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How to Save Time & Money at the Post Office (By Avoiding It!)

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Post Office in Mooresville, ALYou don’t have to ask too many of my friends, or my wife, to learn that I am not a fan of waiting. I hate sitting in traffic, especially if it’s just “congestion,” and I really hate waiting at the post office, where it seems as if there are always twice as many counters as there are people staffing the counters.

So that’s why, over the years, I’ve developed a few simple strategies to help me avoid waiting at the post office. The overall strategy is to deconstruct the post office experience and try to avoid needing counter service whenever possible. Here are some tips to help you reduce the time it takes to get your packages on their way.

Buy A Scale

Everything starts with the weight of the package or letter. With a scale, you can weigh the package yourself and make some important time versus money decisions. It can also save you money when you avoid overpaying for postage.

For letters, the standard postage is 44 cents for letters weighing an ounce or less. Bump it up to 61 cents if it’s 2 ounces or less, 78 cents for 3 ounces. With a scale, you can avoid putting too much postage on the letter.

For packages, review the first class mail prices but the all important tipping point is at 13 ounces. If your package is over 13 ounces, you will be required to go the post office if you use postage stamps. If you use Click-And-Ship or print postage from an authorized vendor, then you can drop it into a blue bin.

Media Mail vs. First Class: If you are mailing media (such as books), media mail is cheaper if it’s over 7-8 ounces (which books typically are). A media mail package under 1 lb. is $2.38. Also, as long as you print the postage online (ie. don’t use postage stamps) you can drop the package in a mailbox and avoid a trip to the post office. Originally I erroneously wrote that media mail had to be taken to a post office but Reader Steve, who works at the USPS, said that was unnecessary. The USPS reserves the right to open the package to confirm it’s media but you don’t need to make a trip.

How to Print Postage At Home

If you’re shipping something by Express Mail, Priority Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International, or Priority Mail International, you can print your postage online at USPS.com’s Print Shipping Labels page for free. You will need to register an account and sign in, but to reward you the system will remember your return address and credit card details (if you want) so you can save time entering that information.

You will save time on any packages you want to mail by Express and Priority Mail because instead of waiting in line at the post office, you can drop the package off in a blue USPS mail box. Your package gets free delivery confirmation.

First Class & Media Mail: For whatever reason, you can’t print First Class or Media Mail packages from USPS but you can print it from PayPal. Visit this link to enter the details and print out a label. The only “cost” is that you’re required to pay $0.19 for delivery confirmation.

Request Package Pickup

If you are shipping by Express Mail®, Priority Mail®, or International, you can request pickup service from the USPS. The 13 ounce rule applies if you use only postage stamps. Otherwise, if you print out an electronic label, the weight limit is 70 pounds.

For package pickup, the carrier will pick up your packages along with your regular mail and the service is free. You can schedule a pickup on demand, where a carrier comes in a specified 2-hour time frame, for $15.30 a trip.

Try Village Post Office

The USPS started a new program where they partner with businesses and offer a “Village Post Office.” You can find them online through the USPS’s search features and they’re great because so few people know about them. The one closes to me is a convenience store so you have to compete for attention with the store’s customers, but I usually find it empty when I stop by. I often bring them oversized packages that don’t fit in the blue box, after I’ve printed the postage.

Be Selective In Your Post Office

Each ZIP code has it’s own post office but the busiest ones are those found in residential areas. If you know of a very commercial area (lots of stores, warehouses, transport facilities), try that ZIP code’s post office instead. My experience with this has been very good because stores, warehouses, and transport facilities don’t send a lot of mail through the USPS. This theory is further corroborated by the size of post offices in more commercial areas, they are typically significantly smaller. The 21045 (Columbia MD, very residential) ZIP code’s post office has six counters, the 21090 (Linthicum Heights, MD, which is beside BWI Airport) has only two.

Go During Slow Periods

A USPS spokesperson told Real Simple that the best time to go to the post office is half an hour after it opens. You avoid the morning rush and hit that morning lull. I’d link to it but Real Simple has since taken it down but I agree with the recommended times. I’ve tested this myself, shipping books off to the winners of Bargaineering auctions and I try to go around around 10:30 AM, just before the people running lunch errands, mid-week. I avoid the days around major holidays too because that’s when the post offices are absolutely packed to the gills.

