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How to Shop Online Like a Pro

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Spending money is expensive! Below are the best online shopping tricks to keep more cash in your bank account, and less in your shopping cart.

Find every discount code — even if it takes using a web plug-in.

This is where the $$$ is at. Discount codes take a percentage or dollar amount off the total bill, regardless of what the items are and whether or not they’re on sale. These sneaky codes, usually entered during checkout in a carefully (and discretely) marked text box, are the key to saving money on items that are full-price in stores.

Some stores will share discount codes in emails (one reason to not unsubscribe from all those spammy daily store alerts). But others rarely publicize them, so it’s helpful to check websites like Retailmenot and Ebates, which list all of the active coupons for hundreds of different retailers.

An H&M coupon code

There are tons of other coupon-clipping websites like these, and even popular flash-sale sites like Groupon and Gilt City sometimes offer coupon codes for online retailers.

But the fastest way to find a discount code for a website is by installing a web plug-in, which you can download directly from websites, like Ebates, that offer it. Ebates’ "Cash Back Button" will alert you if the website you’re shopping on has any available discount codes.

Play the "poor college student" card (literally).

Student discounts are honestly too good to be true, which is probably why the only last as long as you can prove that you’re a student. Sadly, many student discounts don’t translate online, considering you need to flash your ID.

But there are stores that have online student discounts too — and for those who don’t, there’s Unidays. Unidays is an independent website that partners with online retailers to offer dozens of discount codes for popular sites (ASOS, Wildfox, Urban Outfitters, etc) — and in order to claim the codes, you need to create an account using your university email address.

Once you have an account, enjoy endless unique codes generated by Unidays. Pro tip: Save all the codes in a note on your phone or computer so you can easily access them while shopping.

ASOS: 10% off with Unidays account.

Amazon Prime: Free six-month membership with a university email address.

Topshop: 10% in store with a valid student ID and online with a Student Beans account (Student Beans is the UK equivalent to Unidays).

American Apparel: 15% off with Unidays account.

Club Monaco: 20% off in store online with a valid .edu email address.

Levi’s: 15% off with Unidays account.

Urban Outfitters: 10$ off with Unidays account.

Frye: 10% off in store and online with verification through their "College Program".

For Love & Lemons: 15% off with Unidays account.

Sign up for all the emails (and then unsubscribe later).

Email sign-up discounts are for all ages, not just students. However, you technically have to be a new shopper, or at least not have an existing account, in order to receive this discount. These discounts most commonly pop up when you first enter the site and ask you to submit your email address in exchange for a single-use discount code. Sometimes, they’re hidden at the bottom of the page or in a corner.

Steve Madden email sign-up discount

The annoying part is that then you’re automatically on the list to receive frequent (sometimes daily) emails. Pro tip: Unsubscribe from the site’s mailing list as soon as you’ve used the discount code.

Sleuth out the best return policies.

Plenty of online retailers offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount of money, but fewer offer free returns. For websites that do offer free returns, the key is ordering enough to meet the minimum for free shipping and then returning whatever you don’t want.

Some retailers even offer free two-day shipping, so you don’t have to waste time researching whether the weekend counts as "business days." We’ve scoured the internet for the sites with the best shipping and return policies right here.

Revolve: Free shipping and returns.

ASOS: Free shipping over $40; free returns.

Net-a-Porter: Free standard 3-day shipping; free returns and exchanges.

Shopbop: Free shipping (two-day shipping for Amazon Prime users); free returns.

Reformation: Free shipping and returns.

Zappos: Free shipping and returns (Zappos VIP members and app users get free 1-day shipping).

Topshop: Free shipping and returns.

Matches Fashion: Free shipping and returns.

Watch: Buyer beware at outlet stores