Gift value isn't in the Sunday circulars. It's in front of the computer screen.

Even with the poor economy, last week's Black Friday saw plenty of crowds and a sales increase of 3% over the previous year, according to ShopperTrak RCT Corp. People are still hitting retail stores in droves to take advantage of the early and steep discounts being offered. But if you want to get the best value for your holiday shopping, you don't have to fight the masses. You can do it in front of your computer.

While many see discounts as something that can't be beat online, the truth is when you look at the

true cost

of buying gifts, you will almost always come out ahead by shopping with a few clicks of a mouse. Here are 10 reasons you are likely to get a better value if you make them online.

No sales tax:

People living in 45 of the 50 states end up paying an extra 2.9% to 7.5% on purchases in retail stores due to

state taxes

. In most cases, there is no sales tax with online purchases. This is an instant savings that can quickly add up if you are purchasing a lot of gifts.

No transportation costs:

When you go shopping for gifts the regular way, you end up driving around from store to store looking for the best deals. While this may save you money, it also costs you gas and wear and tear on your car. There may also be parking fees and tolls. If you do your shopping at home from your computer, you avoid these hidden costs.

No additional "hidden" expenses:

Beyond transportation costs, there are other hidden expenses that you rarely add into the price of what you buy when shopping at retail stores. Chances are you'll eat lunch at an eatery rather than make your own at home; you may take a break for coffee and a snack; and if you have kids, you may need to hire a babysitter for the afternoon.

Fewer shipping charges:

With Internet shopping, you can ship the gift directly from the site. This saves prep and materials costs. Sure, online shipping charges can add up, but the truth is that during the holiday season, shipping is usually free.

Coupon and promotional codes:

One of the great deals about shopping online is that rarely do you have to pay even the discounted prices that the Web sites show you. There are usually quite a few coupon or promotional codes available for most major Internet retailers.

After finding the product you want to purchase, do a simple search with "coupon code" or "promotional code" and the store's name. You should be able to find several codes quickly that will give you anything from a percentage off to free shipping. Use the one that gives you the best discount for what you're buying to save even more money.

Lower prices:

Prices for goods from retailers on the Internet are often less expensive than can be found at stores. This is because overhead costs are a lot less. Even those huge bargains you find in the Sunday newspaper circulars might not be as good as the deals you find on the Internet.

Easier to compare:

When you are looking for the best price for what you want to buy at your local retail stores, you have to search all the sales circulars that come in the weekly newspaper or call all the individual stores in your area to find out who has the best price. The Internet provides a number of price comparison Web sites such as BizRate, PriceGrabber and that will show you the prices for the product you are searching for from a large number of different retailers. This is a much more efficient way to find the best price.

Better variety:

When you shop online, you aren't limited to what the stores in your area happen to have in stock. Instead, you have access to everything listed online, making it easier to find that perfect gift. While the hot gift may be out of stock in your area, you are likely to find it on the Internet. Even products that are no longer made can be found on sites like eBay and Craigslist.

Saves time:

What is your time worth? If you value your time at all, you will save money by shopping from home. There is no need to take the time to drive to stores, to spend time looking for a parking spot, to fight the crowds in the store and at the check-out counter.

Fewer impulse purchases:

When you shop from your computer, it's a lot easier to avoid impulse purchases that can wreck your holiday budget. There is no standing in line at the checkout counter with 10 people in front of you and it's easier to stay focused on what you are searching for when you don't have to travel through an entire store to find what you want.

Retail stores are made to get you to buy more than what you had planned. While Internet shopping also tries to get you to add on impulse purchases, it's still easier to resist them since you aren't held captive like you are in retail store lines.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs