You don't need to get crushed by the crowds on Black Friday to find the best deals before the holiday season. Shopping for a better deal is just a click away on Cyber Monday, the first Monday after Thanksgiving, which is one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.
According to comScore, online spending on Cyber Monday reached $887 million in 2009, an increase of 5 percent from the previous shopping season. To help you navigate these online deals and steals, here are five ways to beat the crowds and cash in on Cyber Monday:
1. Join the retailer's e-mail list.
The stores you love to visit often have a website for surfing too. If you shop at a store frequently, go to the retailer's website and join their e-mail list for special online deals, coupons, and fliers. Most stores will send out Cyber Monday deals before the big day to give loyal customers and savvy shoppers a glimpse of what's on sale. But before you give your e-mail address to a dozen stores, I highly recommend creating a separate e-mail account specifically for online shopping so your inbox won't be filled with clutter.
[See our Holiday Gift Guide for 2010.]
2. Search for secret coupons.
Online shoppers can save even more on Cyber Monday by searching the Internet for secret coupons and promotional codes. To do this, launch your favorite search engine and enter the retailer's name and the words 'coupon code' into the search. Depending on the size of the retailer, you may find many discount codes to enter into your online shopping cart. If you're lucky, you may also find a code for free shipping. Check out 8 Ways to Find Secret Online Coupons for more tricks and online saving tips.
3. Make a gift list.
Be like Santa by making a list (and checking it twice) before shopping for sales. Shopping without a holiday gift plan is not only a danger to your budget, but your sanity. So give yourself some cheer and start a list—with anticipated costs—so you can target your shopping on Cyber Monday. Download this free gift giving worksheet to get all your family and friends on Santa's good list.
[See the Secrets Behind Black Friday Leaks.]
4. Track your holiday spending.
Snagging a deal on your daughter's present or finding something affordable for that special someone can be a rush, but don't forget to keep track of how much you spend this holiday season. There is no sense in celebrating a great deal today if you're going into debt with big bills to pay off in January.
Tracking all your holiday spending, not just your gift-giving costs, can show how the small expenses add up to big dollars. Things like wrapping paper, baking supplies, decorations, drinks, and flowers may seem insignificant on their own, but once added up can total hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars a year for one single holiday. Use this free holiday expense tracking spreadsheet to get a handle on your holiday spending so there are no surprises later.
[Visit the U.S. News Personal Finance site for more money management tips and insight.]
5. Check the return policy.
Filling your online shopping cart and clicking "buy" at checkout doesn't give you the opportunity to ask a human about an exchange or return policy. So if you buy a few gifts on Cyber Monday, make sure you find out each store's holiday return policy—just in case you need to ship something back.
Kerry K. Taylor writes at Squawkfox.com, a blog where personal finance and frugal living are sexy, delicious, and fun. Kerry is the author of 397 Ways To Save Money: Spend Smarter & Live Well on Less.