Personal Finance 

Post Office Tips and Tricks

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As a former heavy Ebayer, I learned a few tips and tricks at the post office to help reduce my shipping costs and my time at the always apparently inefficient and busy post office. Some of these are well known and some aren’t, those that aren’t were simply told to me over time by the postal worker that I saw every few days and got to know.

1. Printing Postage Online at
If you are shipping priority mail or express mail, you can print your label online at no extra charge. Printing online requires a credit card, Adobe Acrobat (available for free online), and a printer of course. There are two huge benefits of printing it online: a) You get the 45-cent delivery confirmation number absolutely free, b) You can drop off the package at any blue box mailbox as long as it fits in the slot. Normally, if the package is over 16 ounces, you always need to bring it to a post office unless it’s been electronically labelled and the shipping is paid for. The free 45-cent delivery confirmation number is just gravy.

2. Insured packages must be sent from a post office
If you insure a package, you must bring it to the post office. If you don’t, the insurance is valueless and you cannot make a claim even if you pay the money. This prevents fraud (shipment of an empty box) and is understandable but when you print postage online, it’s not entirely clear you must do this. I’ve been burned by this once.

3. Use Flat-Rate Priority Boxes and Envelopes
A flat rate priority box and envelope is a single price regardless of weight (the box is limited up to 70 lbs.), which is atypical for shipment. You must use their package for the flat rate and you can’t tape up the seams of the box yourself, your stuff needs to fit inside and close without the help of additional tape. If you do use tape, most of the time they’ll take it but don’t push your luck. The flat rate envelope is under $4.

4. Priority Mail is NOT Guaranteed
Priority Mail has no guarantee on when it will be delivered, unlike Next Day or Express. In fact, priority mail is sent the same way as 1st class mail; when 1st class mail exceeds a certain weight and thickness (beyond a “typical” envelope), it is labeled as priority mail! You are only losing money if you mail a regular envelope via priority mail. Just because it has a fancy sticker/stamp doesn’t mean it’s going to get there faster.

5. USPS Provides Free Boxes for Priority
If you ask, the USPS will provide boxes for shipping absolutely free. DHL, UPS and FedEx will provide padded envelopes up to a certain size but not boxes. I’ve seen Ebay sellers get the free padded envelopes, put them in a USPS box turned inside out and ship my item to me (doesn’t bother me). I usually stock up on Flat Rate Envelopes and ship most of my items out with that method, while I know it’s not getting there faster, the buyers think it does and they’re willing to pay more for the perception of speed.

6. Talk To The Teller/Post Office Agent
Everything I learned here was from talking to the post office agent, talk to them when you’re up there and they’re tallying up stuff. They will gladly tell you anything about the services, what’s better, what’s faster, what’s a waste of money and time; because ultimately it doesn’t affect their pay whether or not you the USPS makes a few extra cents off your transaction. You can learn a lot from them.

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Post Office Tips and Tricks”

  1. Caitlin says:

    Great summary of tips…I dont think I realized that insured mail had to be dropped off even though it does make sense.

    Another tip about USPS providing free priority (and express) boxes and envelopes…you can order them online and they will deliver them (and priority branded packing tape) right to your door…free of charge 🙂

  2. Good stuff. I didn’t know the 1 lb. rule was not applicable to online postage. To think, all that time wasted in line!

  3. Yan says:

    Try to use media mail when u mail out books and Cds…

  4. UncommonWay says:

    As another former eBay seller, I knew some of this stuff, but the rest of it was kind of an “Aha!” realization that I know will come in handy someday. Here’s another thing that I discovered: anything over about 1 pound that won’t fit in a flat rate box/envelope is probably cheaper to ship via FedEx than UPS or USPS. It’s typically a difference of a few dollars to several dollars, depending on the actual weight.

  5. pfadvice says:

    Interesting and useful information I’ll use when I return back to the States. Thanks.