Also, the next time you go to your post office, ask them what the slow periods are. Your post office may not follow the same traffic patterns as the average, so learning specifics from the teller is crucial.

Do you have any suggestions for how to save time and money at the post office by avoiding it?

(Photo: houseofsims )

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45 Responses to “How to Save Time & Money at the Post Office (By Avoiding It!)”

  1. Scott says:

    I believe you can schedule pickup for 1st class and other non-express, non-priority mail packages provided you have at least one express or priority package in the same bundle.

  2. otipoby says:

    This is an excellent post. I HATE waiting in line at the post office. This advice isn’t going to make me retire earlier, but I love these little tips that make life just a little better. As always, thanks.

  3. Safeway_Sage says:

    I send 10-15 pieces of registered mail every week. This necessitates dealing with the post office clerks. So, I always go to the central post office, which seems to be better staffed than the other stations scattered around my city. I also always go on Tuesday at 1000 on the nose. It seems to be less busy. No Monday morning people and no one trying to get their stuff out before the end of the week…

    For the record, I am not a fan of the post office and certainly not a fan of the clerks. Rude, rude, rude…

    • I think I’m lucky. I use a smaller (non-main) post office in the city where I work (metro area of ~200,000). It’s very close to where I work, but is a bit hidden. It’s never absurdly busy, and the staff is very friendly.

      Interestingly, I’m not exactly sure where the post office is in the city where I actually live. It’s in a part of town that is fairly distant from me, so I never go there :)

  4. Soccer9040 says:

    Another way to avoid the lines at the post office is to use the APC (Automated Postal Center) Its a standalone “vending” machine that can weigh your packages, sell stamps, and look up all sorts of info. It takes debit/credit cards so its very easy to use. Another good use for this machine is to deposit your packages you have already stamped, but didnt order a package pickup for.

    I use PayPal to create shipping labels. If I forget to order a pickup, I’ll take my boxes to the post office, laugh as I see the line, then walk right up to the APC and deposit my packages in the special bin.

    People are afraid to use it from what I can tell. There is never a line for the APC, but always a line for the person.

    Its like self-checkout, but for the post office.

    • Jim says:

      Yes, the APC is crucial but the same rules for package weights will apply (it should have a label on the deposit slot). So if it’s too heavy, you’ll have to wait in line (though you could try jumping it just to deposit a package).

      Have you mailed packages greater than 13 oz. in that bin before? I’m wondering how closely they monitor it.

      • LeeBob says:

        You can mail tings over 13 oz at the APC and put them in the collection box for those packages because they don’t have stamps on them. The 13 oz rule is for stamped parcels. Meters, click and ship and APC don’t apply. :-}

        • AVSEC says:

          The 13 oz rule only applies to air mail. Local mail transported via surface: truck, train,boat should be okay. This rule was created for aviation security. Again, all air mail whether it be letters, flats, or parcels, if it weighs 13 oz or more and it only has stamps, don’t drop it in the mail box– it’ll be returned to you.

      • Soccer9040 says:

        Jim – Remember how I sell cornhole bags on my website (www.cornholesupply.com) The limit on the APC is 70 LBS. The 13oz rule or whatever it is only applies to items with stamps. If you print a label, you pay with a CC, they have a way to figure out who sent it and therefor it is allowed to go thru.

        Also, If the box is jammed, or full, you can bypass the entire line and just set the boxes down at the counter. They are happy to take them because they don’t have to service you.

    • Chris says:

      If only they offered media mail at the APC’s…

    • ziglet19 says:

      I often use the APC if there is a line at the counter, many people do seem to avoid it for some reason. After you’ve used it a few times, you become really familiar with all the questions and propmps, and you can just sail through the process, it doesn’t take long at all. Sometimes the bin is full, in which case I just take it up to the counter and they take it right away.

