Category Archives: Cheap and free stuff

Amazon changes the rules for free shipping

I shop at Amazon frequently to take advantage of its competitive prices (on most items) and its low threshold for free shipping. My latest shopping trip led to an unwelcome surprise. Amazon has raised the dollar amount of the minimum order you must place to get free shipping.

Look for the "FREE shipping on orders over $35" words near the top of Amazon listings.

Look for the “FREE shipping on orders over $35” words near the top of Amazon listings.

The company used to offer “free super saver shipping” on orders of $25 or more. Now, you must spend at least $35 to get your items shipped to you at no charge. In a Web announcement, Amazon says this is the first time in more than 10 years that it has changed the minimum order amount for free shipping. The announcement includes a sales pitch for Amazon Prime, which allows you to get “free” two-day shipping on orders of any size, if you pay a $79 annual subscription fee. Not exactly what I would call free shipping.

To find items that are eligible for free shipping, look for the words “FREE shipping on orders over $35” on the search results page or the product page (see photo above for example).

Keep in mind some items that are sold on Amazon but shipped by other retailers offer free shipping on orders less than $35.

If you don’t shop at Amazon frequently, you may have missed another trend in its free-shipping policy: the add-on item. Items labeled as add-ons are eligible for free shipping, but only after you already have $35 of merchandise in your cart. Amazon’s current explanation of add-on items is a bit confusing, but it appears you can add the items to a $25 order as well, but they may not be eligible for free shipping at that threshold. Examples include this Rubbermaid plastic magazine file. You can identify add-on items by the blue “Add-on Item” band near the “Add to cart” button or the explanation in the product description (see photo below for examples).

Look for the blue labels to identify Amazon add-on items.

Look for the blue labels to identify Amazon add-on items.

Sometimes, you may be a few cents away from free shipping and need a cheap item to finish off your order. If this is the case, check out my previous post on a neat tool that can help you find such items.

What do you think of Amazon’s new shipping threshold? Will it change how often you purchase items from this retailer?

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Filed under Business news, Cheap and free stuff, Saving money, Shopping tips

Enjoy easier shopping with free shipping and free returns

I buy a lot of items online. Why?

  • The selection is better.
  • Prices are often lower.
  • You can earn extra rewards on your purchases through Ebates.
  • You save money on gas.
  • You avoid the hassle of locating items and waiting in line at a local retail store.

Free shipping makes online shopping even more appealing, but you can still incur costs when you have to return items. Now, however, more companies are offering free shipping and free returns, especially on shoes and clothing. This makes online shopping an even better option. You can try on items and return what doesn’t fit. With that in mind, here are some of the online retailers you may want to consider for your next purchase:

NordstromThis department store offers free shipping all the time — no need to spend a minimum amount or wait for a special promotion. I recently ordered three dresses from them and returned two. The process went smoothly, and I received a prompt refund. The only bummer was that Nordstrom uses the post office for return shipping, which is not especially convenient for me. Be sure to get a receipt with a tracking number for your return from the post office.

ShoebuyThere’s no minimum purchase here, either. Free shipping gets your item delivered in 3 to 10 business days. You can pay for quicker shipping if needed. Shoebuy uses UPS for returns. Shoebuy’s return processing is a bit slower than other stores I’ve purchased from but still gets completed in a reasonable time frame.

Zappos Known for its excellent customer service, Zappos offers a generous 365-day return policy for unused items. It sells shoes, clothing, cookware, makeup, luggage and more. Free return shipping is via UPS or the postal service. My returns have always been credited promptly.

Amazon — Amazon offers free shipping and returns on select items, including clothing, shoes, luggage, jewelry, watches, accessories and sunglasses.  Look for the words “FREE Super Saver Shipping & Free Returns” next to an item’s description to determine if it qualifies. You’ll have to spend $25 to get free shipping.

Clarks — I have not ordered from this company, but it does offer free shipping both ways via UPS. You don’t need to place a minimum order. Clarks sells shoes and accessories.

Apple Store — I was surprised to find this electronics retailer offers free returns. You must initiate the return process within 14 days of receiving your item. To get free shipping, you must spend at least $50.

Piperlime — Owned by the same parent company as Old Navy, Piperlime sells upscale, brand-name clothing for the whole family, plus shoes and accessories. You have 30 days from the purchase date to take advantage of free return shipping. Items arrive at your home within 5 business days of your order placement.

Fossil — Best known for its stylish watches, Fossil offers free returns within 90 days of purchase. Orders shipped free arrive within 5 business days.

Brooks Running — You’ll have to spend $75 to get free FedEx shipping, but you’ll also get free returns when ordering from Brooks Running. The store sells running shoes, apparel and accessories for men and women.

