
Being swayed by a discounted list price
HOW IT HAPPENS: Seeing a majorly slashed price can be enticing. But wait before you buy. To be competitive, few online stores sell products at list price (unless the price is set in stone by the manufacturer). You might think you're getting a deal, when in fact that 25-percent-off television is selling at a 40 percent discount elsewhere.
AVOID IT: To find the true value of your purchase, do a little Web research to learn what that item is going for at other e-tailers. Always check pricegrabber.com to find out prices around the Web.
How do you save when you shop online? Tell us about your savings tricks in the comments!