      • daenyll says:

        many times i’ve gone and the automatic machines have been broken and was forced to wait out the long lines

  5. I think everybody can agree that going to the post office is no fun. We are always under the impression that if you go first thing, then you will avoid the traffic. Great suggestion on waiting half an hour after the morning rush to beat the heavy traffic.

  6. CK says:

    For packages use UPS or Fedex, it will usually cost more (although not always) but you will have a lot less trouble if the package is lost or damaged.

  7. zapeta says:

    My local post office is in a residential area but it is the central post office for the area. It is always well staffed and the line moves quickly. This is much different than the last place I lived. The main post office was always very busy and understaffed. I started driving to a post office in a little town 5 miles away because I could get there, mail my packages, and get out in less time than I’d wait in line at the post office in my town.

  8. Carlos says:

    Jim, you seem to be mistaken about the 13 oz rule. Your third para under Buy a Scale says “If your package is over 13 ounces, you will be required to go the post office. If it is less than 13 ounces, you can print postage online and drop it in a blue USPS box (or your own mail box).” If you don’t mind sending your package by priority mail, you can print postage online regardless of the weight, and then drop the package in a collection bin or have it picked up. If you want to send it parcel post, you can use the APC.

    Also, to answer your other comment, Yes you can just drop packages in the collection bin, even if they’re over 13 oz IF you used online postage.

    Handing mail to a clerk only applies to mail over 13 oz that only has postage stamps. According to the 2007 USPS press release: “Starting Monday, July 30[, 2007], customers can use one of several convenient online postage applications — available 24/7 — or an Automated Postal Center, if they wish to mail items that weigh more than 13 ounces in Postal Service collection boxes or Post Office lobby mail slots; or if they wish to leave the items for pickup by their letter carriers. Online postage applications include the Postal Service’s Click-N-Ship service on usps.com and PC Postage from an authorized USPS vendor. If a customer is unable to use one of the above methods to prepare and affix postage, items weighing more than 13 ounces must be presented for mailing to an employee at a Post Office retail service counter.”

    Summary:
    Under 13 oz and stamps -> drop in collection box or lobby slot
    Over 13 oz and stamps -> hand to employee.
    Any weight and online postage -> collection box or lobby slot or pick up

    I use Click-N-Ship all the time. Then I just take the package to the post office and drop it in the package bin. If you use Click-N-Ship you don’t have to actually hand it to a clerk. I’ve always assumed that this is allowed because the APC or Click-N-Ship has enough info on you that they can match the package to the mailer if there is some problem. But if you put stamps on a box and drop it in the bin, you can’t be identified.

    • Jim says:

      You are right, I was mistaken about the rule. I thought over 13 oz. meant you had to bring it in no matter what… but I’m glad I was wrong because it save me more time! :)

  9. aceofwealth says:

    Another great option are the flat rate boxes. I’m sure everyone has seen those commercials on TV, “If it fits it ships”. The great thing about them is that you don’t need to worry about what’s in them, and can sometimes be cheaper than sending things first class depending on the distance/weight.

    I don’t think that you can pay the postage online, although I know that the kiosks will take flat rate boxes.

    • javi says:

      You can pay for these boxes online. They are very convenient for certain packages.

    • AVSEC says:

      Make certain that whenever using flat rate boxes, take time to tape the flaps. I know it’s self adhesive but believe me and take this advice.

  10. freeby50 says:

    We have a post office desk at the local convenience store. They can do most everything you get done at the normal post office but they are hardly busy.

    There is a self service machine (Automated Postal Center) at our post office that rarely ever has anyone using it. So you can usually circumvent the 5-20 minute line by just using the machine.

    The post office at the airport is one of the least busy here.

  11. jsbrendog says:

    i just use the automated machines in the entryways. it might cost me a few extra dollars for shipping once in awhile but it saves me loads of time, and time, as they say, is money

  12. eric says:

    Ever since starting the store, I bet you’re now an expert with USPS. :D

  13. We routinely drop of media mail at our local UPS/Mailbox store. So far they have taken everything even though we process the postage at home.