As evidenced by the growing number of retailers offering free returns, it’s apparently good for business to do so. This CNBC article references a study that shows huge growth in future purchases when free returns are available.

What are your favorite online stores offering free shipping and free returns?

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Customer service, Saving money, Shopping tips

A great tool to get free Amazon shipping

One of the great features of Amazon shopping is the ability to get free shipping on orders of $25 or more. Items that qualify for the free shipping program have the words “eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping” next to their price.

But what if you have $24.32 worth of items? You don’t really want to buy something extra that would cost you more on Amazon than it would at your local Target or Walmart. So, you need to find a cheap item to get you to the $25 mark. But how do you do that when there are hundreds of thousands of items on Amazon? I recently discovered a neat online tool that does the work for you.

Use the Amazon Filler Item Finder at Enter the amount you need to spend to get free shipping, and click “Search.” The website will return a list of items that fit the bill, along with a link to each item. Popular items have bold links. Each item has its price displayed besides its link.

The results aren’t always perfect. Sometimes, the item will turn out to be part of Amazon’s new add-on item program, requiring you to spend $25 before the item is eligible for free shipping. But, I’ve found the results on this website much more accurate than other, fancier-looking sites that often have limited results or incorrect prices for items.

Many of the items in your search may be things you wouldn’t use, like gasket seals, pipe fittings or guitar strings. But, you can always give them to a friend or donate them to charity, and spending 46 cents on something you don’t need is better than spending several dollars on shipping. One way to find something you’ll actually use is to up your minimum price a bit. So, if you only need to spend 46 cents to fill out your order, enter $1 into the Amazon Filler Item Finder instead. By spending a few cents more, you may find something you can actually use, like this dispensing bottle I used to round out my order.

What are your favorite cheap items to fill out orders on Amazon?

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Saving money, Shopping tips

A new way to get cash back while shopping on eBay

I was thrilled to receive a notification today that eBay is once again a part of Ebates. This means I now have two ways to earn cash back while shopping at the online auction site.

First, I earn eBay Bucks on each eBay purchase. These are credits that correspond to a percentage (currently 2 percent) of each purchase I make. The bucks accumulate for a quarter, then I can “spend” them on a future eBay purchase. I’ve found eBay is a source of many great deals — check out my previous post on the great finds eBay has on brand-name makeup.

Now, I can also earn cash back on eBay purchases through If you’re not familiar with Ebates, check out this previous post for the details. It’s a free way to earn cash back on things you were going to buy anyway. Ebates cash comes to me quarterly in the form of a cash deposit into my Paypal account, so I can spend it any way I choose. Several months ago, eBay stopped participating in Ebates, so today’s notification that the arrangement has resumed was welcome news. Currently, you’ll earn 3 percent cash back for each eBay purchase made through Ebates.

In addition to makeup, I’ve found eBay is a good source for electronics accessories, such as iPod cases. I recommend using caution when purchasing electronics on eBay, though. I’ve had mixed results — screen sellers carefully before buying a phone or MP3 player on eBay. In addition to auction listings, eBay offers “Buy It Now” items that you can purchase immediately instead of competing with other buyers for an item. In some of these cases, you may end up paying more than you would have for an item if you’d participated in an auction.

Are you an eBay shopper? What types of items do you find the best deals on when shopping eBay?

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Rewards programs, Saving money, Shopping tips

Get one-cent prints from Snapfish

Through Sept. 12, you can get 99 prints from Snapfish for 99 cents. Use promo code PRINTSFOR99 to get your snapshots for a penny each.
The special offer detail page doesn’t say you have to buy 99 photo prints, so you should be able to get a smaller quantity for the same low price.

Snapfish was the winner of my photo print quality comparison test, with Mpix making a strong showing for second place.

Start your Snapfish shopping at, and you’ll get 10 percent cash back on your order. Happy printing!

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Sales and promo codes, Saving money, Uncategorized

Check out this week’s promo codes and online deals

Web shoppers can take advantage of several sales and discounts this week:

Use promo code L9P9M4A to get 15 percent off one item at Barnes & Noble through April 8.

Enter code “BLUESKY” to add a 15 percent discount to your total purchase at Meijer.

Take 20 percent off your purchase at Kohl’s with promo code “SPRING2SAVE.”

Get 26 percent cash back on purchases when you shop through Other Ebates deals this week include 15 percent off Easter bouquets from Teleflora, along with 20 percent cash back. Use code “Ebatesae112” to take 40 percent off one item at Joann’s fabric and craft store, plus get 5 percent cash back by starting your shopping at the Ebates website.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Saving money

Great deals available on restaurants, gardening and home items this week

Be sure to check out a couple of sales going on this week:

You can get $25 restaurant gift certificates for $2 now through March 31 at Go through the, search for, and then use coupon code “BLOOM”. Ebates will give you 15 percent cash back on your purchase, too. Read this previous post to find out why I highly recommend Ebates.

