I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely found myself overwhelmed and confused at times when it comes to shipping packages. Sometimes I can send something for $7 and other times it seems like I’m sending the same sized thing and it’s suddenly $15.
The truth is, the rules for shipping packages are EXTREMELY muddy and confusing and can make it almost impossible to know which option is best if you’re just a regular person sending a package and not someone who ships on the regular.
So, I decided to take some time researching the topic to decode it just a little more and I feel like I’ve untangled some confusion and can make shipping packages a little easier for the average person. So today I’m going to share some shipping hacks that can help you save maybe even more money, or at least help save some time and sanity.
What is the cheapest option?
OK, first things first, let’s start with some basics. You have a package, you need to ship it, what’s the cheapest option?
Right off the bat, unless you run an e-commerce business of some kind and are shipping products constantly, USPS is going to be your cheapest shipping option over UPS and FedEX.
First Class vs Priority
Now, when you go to ship at USPS, you essentially will have two options, First Class or Priority. And, this has always confused me, so let’s start with a little clarification on First Class vs Priority.
Sending something First class sounds like you’re getting some special treatment, but the truth is, it’s really just the first tier available for shipping the average item, as underneath is it Second class mail used for magazines, newspapers, Third class which is like mailers, and marketing mail (basically junk mail) and fourth-class mail is media mail like books, DVDs, CDs,
Now, comparing FC to Priority, what’s the difference there and what’s the best option?
So, the big difference is Priority always comes with tracking and insurance. In general, it tends to ship a little faster (by maybe 1-2 days, depending on how far you’re shipping it). In addition, Priority mail also offers flat rate boxes, meaning you can ship whatever fits into that box at a flat fee. You might remember the whole “if it fits it ships” slogan they used when flat rate first came out.
First Class can be a much cheaper option if you’re sending something lightweight. Once you get about 16 oz, it tends to be pricer. So, my general rule of thumb is FC is the more affordable option if you’re sending something under 1 lb, but after you hit 1lb it’s probably better to move up to priority.
So, in general, unless shipping something small and under 1 lb, the most likely way you’ll be sending packages is going to be using priority.
Flat Rate Boxes
Now, the next big hurdle is to decide…do you send it regular priority or do you use a flat rate box? This is when things get really confusing and a little bit like solving a conspiracy theory, so let’s talk about it.
Priority mail prices start around $7 for items 1lb and over, and then they go up depending on the WEIGHT and the DESTINATION of your package. The more it weighs and/or the further it has to go, the more expensive it gets. So, personally, I suggest using the USPS postage calculator to get an idea of your options.
OK, so let’s do a quick recap cause that was CONFUSING AS HECK.
FC can be the cheapest option for items under 1 lb, but you may need to pay extra for tracking and insurance.
Priority Mail is often the best option for shipping anything over 1 lb. Use the USPS calculator to determine if it’s a better deal to send it regular priority, in your own box, OR to opt for a flat rate box.
Cool, cool? We good? Yea? Ok, let’s jump into a few shipping HACKS specifically around making the most of using the flat rate boxes.
Shipping Hacks For Flat Rate Boxes
In lots of cases when deciding if you want to go priority OR priority flat rate, the deciding factor will come down to which flat rate package you can use.
Priority Flat Rate also makes these flat rate envelopes which are THE CHEAPEST flat rate available. (at the time of writing this they are about $7.75, but the price varies here and there all the time.)
Now, you might look at a flat rate envelope and think well it’s a FLAT rate FLAT envelope so it can only be used for flat things, I probably can’t ship that much in it, but that would be incorrect.
Remember the rule with flat rate is if it can fit it can ship.
Now, per the rules of the USPS you aren’t allowed to reconstruct these envelopes, you can’t take it apart, wrap it around something, and re-tape it another way. You have to keep all the seams as is and it has to be able to close using its own sticky tape. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t fold it or FILL it smarter.
How To Fold A Flat Rate Envelope
So my first hack is you can actually get a little smart with how you fold these to turn them into more of a box as opposed to a envelope to fit a larger item inside seamlessly. I show you how this works in this video.
Put A Box In The Envelope
Another option is to put what you’re sending inside a box first and then slide it into the envelope. This helps the package be more sturdy. You can even get a priority box for free. All priority shipping boxes are totally free, you just pay for the label. So go into your local USPS or order them online for $0. Then, take the priority box and put it inside the priority envelope. This will save you money because you only pay for the shipping label.
Write Your Shipping Label First
Just a note with both of those hacks: I suggest you write up your labels for these boxes first before packing. Once you pack it, it might slightly bulge the box, making it hard to write on or label.
Scotch Flex And Seal
This is an awesome product that I just discovered. This is great for shipping odd-shaped items or items that you can’t find the right box for.
The inside layer of this (the gray side) sticks to itself. You just roll out a piece, put whatever you want to ship in the middle, and fold the flex and seal around your object. You create your own custom package and can skip the hassle of finding the right box and packaging.
This is great for shipping First Class or Priority. Neither one of those have to be in specific boxes.
I don’t know about you guys but one of the biggest hassles is trying to find the right box. I either find something too small or too big. This Scotch Flex and Seal solves that problem.
I do not recommend this if you are shipping something fragile.
The Best Way To Mail Books And DVDS
My next hack is if you’re sending books or DVDs. You can these as media mail. These are considered “fourth-class mail”.
If you’re sending ONLY a book, DVD, or other bound print media that has at least 8 pages, you can send it as media mail, which is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than you’d pay to send it first-class or priority.
For example, any media mail under l lb costs $2.80 while a flat rate envelope is about $7.55. Keep in mind, USPS changes their prices constantly so don’t quote me on these exact prices, but it’s a general scope of what you can save.
The Best Way To Ship Large Items
OK, last up are my hacks for if you are sending large items. Of course, you will have to move up to a larger flat rate box OR just send priority. And choosing between flat rate and regular priority can honestly be the difference of quite a bit of money. So definitely refer to the calculator to choose which is best.
Shipping Hacks For The Holidays
- Give it a little extra cushion. Things get crazier around the holidays and you want to make sure that your gift is going to make it to its destination safely.
- Keep in mind that there is an increase in shipping during the holidays plus the cost of insurance.
- Make sure your labeling is super clear. This includes the address you are sending your package to plus the return address. You want to make sure you package can make it back to you if something goes wrong.
- Grab the tracking info so that you can keep track of your package and ensure that it arrives at its final destination.
- Be aware of the deadlines for your packages arriving on time for Christmas and give them plenty of time to get there on time.
Here is the information that I found for each different carrier. Ship by these dates:
- USPS Retail Ground December 15
- USPS First Class Mail December 18
- USPS Priority Mail December 19
- USPS Priority Mail Express December 23
USPS is cheaper but deadlines aren’t always promised, usually LONGER than they say
- Fedex Smart Post December 9
- Fedex Ground Delivery December 15
- Fedex Home Delivery Decebmeber 15
- Fedex Express Saver December 21
- Fedex 2 Day Services December 22
- Fedex Overniht Services December 23
- UPS Ground December 11
- UPS 3 Day Select December 21
- UPS 2nd Day Air Service December 22
- UPS Next Day Air Service December 23
That does it for all of my shipping hacks! Hope this was helpful.