  6. denon says:

    Not to be overly critical, but nothing new here to a frequent shipper. Would be nice to see a bit more research done though, as we’re always looking for new ideas. Sidenote, they no longer offer the branded packing tape.

    Also, it’s best not to encourage people to use the supplies (such as envelopes and packages turned inside out) for other purposes. Aside from being illegal, it’s really in poor taste, and is going to give your business a very unprofessional appearance to your client. For the few cents you’ve saved on shipping, you’ve just given your client a horrible first impression. The last thing you want, is for a mail-order client to be given the impression they *may* be dealing with someone less than honest the very moment they open their package.

  7. Keto says:

    Well unless were overly stuck up and obnoxious we dont really care in what type of packing material was used as long as our products are safe and intact. So how bad could it hurt to have 1 in 1000 people claim that the packing material wasn’t good enough. Or would you rather save your cents and accumulate??

  8. denon says:

    It’s not “complaints”, it’s customer perception. It’s a very important part of any mail-order (or Internet) marketing strategy.

    More important, however, is that it’s not legal. In fact, as it’s the US Postal Service, it’s a federal offense. I would think this alone would deter people from doing it. I mean, you wouldn’t walk out of Wal-Mart with padded enveloped stuffed under your jacket, why do you have a different mentality when the USPS sends you supplies on the honor system?

  9. I agree with denon.
    And I AM a customer who is going to think badly of someone inside out boxes. The fact that you turned them inside out tells me that you know you are using them improperly. (Ie using free supplies for other than their intended purpose.)

  10. jim says:

    I agree with denon as well and I don’t agree with the practice but it doesn’t bother me – unless the shipper charges me an exhorbitant amount for shipping and handling. I know for a fact that it’s not permitted and it’s dishonest but as for the legal ramifications, I don’t think it would reach that (they’d probably just refuse to ship it but I don’t know).

  11. mark says:

    this information is old, deliveru confirmation 45 cent? Its 80 now. THey do cehck media mail. You cannot reuse free priority boxes, if you do and get caught, jail time. Besides it ruins if for the rest of us if you abuse they system. What kind of advice are you giving here. screw the system? It people like you that get innocent newbies into trouble. Shut up an keep your wrong information to your self.

  12. rob says:

    You are wrong. Yes you CAN get free shipping boxes thru UPS and FedEx. Just get an account with them.

  13. rob says:

    One more thought….when did recycling become a BAD thing?? I always reuse the boxes I receive in the mail. There are many times I must turn them inside-out to reuse. You guys ever hear of the politically correct (barf) “going green”? Well, I’m doing my little bit by reusing all those boxes we get in the mail. In fact, I’d think the Federal Government would want you to do just that. Afterall, they are getting our money with shipping costs regardless.

  14. Concerned says:

    You say to avoid the post office, but turn around and say that you got some of your most valid information from the clerk at the post office. You seem to be contradicting yourself. I don’t care what anyone says the mail is NOT inefficient–just because something was late one time in your 50yrs. of life does not mean it is the end of the universe. People ALWAYS harp on the negative, and never mention the million pieces of mail that were ontime or delivered before the stated time of arrival.
    Please get off the subject of the mail; maybe we should cut or decrease the greety politicians paycheck. I’ve yet to see them suggest that if each of them contribute 7000 or more of their yearly salary(with no raises either)to help get the government budget in order. Also pay for their own “business lunches” and entertainment for their clients.

  15. Anonymous says:

    WOW! bunch of self-righteous morons… Unless you are ‘perfect’ in every area of your life (which you are NOT) be respectful that this site is trying to help others…

    Offer constructive info – Dont lecture him…

  16. John says:

    Im a huge ebay, amazon,ect seller, i literally ALWAYS use UPS PACKAGING turned inside out to ship USPS and vice versa. Were you serious about looking down on that?? I need to know whether to laugh or not

    • Jim says:

      I think that’s an awesome reuse of packaging. Personally, I think both companies would applaud it since you are sustainable (UPS is big on that) and you are saving the USPS money by not using their free packages.

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