After devoting years to finding ways to save money on everyday expenses -- much of that time combing through websites -- I find myself returning to the same five sites to help keep some money in my pocket.
These sites have a proven track record of delivering savings, customer service and deals a cut above the competition. All told, these sites have saved me a total of more than $1,000 in the past year alone.
Why should you believe me? Major media outlets have tapped into my bargain-hunting expertise going back more than three years, my personal money saving blog gets 50,000 readers each month and my money saving tips have landed me on Good Morning America, Martha Stewart Living radio, and in Better Homes & Gardens. Not convinced? Read on and you will be.
My top five sites for saving money, in no particular order, are:
Groupon: Social coupons are all the rage, but the original daily deal site -- Groupon -- still tops the others. With bargains each day for restaurants and services in 160 cities plus national deals, Groupon's reach is tops. Purchase deals in advance of vacations to save even more. If you live in a major city with multiple daily deal sites, use Yipit to manage and filter the best daily coupons.
eBates: Whenever I shop online -- which means I'm spending instead of saving -- I use eBates to lessen the damage. eBates has agreements with thousands of retailers to get a finder's fee for bringing in paying customers. eBates splits the fee with the shopper, resulting in a rebate based on the amount of your purchase.
When you log onto eBates, the site tracks what you buy and mails you a cash rebate. The rebate agreements vary from 1%-25%, though I've seen them as high as 50% around the holidays. The only downside is that your check takes about 90 days to arrive. I tolerate the wait because I can combine the eBates rebate with a retailer coupon code to maximize my savings.
eBates rivals Cashbaq and Extrabux sometimes have higher rebates, but I find the eBates site easier to use and when I've had problems in the past, the customer service is quick to respond. Plus, when you refer a friend, you get $5.
Travelzoo: It can be difficult to get discounted tickets, but Travelzoo helps out. I've seen them offer huge discounts on items ranging from tickets to a major league baseball game to vacation packages. The site's e-mail alerts are key to locking in savings, as hot deals go super fast, occasionally selling out in less than an hour. Once I received an e-mail alert about a cheap flight sale from Travelzoo before the airline holding the sale told me!
Restaurant.Com: Eating out is expensive, but hard to give up. Reduce your bill by 25%-40% right off the bat through Restaurant.com, which sells $25 gift certificates for $10. The trick is to sign up for Restaurant.com's e-mail list and look out for 50%-80% off coupon codes that can bring down the cost of each $25 certificate to as little as $2. Be careful to read the redemption rules carefully before you buy, as most restaurants limit one certificate per table and don't include alcohol, tax and tip in the bargain.
Restaurant.com rival HalfOffDeals.com sells certificates with fewer restrictions, but does not work with nearly as many restaurants across the country. Think hundreds, not thousands. Once you use a Restaurant.com certificate, you'll realize that it's not difficult to play by the redemption rules.
Hulu: I can't tell you how many countless hours of free entertainment Hulu has provided me with. The site negates the need for cable and a Netflix subscription. TV shows and movies are the site's strong points and while rumors swirl that some shows will soon require payment, there is enough competition to get viewers that any fees imposed are likely to be modest.
Bargain Babe's top five money-saving sites