Save money by nixing shipping costs

HOUSTON If you shop smart, you really don't need to pay for shipping because there are websites that offer coupon codes to get your gifts shipped for free. Plus, many retailers who also have a physical store now offer free shipping if you pick up your purchases at the store.

When Marion Coughlin went online to send her grandson a $45 gift, the cost to send it came as a shock.

"The shipping cost was almost $16, plus five something for tax, and I was astounded!" Coughlin said.

Consumer Reports Money Adviser says there are a number of ways to avoid monstrous shipping fees.

"There are sites that offer free or low-cost shipping, so check for those before you start shopping," said Mandy Walker with Consumer Reports. "Some, like, offer free shipping both ways -- even if you decide to return an item."

Another site that's worth trying is You type in the name of a store, and then you can see whether there are coupon codes you can use at the store's website to save on shipping.

Some websites will ship for free -- but not to your house. lets you shop at its site then offers free shipping to a Walmart store, where you can pick up your purchase. Borders and Best Buy do it, too.

If there's a must-have infomercial product on your list, beware of the shipping costs.

One infomercial advertises an auger for $19.99. But shipping fees, listed as "Separate P and H," are tacked on to each item in this offer, including the bonus product. In the end, they boosted the bill to more than $56. That's more than double the cost of the original $19.99 product.

And a lesson to be learned from Coughlin: Shop early to avoid sending last-minute gifts to family and friends when shipping costs are at their peak.

Excessive shipping charges are the main reason shoppers don't finish checking out online, according to the Direct Marketing Association.

If you think you've been charged shipping fees that are too high or misleading, Consumer Reports says report it to your local consumer protection office.

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