6 More Ways to Minimize Shipping Costs

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.

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6 Responses to 6 More Ways to Minimize Shipping Costs

  1. I’m a big fan of hitting up stores for their empty boxes. Liquor stores are the best if you need to pack something heavy – bottles of booze weigh a lot, so they’re sturdier (I tend to use them for moving rather than mailing).

    As for mailing, I’m all about the flat-rate priority boxes. Whenever my mom has to mail something to my sisters (who live in a very expensive town with no affordable “normal” stores within an hour’s snowy drive), she gets one of these boxes and maxes out the space by filling in all the little nooks and crannies with their favorite brands of deodorant, cat food, toothpaste and sponges that she gets on super-sale. She also gets a kick out of asking the post office guy how much it would have cost to mail in the next cheapest way…usually twice as much.

  2. disneysteve says:

    All good advice and stuff I’ve done for years. I have never paid a penny for packing peanuts even though I’ve used tons of them over the years.

    You should not turn UPS and USPS boxes inside out. It is illegal and they will deny packages shipped this way and you could face prosecution, so I’d remove that advice.

  3. Pev says:

    These are good advice to help your savings account from being untouched, but it seems like it would be a problem to save all the shipping materials though. Any suggestions on storage???

  4. Illegal to recycle a box? Independent confirmation, please.

  5. Gail says:

    Illegal to recycle a box–yes. Check the USPS website and you will see that the Priority and Express packaging is ONLY to be used for the purpose intended, and that is to mail packages via Priority or Express mail with the proper postage affixed to the package.

    You can thank all the folks that didn’t want to fork over to buy a box or search for an appropriate sized box, that started using the NEW official boxes and wrapped them in brown paper or turned them inside out and then mailing by a cheaper way. The Post Office recognizes the shape of their packaging and if caught using a box/envelope that is new you and/or the person receiving could face a fine and or increased postage costs.

    Using those boxes for anything other than what they were intended for is theft! I have received packages wrapped up in several new packaging envelopes and was upset to see it as that seller was using stolen packaging supplies.

    This is not my opinion, but something that has been researched and discussed among on line sellers. To even get the Priority boxes on-line to have to certify to the USPS that you will only use them in the proper manner before they are sent to you.

    If you want to recycle a used box, use it in your office as storage. If you are reading these threads about saving on postage as a an online seller, remember that if you can’t afford to pay for your shipping materials then you aren’t charging enough for your shipping and handling. A seller who is so proud to announce that they ONLY charge actual postage isn’t impressing me or anyone else. The cost of packaging comes from somewhere.

  6. I don’t question the illegality of reusing Priority or Express Mail boxes, but the comment made it sound as if re-using all UPS and USPS boxes was illegal. If I receive a package in a USPS box that isn’t intended solely for Priority or Express Mail, then decide to do my part for the planet by turning the box inside out and sending my package in that box, that would be illegal?

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