Amazon: 8 essential tips to save money online

From taking advantage of Amazon's 'Subscribe and Save' program to watching prices and daily deals online, Hamm offers his advice for readers looking to save money on Amazon.com. 

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    The logo for Amazon.com is displayed. Consumers can save money on anything from Android apps to household goods on Amazon by using a few tricks, Hamm says.
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Well, “ultimate” might be a bit of hyperbole, but I thought it would be useful to collect together all of the things I’ve learned about saving money on Amazon.com in one place. If you ever buy items at Amazon, you might find some of these tactics to be useful.

Amazon Prime
 If you are a heavy user of Amazon’s services and products, I think that Amazon Prime more than pays for itself, so let’s focus on it first.

Prime is a service that allows you to get two day shipping on virtually any item that Amazon sells. There’s no minimum purchase threshold for this, either. Once you have it, you’ll find that it’s much easier to buy gifts and many household items via Amazon than it is to go to the store and shop for them – and it’s often cheaper, too. You can truly use Amazon as part of your price comparisons, even on small items.

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Along with that comes the Prime Instant Video library, which is a service that’s very comparable to Netflix. While the streaming video selection isn’t quite as good as Netflix (in my opinion), there’s enough unique content here that you’ll have more than enough to watch for years. If you’re thinking of ditching cable, this is a pretty solid Netflix-esque replacement for it.

The Kindle Lending Library is another perk if you own a Kindle device. If you have a Kindle and are a Prime user, you can borrow one book a month from the Kindle Lending Library. It’s essentially a free book. I consider this a pretty minor perk considering I can get ebooks from my library, but there are a lot of good books in the Lending Library that are well worth reading.

To me, these add up to more value than the $80 annual cost of Prime. It does depend on your specific uses, of course, but it opens up several cost-saving avenues.

Super Saver Shipping
 As mentioned above, Amazon does offer free “super saver” shipping on most purchases over $25 if you’re not a Prime member. In my experience, “super saver” packages tend to arrive in about a week.

This isn’t bad, but I find that it usually costs me money. I’ll want an item that costs, say, $18, and then I’ll see the shipping costs. Of course, if I just get something else for $7 that I don’t really need, then shipping is free. The catch is that I don’t really need that $7 item…

If you find yourself with this dilemma more than once a month, Prime is worth it for these savings alone.

Price and Deal Watching
 There are a slew of various “daily deal” and “gold box” and “outlet” and “warehouse” pages to be found within Amazon if you want them, but the problem with these types of “daily deals” is that they often convince you to buy stuff that you don’t really need. (I have the same issue with services like Groupon.)

My solution instead is to use a price watching tool that helps me identify when items I want or need drop below a certain price threshold. Right now, my preferred tool for doing this is CamelCamelCamel.

All you do is set up a list of items you might buy if the price is right, define what that “right price” is, and then it automatically watches all of the daily deal pages for you as well as other sale prices. When something shows up within your price threshold, it alerts you so you can buy it.

Subscribe and Save
 I covered Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program in detail a few months ago. I don’t view it as a big money saver, but I do view it as a time saver – or, at the very least, a time shifter (meaning you use downtime at one point to take some of the pressure off of more intense times later on).

It’s simple: find a household product that you use regularly, “subscribe” to it on Amazon, and it comes to your house on a regular schedule. It works very well for diapers, laundry detergent, and so on, but the prices are a bit high for a single item. The prices get much better if you subscribe to five or more items, which earns you a 15% discount on all items you subscribe to.

Buy Used
 If you’re picking up a book or a DVD or something similar, it’s worth checking the “buy used” section on that item’s listing to see whether or not you can save some money by getting a used version of the item. I’ll happily take a copy of a book that’s been read by someone else if it will save me 50% off the cover price or more.

Free Android Apps
 If you have an Android device, Amazon gives away a free app each day. Usually, the app is a mediocre game, but not always – occasionally, you’ll find a really useful app or a great game.

Amazon Visa
 If you find yourself settling into a routine of buying items regularly from Amazon, the Amazon Visa is a worthwhile additional tool. Use it solely for purchases from Amazon and you’ll earn a gift card each month equal to 3% of your spending on Amazon (if you use it elsewhere, you earn a bit less). The nice part is that as soon as the gift card is available, it appears as you’re checking out on Amazon.

So, let’s say you sign up to buy several perishables via Subscribe and Save along with buying some Christmas gifts from Amazon. Everything totals up to $300. The next time you buy anything from Amazon, you’ll have a $9 credit waiting for you, usable on whatever you’d like.

If you are even a semi-frequent user of Amazon.com, many of these offers stack together really well. For example, Subscribe and Save synergizes very well with Prime membership, as does setting low price thresholds for items you might buy if they’re cheap enough. Given that Amazon has pretty good prices most of the time on many items, if you’re a careful shopper that shops around a little bit, you can use these tips to get items you want and need quite inexpensively.

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