Make Your Life Easier: Save Time Online
How to get everything from stamps to a car without leaving home by using the Internet.
Ann Limpert (firstname.lastname@example.org) previously covered the Internet for Entertainment Weekly.
Don't Waste Time on Travel Plans
While sites like Travelocity and Expedia can save time and money, start your planning with Travelzoo (travelzoo.com), which gathers Internet deals on flights, car rentals, vacation packages, cruises, and hotels from those sites plus travel agents and individual airlines. If you're willing to go last-minute, Site59 (site59.com) offers very cheap packages with departure dates up to two weeks away.
For researching hotels, TripAdvisor (tripadvisor.com) has a compendium of hotel reviews culled from guides like Frommer's and Fodor's and from site users.
Avoid the Post Office
At the US Postal Service's online store (shop.usps.com), you can arrange to have stamps delivered on a monthly schedule or order books individually (shipping is $1). It'll also send free packing supplies like Express Mail envelopes and boxes. Use the online postage calculator (usps.com) to find out how much something will cost to ship, and print labels online.
Avoid a Weekend at Car Dealers
Two sites help you find a new or used car without haggling. At Cars.com and Autobytel.com, you enter information on the car you're after—make, model, color, price, stereo system. Cars.com finds dealers in your area that have the car, then you e-mail up to three for price quotes. Autobytel.com gets in touch with dealers for you, which in turn contact you with quotes. You can visit the showroom with the best bid, or, if you're partial to a particular dealer, see if it'll match the lowest offer. Both sites have financing tools and information on rebates.
Skip the Video Store
DVD delivery service Netflix (netflix.com) is great if you tend to pay late fees because you're too busy to return movies to the video store. For $21.99 a month, you create a list of movies you want to see, and Netflix sends you three titles at a time. When you ship one back, in the postage-paid envelope, it sends you the next title on your list.
Meanwhile, Movielink (movielink.com) lets you download new videos onto your Windows computer (sorry, there's no Mac service yet). Each $1.99 to $4.99 download takes about an hour and stays on your PC for any 24-hour period in the next 30 days.
No More Wasted Trips to the Library
Looking for a particular book? Before you head to the library, check whether the title is on the shelf by using the online databases of public libraries in the District (dclibrary.org), Montgomery County (mont.lib.md.us), and Arlington County (www.co.arlington.va.us/lib). If the book is checked out, these Web sites allow you to reserve the book and will notify you when it's back in.
Find a New Credit Card Fast
Independent consumer site CardRatings (cardratings.com) rates hundreds of credit cards in categories like best for rebates, best for air miles, and best for those with poor credit history, then lets you apply for them online.
Skip the Card Shop
Online greeting cards aren't just dancing-iguana cartoons anymore. There's one for every personality, and they're free. New York's Museum of Modern Art (moma.e-cards.org) has an eye-catching collection of art cards, with images by Cézanne and animation by Jenny Holzer. BeatGreets (beatgreets.com) offers musical cards for every taste—Fountains of Wayne to Frank Sinatra. Even Hallmark (hallmark.com) has gotten in on the action with e-cards that can be playful or sentimental.
It's easy to register your home and cell phone numbers on the Federal Trade Commission's Do Not Call list; go to donotcall.gov. Keep in mind that the service doesn't block calls from charities, political campaigns, surveyors, and those you already do business with, like banks and credit-card companies. Other unwanted calls should stop within three months. If telemarketing calls persist, you can report them on the Do Not Call site.
Avoid the Mall
Online shopping has come a long way—you can save vast amounts of time shopping if you hit the right sites.
One of the pioneers of e-tailing, Amazon (amazon.com), now sells everything from books to kitchen gear to makeup—and offers free shipping for orders of more than $25. Are you in a hurry? Pay for one-day shipping.
If you're looking for a specific item, comparison sites Froogle (froogle.com) and mySimon (mysimon.com) direct you to the e-store offering the best price.
Most chain clothing stores and some department stores have huge online outposts. Macy's (macys.com), Saks (saks.com), Neiman Marcus (neimanmarcus.com), and Nordstrom (nordstrom.com) have especially good Web sites, and you can make returns to their stores. You can often find sold-out pieces online at J.Crew (jcrew.com) and Banana Republic (bananarepublic.com).
Discount designer site Bluefly (bluefly.com) sells men's and women's clothing and housewares and even provides shipping supplies for returns.
Avoid CD shopping by downloading music in seconds onto a CD, computer, or portable music player at the iTunes (itunes.com) store. Get music by the song (99 cents) or by the album ($9.99).