Save big by shopping online

Like many, I loathe shopping in retail stores and most of my purchases are made via the Internet. Prior to making a purchase, I follow several steps to ensure I'm getting the best deal and doing so has saved me thousands:

1) Conduct a Google search to find out if there's a coupon code or promotion available for the item I want to purchase or the merchant from which I'm planning on purchasing the item
2) Check eBay to see if someone has the item available in new or nearly-new condition
3) Search the SlickDeals and FatWallet forums to learn if anyone has found a better deal or an obscure rebate on the item I want
4) Look up the prospective merchant via one of several commission rebate sites and select the site giving the best cash back on the merchant who will get my business

For the fourth step, my sites of choice are Upromise, Ebates, and FatWallet. I checked my commissions from these sites in preparation for writing this entry and was surprised that my commission rebate checks totaled $636.82 over the last 4 years. I've received $392.82 from Upromise, $209.49 from Ebates, and $34.51 from FatWallet.

The premise behind Upromise is terrific--it was started to give families an easy way to save for college. You can even link a 529 plan from Vanguard or one from 8 states so that funds are automatically transferred to your child's 529 account. Some of the companies offering cash-back through Upromise include Exxon, eBay, McDonald's, CVS, Wal-Mart.com, and many others.

Should you choose to sign up for Ebates, do so by clicking here so you'll get a $5 bonus for signing up; I get a $5 referral bonus as well. As long as your cash-back amount is greater than $5, you'll receive a check each quarter. Just a few of Ebates' participating retailers include iTunes, Sears, REI, OfficeDepot, NetFlix, and Gap.

FatWallet has both forums as well as offering commission rebates, and I've recently found that they often give 1 to 2 percentage points more than Upromise or Ebates. Many of the participating retailers overlap those that participate in the Upromise and Ebates programs, but several of those offering a higher commission rebate include Target, Newegg, Apple, Kmart, Snapfish, and uBid.com.

A new entrant and competitor to the previously mentioned sites is Jellyfish which gives commission rebates but also has a live show 24/7 that is basically an online version of the Home Shopping Network with fluctuating prices. Again, it has many of the same retailers participating, but I noticed that Jellyfish is offering a 7.5% rebate from Target vs. only 4.4% from FatWallet and 4% from Ebates & Upromise. It's certainly worth a look.