Have you ever been waiting in line at the post office, and then you see someone jump right past the queue, and drop their package off at the window? What are they doing? Can you become that person?
What they did is print their postage at the office, or at home, and taped it to their box. The process takes a bit of time, but the 5-15 minutes you spend buying postage is a half hour saved at the post office.
Tools You Need
To print your own postage, you need a few basics.
- A postal scale or a food scale.
- The USPS.com site, pirateship.com, or Paypal.com. They sell postage.
- A printer.
- Some packaging tape. You can get it from the dollar store.
- The package, and maybe a mailer bag.
Prepare the package, and tape it closed – but don’t seal it completely. You might forget something.
Weigh it on the scale. If it weighs less than 1 pound, you can use “First Class Package” rates to send it.
If it weighs more than 15 ounces, you need to use Parcel Select Ground or Priority Mail.
Go to usps.com, and look through the menus for “buy postage”.
Follow the instructions, and pay for the postage.
Then, go to the post office. The first time, you should wait in line, because you won’t know the system.
Pay attention to the windows. Usually, one is not occupied, and there’s a pile of packages at the window.
From the line, try to make eye contact with a clerk, and give them a look of “I have this package with a label on it, can I drop it off at that pile over there” and point to the package, and then the window.
Usually, they just nod “yes”. Go and drop it off, and get out of there!
Next time you go, you can make a beeline to the drop-off window, and take care of business in less than 2 minutes. My personal best was getting from the sidewalk to the window, and back out, in 90 seconds.
There’s a small risk that the package won’t be scanned, and the tracking won’t work. It’s happened to me before, but it’s very rare, like 1 in 500 pacakges.
Some people pre-print, and then insist on waiting in line to get the packages scanned. I never do that.
Home Pick Up
In some places, you can request a pickup of your packages. It depends on different factors, and, due to COVID-19, the USPS seems to have tightened up the pickup service, and aren’t doing residential pick-ups.
If they resume it, the system is pretty simple. You go to usps.com and look for the “schedule a pickup”. There’s time limits, so to get an afternoon pickup, you need to prep the shipment in the morning.
Priority Mail, Priority Mail Flat Rate, Priority Mail Regional Rate, Retail Parcel, Parcel Select Ground, and First Class Package in Detail
This is a complicated topic, but, the general rule is: First Class Package, if possible. Then Parcel Select Ground, but use Priority Mail Regional Rate if you have the boxes, and Priority Mail alone if possible. Then, last, Priority Mail Flat Rate, if it’s very heavy.
To repeat in order of preference, again:
- First Class Package, but only if it’s < 16 oz.
- Parcel Select Ground for 1 pound and up.
- Unless Priority Mail is cheaper,
- Or you have some Priority Mail Regional Rate boxes.
- Or if it’s really heavy, or heavy and shipping far, then you can use Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes.
If It’s Less Than 16 Ounces, Use First Class Package
This is simple. If it’s lightweight, use FCP. You need to add in the weight of the packaging, though. Don’t forget that.
This photo from Save the Post Office shows parcels that are First Class Package being hauled. You can tell by the “F”. They’re mostly small, and most are in padded mailers. To be considered a “Package”, the parcel needs to be more than 1/4″ thick.
Avoid Retail Parcel Prices: Print Labels at Home, and Look at Parcel Select Ground Prices
By printing at home, you can get cheaper/commercial rates. The basic parcel rate is “Retail”, but. However, when you buy through PayPal or a service like Pirate Ship, you get a discount, called “Parcel Select Ground” (PSG). Sometimes, with additional discounts Priority Mail can end up cheaper than PSG.
Priority Mail Cheaper than Parcel Select Ground?!
Yes, it can be cheaper, or the same price. Sometimes, it’s just a little more, like 50 cents more. It’s worth spending that extra.
Priority Mail Regional Rate Can Be Even Cheaper
Priority Mail Regional Rate (aka Regional Rate), allows you to ship slightly heavier items at the same price as a lightweight, 2-3 pound item. The catch is that you must order postage online, and you must get the boxes ahead of time. So, this is considered an “advanced” option.
There are two rates, “A” and “B”. “A” boxes are smaller, and rates are cheaper. “B” boxes are larger, and rates are higher.
There are two sizes of boxes for each rate. One box is sort of chunky, almost cubic. One box is flatter, and called a “shirt box”.
You can search for these boxes at usps.com.
Priority Mail Flat Rate is the Most Expensive, but Easiest: “If it Fits, it Ships.”
If you don’t have a scale, Flat Rate is awesome. You get the box that fits your item, and you pack it. You don’t need to weigh it, because they’ll ship anything up to 70 pounds. You pay premium price, and it gets to the destination.
When I was starting out shipping things, I used Flat Rate. It was awesome.
The boxes were available right at the post office, and it’s easy to figure out.
However, I was paying around $3 more than I otherwise would have, had I known about First Class Package, or Regional Rate.
Sometimes, though, Flat Rate is expedient. If you need to get documents sent in 3 days or less, with tracking, Flat Rate envelopes are easy to use, and the extra couple dollars to skip the line is worth it.
If you’re sending a lot of canned food to someone, the Large Flat Rate box works well. The box will weigh a lot, and it’ll cost around $20 to mail.
I’ve received auto parts shipped using USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Medium. These cost around $14 to mail.
For each rate: Small, Medium, and Large, there are some different box options. One is boxy, the other is more flat. At the kiosk, though, you can only find the boxy boxes. The other sizes are at usps.com.
If You Order Too Many Boxes, You Can “Donate” Them to the Kiosk
I sometimes have too many boxes. They just aren’t being used, so, I take them to the post office and drop them off at the kiosk. Sometimes, you can find boxes that others have dropped off – like an occasional “shoe box” or “small tube” or “Regional Rate A”.
Use Media Mail for Books, DVDs, CDs, VHS Tapes, and Some Other Things
If you’re sending pre-recorded media, you can use a special rate called “Media Mail”. It used to be called “book rate”. The price is around $2.85 for the first pound, and around 70 cents for each additional pound. The rates have risen, but it’s still a very good deal.
Don’t use it to ship video games. Those are not covered, unfortunately. (I think video game companies should lobby to argue that video games are like books.)
Don’t use it to ship magazines. Anything that contains ads is not eligible for Media Mail rates. The only exception is for the small ads for more books from the publisher, that is usually included in the final pages of some books.
For more info about using Media Mail, see How to Buy Media Mail Postage Online (Hint: PayPal).