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YOUR MONEY: Add-ons for easier online shopping

Online shopping can be a smart consumer's best friend, with the ability to easily comparison shop, search for discounts and make purchases with a few mouse clicks.

Online shopping can be a smart consumer's best friend, with the ability to easily comparison shop, search for discounts and make purchases with a few mouse clicks.

You could always visit shopping comparison sites, such as MySimon.com, or search for coupon codes at one of many code-aggregators. But now a slew of Web browser add-ons makes smart online shopping easier. Here's a sampling:

--Billeo toolbar: With perhaps the most functionality, billeo.com helps with shopping, discount codes and bill paying. It will autofill your logins and passwords to retailer sites, as well as forms for your shipping and billing addresses and credit card information. On the checkout page, it will alert you if a discount code is available for your purchase and autofill the code.

Billeo will save transaction confirmation pages to provide a shopping history. And it aids with paying via vendor sites.

Personal information is encrypted and stored on your computer rather than at Billeo, said company founder Murali Subbarao.

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Billeo is available for Internet Explorer and Firefox on Windows and Firefox for Mac. Offer Assistant, which applies discounts and coupon codes, is expected soon for the Mac, Subbarao said.

--Dealio: One important function Billeo doesn't have is comparing prices among retailers. Dealio.com/toolbar will do that and search eBay. Comparisons include tax and shipping for a true apples-to-apples approach. The toolbar works with IE and Firefox on Windows only.

--InvisibleHand plug-in: If you don't want a bunch of toolbars stealing your browser real estate, getinvisiblehand.com is for you. It shows itself only when you're on a product description page. It will alert you when another retailer has a lower price on the item. Firefox only.

--Retailmenot and CouponCabin: Retailmenot.ourtoolbar.com and couponcabin.com/toolbar are among the better sites to search for coupon codes, which can be entered at online checkout to give you goodies, including discounts or free shipping. Both are available for IE and Firefox. Retailmenot also has a version for Apple's Safari browser.

--PriceProtectr toolbar: What if the price for an item drops soon after the purchase? Many retailers offer price-protection policies that refund the difference within a certain time frame, such as 30 days after purchase. Priceprotectr.com/toolbar.jsp makes it easy to log your purchases at its Web site, which alerts you by e-mail if the price drops within the retailer's price-protection period. Available for IE and Firefox.

But shopping toolbars can be controversial:

--Privacy. See what information it stores.

--Profits. Companies that make toolbars offering coupon codes and steering you to lower prices earn money by driving traffic to retailers.

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--Rewards. You can grab some of that affiliate money by joining and using a shopping rewards program, such as FatWallet.com

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