I wrote earlier how to minimize shipping costs of by purchasing a digital scale, skipping the post office, avoiding Stamps.com’s printable stamps, buying old stamps from eBay, and using free online tools. Here are six more ways to keep your shipping costs down.
Take advantage of free USPS supplies: If you’re sending items via USPS Priority or Express mail, you should know that the USPS will bring free priority and express mail boxes and envelopes to your door. Just select what you want online. You can also pick these up at the post office, but you’ll be able to get a larger quantity of boxes in a better range of sizes if you order online. Don’t forget about flat-rate shipping boxes, which are also free from the postal service and allow you to ship items for the same price, regardless of weight, as long as they fit completely inside the box.
Don’t buy shipping labels: Even if you buy the most basic printable labels in bulk from an office supply store, you’ll spend far more money than if you print the label on plain old paper and use a solid coating of tape to attach it to your package. Print that label on reused paper and you’ll save even more. If you’re shipping items for personal reasons, no one will notice or care what’s on the other side. If you’re shipping something for business, though, make a good impression and use a clean, new sheet of paper to print your label.
Save all of the shipping materials you get when you order something in the mail: Hang on to your bubble envelopes, packing paper, foam peanuts, air bags, boxes, protective wrapping, and so on. All of this is likely to come in handy sooner or later, and few people care (or will even notice) whether their merchandise arrives in a new or used envelope. Everything gets beat up when it goes through the mail, so you might as well save money and use packaging that’s already imperfect looking.
If you receive proprietary packaging, like a UPS padded envelope, and you want to use it to send something through the regular mail, just cut the envelope open and turn it inside out: Then you’ll have a plain gray bubble mailer that the USPS will accept. (Personally, I don’t repurpose USPS packaging in the same way because of the scary warnings they put on their boxes and envelopes: “This packaging is property of the U.S. Postal Service and is provided solely for use in sending Priority Mail. Misuse may be a violation of federal law.”) Clean, empty plastic bags from the grocery store also make a great protective packing material for shipments where you don’t need to impress the recipient.
Ask stores for their unwanted boxes: Stores are another good source of free packing materials. Any store will receive lots of merchandise in cardboard boxes, and they won’t have any use for or space to store the empties. To maximize your haul, hit shopping malls or other highly commercial areas where you can visit multiple stores at once.
When you must buy new, buy in bulk: When you’ve exhausted all your other options and you have to buy new materials, seek ways to minimize their cost. I do this by purchasing padded bubble envelopes in a large size that will hold almost anything and buying them in bulk, thus eliminating the need to buy a variety of sizes in small quantities at higher prices. The same applies to tape – while you can get free Priority Mail tape from the USPS, there’s no way to get around buying plain tape (that I know of), so look for store brands, buy on sale and buy in bulk.
Minimize the weight of packaging: If you have to buy new packaging for shipping, consider the weight of the packaging when making your purchase. Lighter packaging costs less to ship. Paying attention to the weight of your packaging is especially important if you’re shipping something that’s on the verge of pushing you into the next weight/price bracket. For example, if you’re shipping an item that weighs 1 pound, 14 ounces, you’d be better off using packaging (including tape and the shipping label) that weighs less than 2 ounces, because a 1 pound 14 ounce item costs the same to ship as a 1 pound, 15.9 ounce item, but a 2 pound, 1 ounce item will cost more.
If you’re getting your packaging from a free source, however, you’ll probably come out ahead by getting the packaging for free, even if it does increase your postgage rate slightly.