Frugal Living 

11 Sure-Fire Ways to Save on Shipping

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Post Office in Mooresville, ALBack in college, I used to sell all sorts of products on eBay and thus developed keen understanding for how the post office worked. I didn’t do a tremendous amount of selling but as a lazy and poor college student, I did my best to make my shipping as efficient as possible. Many of the tips below come from that experience and are very much USPS centric since my packages were often very light, but many of those tips apply to any shipping service.

This is a post that first appeared in 2008 but I felt was valuable given how much shipping we do around the holidays. All values and information have been updated for this year.

1. Ship as soon as possible so you can use the lowest shipping speed. Christmas is December 25th, it’s always December 25th, and it will never change from December 25th. Everyone knows it’s December 25th… so why, inevitably, will there be tons of people shipping packages via Next Day or Overnight on the 24th? A 2 lb. package from New York to California costs $10.20 via Priority Mail (est. 2 day shipment time) and a whopping $34.70 via Express Mail (next day by 12 p.m.). Ship early, ship for less. (I understand that sometimes circumstances beyond your control necessitate shipping at the last minute, but for every other situation… you’re literally paying out the nose for your forgetfulness/laziness/whatever)

This year is another one of special times when December 25th falls on a Sunday, when the post office doesn’t deliver anything. So for this year, it’s even more important to ship it earlier rather than later!

2. Don’t ship it Next Day if you don’t need to! Don’t ship it any faster than it needs to be. When it comes to gifts, is it crucial that it gets there on December 25th? For some people it is, for others… anytime before New Years Day will probably be fine. If it were me, I’d rather you save $35 by not shipping it via Express and treat yourself to a good great meal instead. In other situations, you may think you need it to be there the next day but it really doesn’t. Many people believe that the deadline for your tax return is April 15th and that it needs to be at the IRS on that day. That’s not correct, it just needs to have a postmark of April 15th.

3. Save time and money by printing postage online. Several years ago, you had to buy a subscription from a place like and use special software to print your own labels. Now, you can print Priority Mail (or higher) labels from the USPS online postage system absolutely free. In fact, not only is the service free but you get:

  • Free delivery confirmation – saving you 60 cents.
  • Discounts off postage – shipping that 2 lb. package from NY to CA is $10.20 in the Post Office but only $9.37 if you print it online.
  • You save time – by printing it yourself, you don’t have to wait at the Post Office.

4. Use the free packaging. If you ship via USPS Priority Mail or Express Mail, take advantage of the free envelopes, boxes, tape, and labels. Visit the USPS Postal Shop to find the packaging you need. There are categories for Flat-Rate, Express Mail, Priority Mail, and International Mail – each has boxes and envelopes you can use for free. Please don’t order or take any boxes if you don’t intend to use them, you’ll only increase the cost to other customers. (Don’t think about taking the boxes and turning them inside-out, they’re marked on the inside as well)

5. Understand the different shipping products. Priority Mail is not guaranteed to be delivered in 2-3 days, it’s simply First Class mail for packages greater than a pound! Media Mail is a shipping class that’s very cheap but available only if you’re shipping books or other media (they say they will check, but they never have). That same 2 lb. package from NY to CA costs only $2.58 by Media Mail but will take 7 days.

6. Save and reuse shipping packaging. I get bubble mailers (plastic envelopes lined with bubbles) from book publishers and PR firms and I try to save all of them for re-use. Part of the reason is because there’s no suitable way to recycle them but the other reason is so that I don’t have to spend a couple dollars buying brand new bubble mailers when I have perfectly good ones for free! I don’t keep boxes (unless I know I plan on doing a lot of shipping, such as now during the holidays) though but it wouldn’t take much to flatten and store them behind a couch.

7. Compare shipping rates with a rate comparer. The USPS beat out UPS and FedEx in Consumer Reports’ 2008 overnight shipping battle but it always pays to use a rate comparer to see which shipping method is cheapest. One good choice is ShipGooder, though they didn’t list anything for USPS’ Media Mail so you still need to be aware of the different shipping classes.

