By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com
updated 11/6/2008 4:52:44 PM ET 2008-11-06T21:52:44

You don’t need a crystal ball to predict that a lot of us will pinch pennies this holiday season. Survey after survey shows a significant number of shoppers plan to spend less on gifts this year.

Of course, we’ll still buy presents – we’ll just be a lot more aware of the price.

“If you have limited funds to work with, you really must shop smart this year,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org. “You want to buy when there’s a sale, get an instant discount because of a promotion, then find a rebate.”

Dworsky is a friend of mine and one of the most frugal shoppers I know. He uses the Internet to research products, compare prices and find bargains. He delights in finding super deals and sharing them with others.

This week he published a list of web sites that should help you stretch your holiday budget. Use these online tools, Dworsky says, and you should be able to spend less and get more for your money. Here are ConsumerWorld.org’s sites for sore wallets.

SlickDeals.net & FatWallet.com
Here’s where you’ll find out about sales or other special offers that are not widely advertised. Each site has a “Hot Deals” forum where veteran bargain hunters share the money-saving offers they’ve discovered online or at brick-and-mortar stores.

The message board postings usually give more than just sale prices. You’ll often find information about rebates and coupon codes. And the savings can be substantial. About a week ago he found a posting for a reconditioned Dyson vacuum cleaner (regular retail $400) for just $149.99.

“The best things tend to go quickly,” he warns. “So when you find one of these unadvertised deals, you need to jump on it.”

SundaySaver.com & SalesCircular.com
The Sunday newspaper is loaded with advertising inserts that let you know what’s on sale at local stores. Maybe you don’t get the paper. Maybe you threw out the circulars. No problem. These sites let you see those sale items. You can choose national retailers or limit your search to stores in your state.

Check out the section called “Free with Rebate” that lists products that don’t cost you anything after you send in the mail in rebate form. These items range from software to glucose monitors. (Note: As we’ve warned in the past, rebates can be tricky. Stick to well-known retailers, send for the rebate right away, follow all the directions and keep copies of everything you put in the mail.)

SundaySaver.com has a “Black Friday Ads” section with a number of post-Thanksgiving sales already posted. For example, Sears will drop the price on a Sharp 46-inch 1080p LCD HDTV from $1,200 to $899 as an early bird special.

SalesCircular.com has a nice feature. It lets you search for specific categories of products, such as GPS units, digital cameras, MP3 players or sweaters.

PriceSpider.com
We all see sales every day. As Edgar puts it, “Sometimes the sale is great; sometimes the sale is just so-so. If you’re not up on prices it’s hard to tell.”

Is that DVD player on sale for $399 really a good deal? Not if you know it sold for $299 a few weeks ago.

PriceSpider lets you check the price history for various items at hundreds of stores across the country for the last six months. Armed with this information,you instantly become a smarter shopper.

I did a price check on a Sony DVD Recorder and found current prices ranging from $144 to $199. By looking at the graph, I could instantly see that the $144 price was a great deal. The chart showed the median price for this model had not been below $160 in the past six months.

DealAlerter.com
This is Dworsky’s own site. It let’s you know when the price drops on a product you want to buy. Dworsky created the site to help busy shoppers. “People don’t have the time to keep checking week after week to see if the price has come down.”

Using the site is easy. Start with the price comparison search engine. If the prices seem too high, set a lower target price and DealAlerter.com will check prices every day. If it finds the item at or below the target price, you’ll get an email alert. You can set the site to search at one store or at the hundreds of online stores in its database.

Shipgooder.com
Many holiday gifts will need to be shipped to friends and loved-ones. You have a number of options, but prices vary greatly from service to service. Shipgooder.com lets you compare the cost of shipping that package via DHL, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and Purolator.

Just put in the “to” and “from” zip codes and the weight and in about a second you can see your various options, listed by carrier, based on delivery speed: next day, second day, third day and ground.

When I priced a 10-pound package from Seattle to Philadelphia, the second day delivery prices ranged from $9.80 to $52.06. In the past, I’d have to go to each carrier’s site, punch in that information and then compare rates. This site is both a time saver and money saver.

A few more money-saving sites
In its November issue, ShopSmart magazine lists seven web sites that can help you find real deals fast. “We scoured the Web to come up with this short list of sites you can count on for great deals every time you shop,” says editor-in-chief Lisa Lee Freeman.

More information

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.74%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.36%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.72%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 10.91%
10.91%
Cash Back Cards 16.32%
16.36%
Rewards Cards 15.94%
15.96%
Source: Bankrate.com