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I used to love a good shopping mall. But those days are long gone and I don’t miss them one bit since I’ve discovered the joys and convenience of online shopping. In fact, I’ll do just about anything to avoid having to go inside a mall. Or even a grocery store.

Today, I’m going to walk you through the basic steps of an incredibly easy way to save money shopping online, using a recent purchase I made as an example.

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From time to time, I will stop by Chicos.com to check out “New Arrivals.” I’ve been looking for a jacket that would be appropriate for speaking engagements and I must be very picky because for weeks I haven’t seen even one that might be a good candidate.

On this particular day, something catches my eye—a jacket that just might be perfect, except for the $99 price. It’s available in my size and color preference so I put it into my shopping cart. And I leave the site.

(I’ve learned that unless I need an item immediately, putting a few days between the time I put something in the shopping cart, and when I actually check out may turn up any number of incentives to encourage me across the finish line.)

About a week later I return. Bingo! The jacket is still in my shopping cart but with a new reduced price of $41.99. But I don’t buy it. Not yet.

Instead, I head to Ebates.com and sign into my account there. Ebates is a rebate site and because I’ve have signed up (it’s free), I can click on any of the store links on the Ebates site (there are hundreds including favorites like Amazon, Old Navy, Chico’s, JCPenney, Lowes, Groupon), make a purchase and get money back—2% to 10% of the total sale is typical. Rebates are small, but over time they all add up. Every three months I get a rebate check in the mail, provided I’ve earned at least $5 in rebates.

Back to the deal: I click on the Chicos link at the Ebates site and in seconds I’m back at Chico’s site just as if I’d never left. But now I’m positioned to get a cash rebate should I make a purchase.

I make sure I am logged into my Chico’s account, recheck my shopping cart and head to checkout. Immediately, I see nice little discount because I, as a Chico’s Passport Member, get an additional 5% off everything I buy there, plus free shipping.

When it’s time to pay, I don’t use a credit card. Instead, I use my Raise gift card. (Hang on; this will all make sense very soon.)

Raise is a site that resells gift cards at a discounted rate. I can find gift cards for just about any store, available to use almost immediately. I never pay face value or a fee of any kind for gift cards at Raise. (I was suspicious at first, but I’ve confirmed that this is legitimate, legal and completely above board.)

Several weeks earlier I’d purchased a Chico’s gift card at Raise for 26% off its face value and had been holding onto it in anticipation of this kind of deal on a great jacket.

But wait, there’s more: I bought that Raise gift card with a credit card that gives me 2% cash back.

Considering all that I saved and earned in this process, the $99 jacket cost me $27.53 out of pocket and that includes tax—works out to 72% discount and free shipping!

Upon its arrival, if the jacket isn’t right, I’m not stuck. I will return it to the Chico’s store near me (I’ll run in and out really fast) and get a full refund back to my Chico’s gift card.

There are so many ways you could use these same steps to make your own great deals by shopping online.

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Example: Let’s say it’s time to go back-to-school clothes shopping and your kids are fans of Old Navy. You head over to Raise.com to buy an Old Navy gift card at a significant discount, paying for it with a credit card that gives you cash back.

Next, you log in to your Ebates account (you can sign up here if you don’t have one) and click through to the Old Navy site. Look for sales and additional coupons there (be patient, you’ll find them). At checkout pay with the Old Navy gift card you purchased at Raise with a nice discount (start looking now).

While there are lots of ways to save money shopping online, here’s my best favorite method in a nutshell: Start at Ebates, never pay retail price and when you find a great deal, pay with a discounted Raise gift card.

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