8. Save time by going to the post office during off-peak periods. This is based on my experience but opening, closing, and lunch-time are the usual times that the post office is packed. If you find the sweet spots between those, you can often find yourself processed pretty quickly. I’d also avoid high volume days such as those near April 15th (tax return filing deadline) and Christmas.

9. Save time by dropping it in a mail box or requesting pick up. Avoid the lines in the first place if your package is under 16 oz. You can print your own postage online and then drop it off in a USPS blue mail box. Alternatively, if you have many packages, you can request that the USPS come pick the packages up from you! (Pick up is free as long as you do it with regular mail delivery)

10. Use Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes (if it makes sense). The USPS introduced two flat rate boxes several years ago and has since offered several more options. Now there are basically “three” (really, five) sizes for their flat rate boxes:

  • Large – 12″ x 12″ x 5-1/2″ or 23-11/16″ x 11-3/4″ x 3″ for $14.95
  • Medium – 13-5/8″ x 11-7/8″ x 3-3/8″ or 11″ x 8-1/2″ x 5-1/2″ for $10.95
  • Small – 8-5/8″ x 5-3/8″ x 1-5/8″ for $5.20

11. Use light packing material! I reuse styrofoam peanuts whenever I get them (again, because they’re hard to recycle) but I’ve known people to use all sorts of wacky packing material, including oyster crackers. This is sort-of a head smacking tip but be sure to use the lightest packing material you can so you aren’t paying to ship that! (In defense of the oyster crackers, it was for the novelty of it as a packing material)

If you have any good shipping savings tips, please share in the comments!

(Photo: houseofsims)

{ 24 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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24 Responses to “11 Sure-Fire Ways to Save on Shipping”

  1. I think that the first tip is the most often overlooked… and regarding the 3rd one, it’s a red-hot tip! 🙂

  2. Miss M says:

    I am a horrible procrastinator and always spend too much on shipping at the last minute. Happens every year, christmas, birthdays, ugh. I live on the opposite coast from my parents so everything has to be shipped.

  3. Checkout

    It has a list of stores running free shipping awards using “coupon codes”.

  4. Great tips. If you work at a big company, you may be able to ship personal packages with the corporate discount. My company allows its employees to do that. The shipping dock at work also has a corner full of extra boxes from the shipments they receive, so you can grab one of those for your package. The packaging supplies are also free, so when I ship something from work, I really am only paying for the shipping.

  5. Scott says:

    Jim – Regarding #3 you forgot to mention that you can also arrange to have the postman (or postwoman, or postperson?) pick up your package at your home free of charge. So you don’t even have to bother dropping it off at the post office after you print your shipping label online – saving you both time and energy/gas!

    Consumer Reports just ran an article this month comparing shipping costs and found that the Postal Service compared to UPS and FedEx shipped much cheaper in most circumstances and was just as reliable.

  6. jim says:

    Yeah, that’s a good tip (it’s actually part of #9, though I probably should’ve put it up higher).

    I was surprised to see the USPS beat UPS and FedEx on so many things, it’s just a testament to their infrastructure. Too bad they’re bleeding out money.

  7. As a former subscriber who jettisoned it when looking for budgetary corners to cut, I’m delighted you can do the same thing at UPS now. Great tips!

  8. Gavin says:

    Remember, the clerks at USPS are now required to not mention cheaper alternatives like Media Mail unless you specifically ask for them.

    Regarding #9, I belive the “blue box” maximum weight is now 13 ounces.

    Priority mail flat rate envelopes will hold many things, and many things that size are over a pound. The rule of thumb is as long as the flap closes (and you can reinforce it with one piece of tape) then it’s OK. I’ve mailed rock samples and clothes in them.

  9. thanks for the tips. It will help with all the gifts I’ll be sending out nest month. It will also help with shipping prizes that are won at my site.

