Other than window shop, I haven't done any serious online shopping yet, and I admit, I'm kind of glad. Because clearly, I need a plan.
In the old days, I'd just browse an online store, see something I liked, and if I could afford it, I clicked and made my purchase.
But now, shopping like that is almost crazy. After all, if you play your cards right, there are a lot of ways you can make the most of your shopping dollars.
There are online coupon sites to check first, and if you have the UPromise toolbar set up, you can divert some of that money toward your child or grandchild's college account... and, now, I realize that there's something else I need to consider putting in my online shopping arsenal: a way to get cash back.
One site in particular does a masterful job at determining the best and worst online deals around is CompareRewards.com. It recently came out with its fourth annual comparison shopping web site survey, listing the five best and five worst sites.
Now, a little explanation on this whole cash back phenomenon is probably in order, for those of you who don't know how it works. If you go to a site like Extrabux, which was recently highly rated by CompareRewards.com, you can find just about every online store out there. Not all of them will offer cash back, but a lot will. For instance, you might buy shoes at Zappos.com at Extrabux. If you do -- at least as of this writing -- you'll get 10% of that cash returned to you.
Not right away, however. At Extrabux, and a lot of these sites, it takes 45 days to get your cash back, mostly having to do with the return policies for the items that you're buying. Also, keep in mind, some of these sites only give money back periodically throughout the year. Others, any time you want. Still others give cash back in the form of a gift card. And so on.
There are numerous pros and cons about all of these sites, depending on your point of view. How do you compare and contrast to find the best deal for you? The CompareRewards survey says the sites that have the best cashback rates are:
MyPoints, FreeRide, Greenpoints, Memolink and BondRewards.
These are the first sites you should go to before launching your online shopping spree. You could have yourself a merry little Christmas by saving a pretty little penny.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
The best and worst of the online shopping cashback sites