You’ll find several special deals at Home Depot’s Black Friday Sale, which starts today. That’s right–Black Friday in the middle of spring! Here are a few of the great prices I spotted in the sale ad:

  • 6-pack of annual flowers for 93 cents
  • 5-inch pots of vegetables and herbs for $1.74
  • 2-cubic-foot bags of cypress mulch for $1.12
  • 10-inch hanging flower baskets for $3.84

You’ll also find deals on gas grills, patio furniture, potting soil and more. Offers are good while supplies last, so you shop early. The sale ends April 4.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Saving money

Create PDF files with free, easy-to-use software

For a few months, I’ve wanted the ability to create PDF (portable document format) files from my home computer, but I didn’t want to pay $300 for Adobe Acrobat X Standard. While it’s a great tool, I couldn’t really justify the price.

I found several lower-cost and free software options for creating PDF files, but I am always wary of downloading unfamiliar software. That’s why I look for recommendations from reputable sources. There are three main websites I turn to for software and technology reviews: PC World, PC Magazine and ZDNet. My research led me to PC World’s recommendation of a software called Cute PDF™ Writer.

Downloading and installing Cute PDF Writer from the PC World website was a breeze. The software adds Cute PDF as an option in your printer menu. When you use the File>Print command for a document or Web page, you simply “print” to Cute PDF instead of sending the document to your regular printer. This leads to a popup window where you can name the file and select the location where you wish to save it. The created file opens easily with Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader software.

Cute PDF doesn’t offer all the bells and whistles of Adobe Acrobat X Standard. You can’t use it to edit files, create fillable forms or set up password-protected files. These features are available in the professional version of Cute PDF, which you can buy for just $50—that’s 80 percent less than Adobe Acrobat X Standard. I haven’t tried that product or read any reviews of it, but it’s definitely worth investigating if you need those functions.

I’ve been using Cute PDF for a couple of weeks and have experienced no problems. For those who simply want to create PDF files at home, it offers a great option.

What’s your favorite free software installed on your home computer?

Disclaimer: I am not a software engineer and cannot guarantee the safety or reliability of any software. You download, install and use any software suggested by me or users of my blog at your own risk. I will not be held liable for software failure.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Product recommendations, Technology and office equipment

Get free greeting cards at CVS–all you pay is sales tax!

There’s a great deal on birthday, sympathy, thank you, “missing you” and other greeting cards this week at CVS. When you buy three American Greetings cards, you receive $3 in CVS ExtraBucks. CVS has a wide range of cards, including a section priced at 99 cents. If you buy three of those cheap cards, you’ll have 3 cents leftover to apply toward sales tax.

The American Greetings promotion excludes papyrus and boxed cards. Like most ExtraBucks promotions, each customer can only cash in on the deal once. This offer runs through Saturday, November 5.

If you’re unfamiliar with the CVS Extra Bucks program and why it’s such a great thing to participate in, check out my previous post on the topic.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff

Coke Rewards offers free merchandise, magazines and more for soda fans

In the world of soda, most consumers fall on one side of the fence or the other: Coke or Pepsi. Count me among those who prefer Coke products. My current favorite is Diet Cherry Coke, which to me is one of the least “diet-tasting” sodas out there.

As a true bargain hunter, I typically wait for sales to stock up on my soda of choice, but for a while, I didn’t realize I was missing out on another form of savings—the My Coke Rewards program. Although the Coke Rewards logo appears on my Diet Cherry Coke boxes, I didn’t pay much attention to it. One day, curiosity led me to check it out online, and I’ve been a loyal participant ever since.

The idea behind the Coke Rewards program is simple: Coca-Cola products you purchase contain a rewards code. You enter these codes into your online account, and the program keeps a running total of your accumulated rewards points. You can redeem these points for merchandise, magazines, free soda, discount coupons, gift cards or entries into contests. You can also donate points to support charities.

On Coca-Cola 12-packs, you’ll find the code under the flap you remove to convert the box into a “fridge pack.” On single and two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola products, the code is under the cap. In shrink-wrapped cases, it’s inside the shrink wrap. Any product bearing the Coke Rewards logo will have a rewards code. Participating brands include Sprite, Minute Maid, Powerade, Mello Yellow, Nestea and Barq’s.

Like most rewards programs, there are rules. For example, your points expire if your account does not have any activity for a 90-day period. You can only earn 120 points per week, but that would be a lot of soda! To learn more about program rules, bonuses for referring friends and more, check out the Coke Rewards frequently asked questions page.

Learn about special promotions and program updates by monitoring the Coke Rewards Facebook page.

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Filed under Cheap and free stuff, Rewards programs