The Best Coupon Sites Online

couponsBy now, we’ve all heard that money’s tight, that we’re on the end of the verge of financial apocalypse, and that everyone will have to cut back. But don’t start lining your shoes with cardboard and cooking beans over a garbage fire just yet. Stripping out luxuries may be one way to stretch your dollars, but for the careful shopper, being frugal need only mean looking a little harder to find deals, and the Web can take a lot of effort out of the process.

We’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite deal-hunting Web sites, where you can find everything from sales and discounts to coupon codes, daily specials and even outright free stuff.

What’s the catch?

No matter which sites you end up using, keep in mind that deals come and go faster than Michael Jackson’s fortune, so you’ll need to make a habit of checking every day – sometimes multiple times a day – to score the best stuff. They call it bargain hunting for a reason, and you’ll need to be in the right place at the right time if you want to bag a buck or two

FatWallet

Consider FatWallet the mother of all money-saving sites. It combines a deal forum, coupon search, and in-house cash back program, making it a one-stop destination for all things bargain-related. Though it specializes in online deals and sales, you can also use FatWallet for comparing other purchases too, like seeing which gym offers the cheapest membership, which car company offers the best rebates to combine with the government’s new cash-for-clunkers program, or where to find cheap lobster.

FatWallet

SlickDeals

You’ll never find a group of more stingy, clever or well-researched folks than the Internet dwellers at SlickDeals, which makes it one of the best user-driven communities out there. Every day’s list of hot bargains comes directly from the community, and they’re rated up and down based on the same collective hive mind, so you don’t have to cut through much clutter to find the primo deals. A string of comments on every deal can also help you find other coupons and offers to stack on top of existing offers, or steer you clear of products and stores that aren’t quite as great as they’re made out to be.

FatWallet

RetailMeNot

Plenty of sites offer coupon codes, but RetailMeNot organizes them into one of the most intuitive directories we’ve found. Just enter a site (like Amazon.com) and RetailMeNot drums up a list of active codes. Since restrictions and expirations make some codes more reliable than others, the site even ranks them based on success rate, so you don’t even up wasting time with codes that haven’t worked for other people.

Retail Me Not

Ben’s Bargains

Ben’s own slogan, “Where ghetto dogs come for the lowdown on deals,” sums up this site nicer than we ever could. The front page offers a no-nonsense list of recent deals with photos, a popularity meter, and trackers for hot items like the Nintendo Wii and Apple iPod. It may not be the prettiest site you’ll ever find, but for spotting deals, not many can beat it.

Ben's Bargains

Woot

Technically, it’s an online retailer, but Woot qualifies for our list thanks to unique selling format, community atmosphere and, well, 99 percent of the stuff it sells it an absolute steal. Woot runs on a deal-a-day format with only one item on sale per day, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. You’ll find everything from flashlights to fire alarms cropping up on the site, but even when the product disappoints, Woot’s spiced-up product descriptions usually never fail to elicit a smile. Just don’t buy when you’re in a hurry – shipping can sometimes take ages.

Woot

Twitter

Yes, Twitter is better for more than just announcing to the world the last thing you ate or saw on the subway. Many companies are beginning to use the site for last-minute daily deals. That means deals on flights from JetBlue and United, deals on car care kits from Amazon, and if you’re in Portland, deals on pizza and cocktails from Candy. Googling the name of an establishment or company with the search term “twitter” remains the easiest way to find whether a favorite establishment is sending out deals, until Twitter’s own search engine improves.

Twitter

CheapTweet

Twitter offers so many deal-related feeds, it can be hard to keep tabs on them all. For those who need a hand, CheapTweet aggregates many deal-related Twitter accounts, and incorporates a rating system to send the best to the top. Unlike tweets from actual companies, most of the deal appearing on CheapTweet come from third-party Twitter accounts dedicated to tracking bargains, like “CouponCabin,” “ShopItToMe,” and “Freebies4mom.”

CheapTweet

Craigslist

The original Web-based replacement for classified ads still can’t be beat. You can use it to find items new and used, commission one-off unique items, find services, and even barter for things you don’t quite have the cash for. And in a down economy, you can feel good about putting cash directly into the hands of other people who need it, rather than feeding corporate giants.

Craigslist

Kashless

Craigslist and Freecycle both offer amazing lists of items other folks are giving away entirely for free, but Kashless aggregates both into one seamless feed of no-catch freebies. It also adds some unique extras, like sharing listings on Facebook and Twitter (“This free fridge would be perfect to convert into a kegerator!”) and even real-time text notifications when items you’re looking for are posted. Having scored free firewood, air conditioning units and hot tubs on Craigslist before, we can safely say there’s a bounty out there.

Kashless

TotallyFreeStuff

You probably spot offers for free samples all day long on billboards, newspaper ads, TV commercials and other mediums, but what if you wanted to look at them all in one spot and find some stuff you actually wanted to try? TotallyFreeStuff posts everything from free stuff you sign up for online, to items you buy at a store in mail in rebates for, and contests to win the really big stuff. You’ll have to cut through some junk to find the stuff with the fewest catches, but it’s one of the most comprehensive listings out there. And hey, it’s free.

Totally Free Stuff