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Beginner's guide to finding the best digital coupons

With just a wave of my mobile phone, I can get free chips and salsa at Chili's, a free lotion at Bath & Body Works, free queso at Moe's Southwest Grill, free tickets to the Improv at the Hard Rock, a dollar off a Jamba Juice smoothie and a buy-one-get-one free lunch at Mezza Mediterranean Grill.

Being a digital diva has its penny-pinching perks, since texts, e-mails and mobile phone apps keep me tapped into finding the best deals wherever I am, without having to pick up a pair of scissors (well, at least I don't need scissors most of the time).

Herewith, a few pointers for getting started on finding the best coupons. The tools you'll need are a mobile phone (preferably a smartphone that has downloadable apps, like the iPhone or an Android-powered phone), a nonprofessional e-mail address designated for signing up for newsletters and, in some cases, a printer.

A word of caution: For just about every message you receive about a coupon or sale, you will also get a blatant advertising message about a new product. But you can also get great deals.

TEXT ALERTS

Some vendors will send you a text message regarding a sale or deal, usually no more than once a week. Keep your eyes peeled for signs at the cash register or near the door about signing up for mobile text alerts. Often vendors will also advertise this at the top or bottom of a receipt or on their webpage.

And in the case of franchises like Jamba Juice and Moe's Southwest Grill, individual stores may have unique text-number deals; to find out, ask sales associates if there's a text message program.

Examples: Get alerts on Bath & Body Works sales by texting BBW to the number 588229, get alerts of free tickets to the Improv at the Hollywood Hard Rock by texting WINFTL to 59495, or in the case with Macy's, you can only sign up your mobile number through its website. Regular texting rates apply.

If you find the alerts to be annoying or lacking value, then you can always text the word STOP back to end the messages.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Even if you aren't into trading details about your day on Facebook and Twitter, you could at least use social media sites to watch what specials your favorite companies are advertising.

On Twitter, accounts from stores like CVS Pharmacy (@CVS_Extra) and JCPenney (@jcpenney) often send alerts of sales. A community of Twitter users love to use the social network to share coupons and deals; you can join the parade by following popular accounts such as @CouponTweet, @CheapTweet, @MiamiCheap or @Earlybird, the official Twitter ad-sponsored deal account.

For the Twitter-savvy, use an application like Tweetdeck (you can download it for free at tweetdeck.com) to create a group that lumps all your favorite brand accounts and deal finders together to save time, instead of combing through your whole feed and missing a message.

As for Facebook, every business has an account. So before heading out, check that store's Facebook page for any deals. You can check Facebook from your mobile phone with a Facebook application or by logging on through a phone Web browser (though using an app tends to be easier).

NEWSLETTERS

It's best to check your e-mail before heading out the door, since most newsletters require printing out a coupon rather than showing the e-mail on your phone screen.

Some shopping malls, including Dadeland Mall and Pembroke Lakes Mall, will send out newsletters highlighting sales at various shops. Sometimes you'll find 100 percent freebies, like a mall gift card on your birthday month. Sign up at your favorite mall's website or ask customer service if they offer any similar messaging service.

Some newsletters are heavy with coupons, like Michaels, Borders or Best Buy. But don't be surprised when newsletters push sales for online-only purchases more than in-store coupons.

PHONE APPS

You can drown in a sea of coupon apps available in the iPhone or Android app stores, but there are a few good deals to be found. Some advertisers are starting to use Foursquare (foursquare.com), an app that uses the GPS location software in your phone to show what places are near you. It's used to let your social network connections know where you are, but some places are starting to reward you for doing so. For example, for a limited time, if you use the application at a Chili's, you can get free chips and salsa. Alerts of these deals will pop up when you're nearby.

Yelp (yelp.com) is an app that's ripe with deals -- mostly for restaurants. It uses GPS to see what places are near that have promotions for Yelp users. Shooger (shooger.com) is a Coral Gables-produced app that also lists deals based on the industry and proximity to you. Another similar app, Yowza (yowza.com), lets you mark favorite stores for faster lookup.

GROUPON

It's a newsletter and an iPhone app, but no matter how you want to tune in, Groupon (groupon.com) is a deal-finder must. It offers one deal a day for local small businesses in the Greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area. It's never totally free, but often gives 50 percent or higher discounts off various services. You can give Groupons to friends, but be sure to print it out before showing up to redeem the deal.

The deal-a-day concept is growing in popularity, and you can also sign up for daily Miami-area specials on CoupTessa.com, LivingSocial.com and DealOn.com . But if you don't feel like jumping around, the site 8coupons.com will aggregate the top deals of the day in your city.

COUPONS.COM

This popular coupon site tends to be a turn off because it requires you to install special software to print out the coupon. But if you have the patience to set it up, it's a pretty handy resource for grocery coupons. Check off the ones you want, print them up, and major grocery stores will accept them (even if you print in black and white, so don't waste money on color ink).

YOUR FAVORITES

Now since this was a beginner's guide, I kept the advice short and sweet. But there are tons of other great deals to be found online, like at woot.com and slickdeals.net. Share your favorites sites and deal-hunting methods in the comments!

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