First, take advantage of store promotions. Free shipping is one of the most popular discounts this time of year, with stores such as Wal-Mart and LL Bean offering it on all orders. There will be even more deals on Cyber Monday, and on Dec. 17, for Free Shipping Day. You can check FreeShipping.org for the latest deals.
If you do order online, have it shipped to the store instead of your home. Stores including Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and Payless offer free site-to-store shipping. You just have to pick the order up at your nearest store. This is especially helpful for online-only items or things the store has run out of. Watch the deadlines though. This type of delivery can be pretty slow.
Also, weigh the pros and cons of joining a shipping club. Plenty of major retailers, such as Amazon.com, Williams-Sonoma and Sears, have started offering shipping clubs that cover shipping on all orders for a year when you pay an annual fee. They're not necessarily a bad deal, but with so many free shipping orders, consider how often you've actually paid for shipping from that retailer.
It's also a good idea to reassess the bill. Retailers tend to set free shipping minimums just above their average order total, prompting you to spend more than intended to avoid the fee. Make sure you're not buying $20 worth of stuff you didn't need, or going over budget, just to save $5 in shipping fees.
And finally, get the most out of your online order and stack the deals. Don't stop at just free shipping. More stores are letting you use multiple coupon codes per visit. Check the store policy to see how many codes you can use on one order. Kohl's, Victoria's Secret and DSW let you add as many as three. That's free shipping and two other discounts.
For more tips on how to secure free shipping and other consumer tips, visit SmartMoney.com.
by Kelli Grant and Jenn Eaker