Back 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 Stamps.com 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 )