Saturday, December 6, 2008

Save Money While Shopping Online

Sweetie and I usually spend Christmas with my dad and step-mom (whom I also call mom, it can get confusing), my sister, my aunt and her children, and their children. It can be a full house. Thankfully we draw names each year. Each adult draws one other adult's name, and two names from the kids.

Well, this year that's all thrown out the window. Auntie is taking all the little ones to Disney World and the family has agreed that the trip is their Christmas gift. Mom said I could contribute to the bingo prizes (I said it could be a full house) and bake up some goodies for the cake walk, but that I'm not to buy gifts.

Sweetie has also begged me not to get him anything. And I was just gearing up for some serious shopping! I've got all these links saved up, with items book marked and everything. So I'll probably still be sharing some shopping stuff even though I probably won't be buying much this year.

Maybe I'll even get cards out this year since I won't have as much shopping to do. I haven't sent cards in so long I'm sure most of the addresses I have are wrong.

All online shoppers should know about the big coupon/discount code sites. If a website has a current, active discount code offer, these guys usually have it on file, FatWallet, CouponMom, CoolSavings, RetailMeNot, and CouponCabin. There are way more coupon/code sites out there. Just run a search. It's quick and involves minimal effort and can save you money.

Have you ever noticed that not all retailers charge state sales and use tax (usually just called sales tax) on your online purchases? Residents of Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon will have no idea what I'm talking about since your states don't collect sales tax in the first place, but the rest of do (hence our decision to make our recent camera purchase in Oregon).

Anyhow, at one point while developing the new website at work we thought we would add a retail element to it, and I had to research our obligation to collect state sales tax. Fun times, yo. The short answer is that unless the retailer (or any of it's subsidiaries) has a physical presence in the state, they have no obligation to collect the sales tax for that state.

For example, is headquartered near Seattle, WA and they are only obligated to collect state sales tax when Washington state residents make purchases through the site. also has an obligation to collect state sales tax from the residents of any state where has a warehouse or shipping hub.

But don't think you're completely off the hook. Tax laws for most states have a clause that requires individual taxpayer residents to self-report out-of-state purchases that would have created sales tax revenue for their home state had the item(s) been purchased there. This applies to online and in-person purchases, even if the location you're purchasing it from is collecting a state sales tax.

If we go on vacation to Las Vegas, we are supposed to report to California and pay tax on any purchases made in Nevada, and we would need to file with Nevada for a reimbursement for the sales tax we paid while there. Nobody wants to go through all of that; not you, and not the states.

Generally the states just call it a wash--plenty of out-of-state residents pay the sales tax in California and don't file for a refund and it balances out the California residents that make purchases while they're out-of-state. So states don't really spend a lot of effort chasing down revenue from individuals on out-of-state purchases. I'm not saying that you should break the law, but some states also define a threshold in this clause, for example, if sales tax revenue on out-of-state purchase exceeds $X, you must report it.

So, maybe you can save some money while shopping online by using coupon codes and not having to pay state sales taxes, but then there are the shipping fees. I've run into this several times where the shipping fees are actually more than I would have paid in sales tax dollars. I've especially noticed this when shopping at Coldwater Creek. They apparently calculate your shipping fees based on the amount of money you spend, not on the actual weight of the package. Bastards. (And if you ever have to return something, be sure you pay the shipping out of pocket and not as a deduction from your refund because you'll get smacked with that inflated shipping fee again. Bastards.)

But, in addition to the above mentioned coupon code sites, there's also They compile all the known current and active free shipping codes for over 850 retail sites. Again, a minimal amount of effort could easily equal money saved.

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