  14. nick says:

    You mention a scale, do you have an recommendations on a particular type. Most scales now I assume are digital, but in trying to keep this to a small purchase, what would I be looking for

  15. fairydust says:

    Thank you for the info on printing postage through paypal. I had tried to do that awhile back and was stumped on how to go about it unless I was shipping something I’d sold on ebay, then it was easy. Now I’ll be able to use paypal to ship non-ebay items, and that’s great!

    • Suzanne says:

      There is also a program at usps.com called Shipping Assistant http://www.usps.com/shippingassistant/instructions.htmwhere you can print postage with discounted delivery confirmation for packages…(not letter mail). You have to have a scale but it will calculate the postage required for first class, media, express, and priority. You still have to pay at the post office but it will save time when you are there.

  16. Arnie says:

    You just made one mistake. You said books and magazines qualify for media mail. If fact magazines do not qualify for medial mail rates because it has advertising.

  17. Steve says:

    You do not have to bring Media Mail to the PO if it has prepaid postage (ie metered or online postage) Only stamped mail of any kind over 13 ounces has to be brought to the PO. Media mail is subject to being opened to verify that it is eligible for that class of mail.

  18. Tony says:

    Magazines CANNOT ne mailed media rate. Anything with advertising cannot be mailed media mail. Please get your facts straight

  19. Sheryl says:

    Great article and I appreciate the comments that give additional suggestions or correct & clarify things. I work for USPS and it’s sometimes hard for us to get the word out to everyone about the more convenient ways to use our services. Thanks to customers like you and your readers, our jobs are easier.

  20. Anonymous says:

    nothing worse than waiting in a line any where u go Walmart ect..Postal workers like eveyone else are expected to do more with less. I dont care where you go u will run into crappy people. Why does everybody think USPS has to have a much higher standard than everybody else.They are no longer paid by your tax dallor, Postal service runs on revenve only. Why doesn’t everyone just talk about good things people do in this world. There are hero stories every day about a mail carrier helping someone out on there route. After all the postal service goes to each house every day.They know there customers habits esp. the elderly.

  21. Rick says:

    Wow, you must have a lot of time on your hands. Must be because of all the time you’ve saved by not going to the Post Office. By the way, the Postal service utilizes the mystery shopper program like most retailers to test customer service, wait time in line, etc. Maybe you should sign up and you could actually get paid for doing such valuable research!!! LOL! get a real job!

  22. karen says:

    I use my kitchen scale, which is digital, and found that it matches the postal scale’s weight every time.

    I also discovered that by choosing to use my debit card as a credit card at the APC, I can mail several items with one transaction, another time saver. The first time I used the APC, I chose debit and had to complete one transaction at a time, which took forever, not to mention each tranaction ended up with its own receipt and notation in the checkbook transaction register.

    I, too, hate long waits at the Post Office and the not-so-caring clerks. I have worked customer-service related jobs in the private sector for 40+ years, and if I had had the “take-my-time, don’t-give-a-rip” attitude of most of the postal clerks, i would have been FIRED on the spot.

  23. Soccer9040 says:

    No one has mentioned that their are two rate structures. You will pay a higher rate if you go to the post office and wait in line. (Retail rate) If you use paypal or anything online to print labels you pay the commercial rate.

    For example: Retail Flat Rate box is now $10.70. Commercial rate is $10.20.

    Look at USPS website for more info.

    Commercial Base Pricing
    For users of Click-N-Ship, PC Postage, Permit Imprint, or an approved Information Based Indicia (IBI) metering system. Get detailed Commercial Base Pricing.

  24. Dana says:

    Just wanted to add that if you have a Media Mail pacakage and are scheduling a free next-day pickup from your mail carrier (usps.com/pickup/welcome.htm), you CANNOT just have them pick up one (or many) Media Mail packages. Their site says that they will pick up any number of packages, but at least one has to be an Overnight Guaranteed or 2-3 Day package.

    I only have I prepaid Media Mail package going out, so I’m going to try to leave it in the mailbox for the carrier and hope for the best. :)

  25. JD says:

    This article appreciated. Very informative but you should update article to the NEW .45 cents 1st Class Postage rate. Maybe comment on the FOREVER postage stamp. Thanks.


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