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Thursday, February 18, 2016

The post office is Tricky, how to avoid paying too much and watch out for those upcharges

My Daughter-in-law recently brought me two large envelopes with small items inside, and said the Post office wanted to charge her $15  to mail them, and she thought I might be able to help her get a better rate.  You might wonder why my DIL would ask me such a questions?  Well, part of my "real job" is to ship packages around the world, and I've learned a few things along the way.  

 And I'd like to share them with you, because I get so mad when I see the Post Office "selling" more expensive services to people who don't need them. 
Tips will be in italics and some will be in bold below. See bottom of post for a quick summary of these tips.

First let me say that one can never say they know all there is to know about shipping, because it's impossible. Once you learn something, it changes and you always need an open mind to a better idea. I've learned this the hard way.

As for those packages of her's, I was able to mail them for less than $3 each and I'll reveal my secret if you just read on.

One of the tricks the post office tries to pull is Priority Mail and Flat Rate Envelopes and Boxes.
If you take an item to the post office to mail it. They will immediately ask you to grab one of the PM mail boxes on display.  But watch out, this may  not be the best option. 

Don’t Get Duped!

Did you know that if a package weighs less than 13oz you can send it by First Class Mail?
That is how I saved her the bucks. I put it in a brown envelope, looked up the rate online here and slapped some stamps on it.

Once you get to 14 ounces, you have to use Priority Mail UNLESS, you are using a service via Etsy or maybe even Paypal. Sometimes those will let you stay with First Class even above the threshold up to one pound (16 oz).  I'm unsure why, but I've done it several times.

I'm going to do a sample shipment that is 1.5 pounds from Texas to California using the postal calculator linked above.  After entering your package information you'll click to the next screen and see something like this.

Click photo to enlarge it.

Notice that the rate at the top is the only one you actually see, Ignore it, It's for a very expensive service. You have to click the other blue areas to see the better rates.
As you can see, now you are getting the general Priority Mail rates. You can now compare apples to apples and see which box is the best economically for you. The top one is for your own box. As you can see it's the best deal except if you can fit the item into a Small Flat rate box or a  flat rate A box, which you will have to order online, as the Post office does not keep the A box  in stock.

Now click "other options" and you'll see this.

 Retail Ground, is the old Parcel Post service.  In this case, not too much cheaper than the PM service and Media Mail is for Media and Books only.

Flat rate boxes are usually only economical if you are mailing a very heavy item that will fit inside the box. and sometimes even this is not true. Flat rate envelopes are good if you go above that 13oz limit and the item will fit in a flat rate envelope. Use the postage calculator to help you find the best rates for your shipment before heading to the post office. (link above)

Did you know that you can put a small video sized flat rate box, inside a flat rate envelope and save a few cents and give your item some more protection, while still paying for the flat rate ENVELOPE price?

 I've found that once you get about 4 pounds, UPS or Fed Ex can be a better deal . Under 3 or 4 pounds the Post office might still be a better price. Also if the box is large, just go to your UPS store to send it. The amount the price jumps once your box gets over 12" in any one direction, can be astronomical.  Where UPS would charge  me $13, USPS wants to charge me $28.  Also don't forget to check the Parcel Select option for larger boxes. Although Slower, it can sometimes be more economical.   Use the link above to calculate.
Sign up for USPS Click N Ship for packages, you can print and pay for your label online, and schedule it to be picked up at your door. No more trips to the Post Office.  You'll need to get a click-n-chip account though, but it's not hard. 

 Watch for those upcharges, extras for insurance etc, and be sure to click the down arrows when you are choosing your service, the cheaper options are only visible when clicking that drop down menu arrow. click and ship works great for International shipments too. You can complete your customs forms right there, again, no trip to the post office. But you  cannot ship First Class (under 13 oz) within the US via Click N Ship.  Like I said, they don't really want you to know about this cheaper shipping option.  Get yourself some stamps in various values and you can simply put it in your mail box. 

Stack of packages

That's just a few tips I've learned along the way. Dealing with the post office is not fun, but these tips might make it less of a pain for you.  Just be careful, watch every little thing they try to add onto your shipment. And don't pay for something you don't need.
I know this is a lot of information, So here it is in a nutshell
1) Ship light weight items via First Class Mail
2)Avoid Flat Rate boxes, except in special circumstances.
 3) Use the shipping calculator Tool on the USPS site, linked above
4) Be diligent and don't pay for services you do not need
5) If sending a lot of packages, sign up for click-n-ship via
6) Click down arrows to reveal cheaper shipping options. 

I hope this helps you save some money and makes your life a little easier.


Gayle said...

Great information in this post - thanks! I'm wanting to ship a large box of books - is there a flat rate for media mail?

Margo said...

Gayle, Your best bet may be to use media mail. But you cannot have even a thank you note inside the box, only books or media. I'd compare Media with the various flat rate boxes to see which is better. Media mail can take a bit longer to arrive too.


Sheryl said...

I also ship a lot of packages, working at a college. One option you didn't mention is the Regional Flat Rate Priority box. There are two options for those and two sizes of box within each option. This is a good option if they are traveling a distance. I'm in Kansas and it's often the cheapest way to send something to California or Oregon, for instance. Also, many times, people are just looking for convenience and are willing to pay the difference. That's what the USPS is banking on ;)

Margo said...

You are right, those are definitely an option, they just raised the rates on those too, and cut a few of them out. I've amended the post to include some information about A and B Boxes.

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