  10. Son of the postman says:

    They do check media mail packages, perhaps more on a random sampling or based on package weight per size. My father had reported a few packages in his day for improperly using the rate. Postal Fraud is not something to be suggesting to the readers…

  11. Merk says:

    Good tips, but you are wrong about USPS Priority Mail. It is not merely first-class mail for packages greater than a pound. It is a two-day service for items of any weight. The USPS web site calls Priority Mail “Fast, two-day service to most locations for both documents and packages.” See

    Personally, Priority Mail is the best, most economical service out there. Rarely is overnight needed. Two days is almost always fine.


  12. subhan says:

    For heavier objects (2#+) that don’t fit in flat rate boxes, fedex is normally cheaper than the USPS, comes with free tracking & free insurance up to $100.00 Watch out though, if you go to a drop-ship location (IE Fred’s Family Shipping Emporium) you will pay a huge markup. The best way to go is to set up an online account with fedex, print your shipping labels, & drop off your packages at the nearest location to you. The interface on the web site is a little clunky, but I’ve probably saved over $100 in shipping over USPS in the last year on 25 or 30 packages shipped.

  13. freecia says:

    You can also print USPS postage online via PayPal with the Multi-Order Shipping option. This is great for light packages that don’t fall under the normal Envelope 1st Class category. I often send paperback books in this manner.

    It offers media mail, 1st class parcel, and I think Priority as well as Express. Plus it offers tracking on them and it will save you a TON of time at the Post 0ffice.

    • Strebkr says:

      Great mention. PayPal’s shipping tool is top notch. You get the online discount, professional looking labels, and its easy to use.

  14. SmallBusinessMan says:

    I just used tip 3 to print postage on 35 boxes for clients and vendors. Saved some money and the USPS should be here today to pick up the boxes, saving me multiple trips (boxes are not small).

    Thanks much for this timely tip.

  15. Green Supply says:

    Good information. The last point makes a lot of sense when you go green. Since the shipping will cost less, plus it the shipping truck will use less gas to carry the packages around.

    Go green today and save!

  16. Amazon Matt says:

    Do what I did. Go to officemax and buy a 100piece box of large manila envelopes. After tax each one cost me 11 cents. I was paying a $1.00 to $1.50 per envelope prior. That should obviously be in the “save on supples” tip above….

  17. Chester White says:

    Bumping an old post I found in a search.

    Stamp dealers sell off mint stamps they have in excess supply below face value. There are WAY too many old stamps floating around compared to collector demand. Look around and you will easily find offers of 20% and more off.

  18. your twin soul says:

    great tips and all replies too.
    Some time I ship manufacture boxes separately then item. i.e. if I have to ship big heavy item then I wrap item 5 to 6 times with bubble wrap and send through USPS medium flat rate box which cost $10 and put manufacture box on side if there is room or mail through 1st class mail under $2. That way I save $6-$9 because sending item with manufacture box in large flat rate or sometimes through fed ex cost more.
    Generally item might be small but manufacture boxes are big and with lots of shipping protection because boxes has to go through lots of different channel, when I have to mail mostly it go through 4-5 hands.
    one more thing, before I ship I make sure that is okey with other party. when I sale item on eBay, I make sure that is okey with buyer and when I ship toys or gift to my nice and nephews I call my sister and tell her to put toys back in box and wrap before presenting them.
    I know it sound cheap but A penny saved is a penny earned.

  19. Strebkr says:

    Going along with #8 – Save time by using the automated machines at the post office. I love walking in seeing the line 20 people deep at the counter and then heading over to the automated machine to ship all my packages.

  20. Scott says:

    #10 flat rate boxes are not always the cheapest option. Be sure to compare prices to see if the flat rate box in your case is the best deal or not.

  21. Chester White says:


  22. Vernon Groston says:

    You can also save significantly by using multi-carrier shipping software that will allow you to get the best rate and best carrier and that will affect the overall cost of shipping. The software will eliminated human errors in shipping and streamline the process. Checking the shipping rates on two or more systems would be incredibly time consuming. When you use a multi-carrier shipping system, you will enjoy immediate access to the shipping rates of each carrier.

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