Having just finished shipping out rewards to over 70 of my band ON THE SUN’s Kickstarter campaign backers via USPS – I have learned a LOT about home shipping in the last month. More than I ever wanted to know actually. And as is typical of me, the first thing I always think of when I go through a frustrating yet highly enlightening experience is: I think I’ll blog about that! So for you, dear readers: six tips for shipping from home economically, realistically, and with as few problems as possible.

1) Are you hip to the USPS free boxes? That’s right. USPS has a large collection of totally FREE boxes, available to you at any time. Simply request them at any USPS location. The one possible issue here: locations don’t always have the boxes you need. To remedy this you can order them online (shipping is even free) – it just required a bit of foresight on your part. Check out all these free shipping materials on the USPS website.  Important: make sure you know whether you are getting the flat-rate boxes or the priority-mail boxes. Flat-rate boxes cost a single flat rate to ship no matter what is inside them. And if you do get the priority mail boxes, keep in mind that if you are NOT shipping them priority mail (for example if you’re shipping standard post, international or first-class mail), you’ll need to wrap them in brown shipping paper.

2) Did you know that USPS does free pick-ups? I know, it’s amazing! USPS will pick up your packages for free as long as it’s during regular mail delivery time. If you need your packages picked up at a specific time, it will cost you $20. Schedule your pick-up on their website HERE. You can also deposit your packages into the blue mailboxes on the street provided they are under 13 oz. each (and you can fit them inside the insert window).

3) Use the free online shipping calculator. I can’t believe how long I went without using this. Available online HERE, the USPS shipping calculator lets you plug in a zip code and package weight and view all options for shipping – so you can immediately get a clear idea of how much it’s going to cost you to ship.  I’d recommend getting a small kitchen scale with which to weigh your packages. Extremely useful, and you never know when you might use it in the kitchen! I love my OXO scale that I paid about $30 for at Bed, Bath and Beyond – but you can find them for as low as $15 on Amazon. The shipping calculator really is an invaluable tool because it’s very difficult to tell which method of shipping will be the least expensive. Sometimes it’s priority, sometimes it’s standard post, and sometimes it’s first class mail. Don’t guess. Instead, use the calculator.

4) Flat-rate boxes: when to use them. Here’s how to figure out if and when it makes sense to use a flat-rate box. Check out all the flat-box options on the USPS site HERE. After you figure out the dimensions of the item(s) you’re shipping, you should be able to determine which if any of the flat-rate boxes your items will fit inside. Compare the flat-rate shipping amount with the amounts you find using the online shipping calculator, and you will arrive at which option is cheapest.

5) Careful about which boxes you use. As mentioned earlier, you need to make sure that the boxes you use for your packages are the correct ones. A flat-rate box will be charged a flat-rate no matter how you slice it. And a priority box will be shipped priority mail no matter how you slice it. So just make sure your boxes correspond with your shipping methods. And if all else fails, wrap your boxes in brown shipping paper and then you may ship whatever method you like. Another related note: you DO need to mark your packages with the shipping method. So for example if you’re shipping them first class mail, you need to write somewhere on the package in big letters, “FIRST CLASS MAIL,” and so forth.

6) A tip for speed: streamline your processes. It will save you a great deal of time to keep your processes together as you’re preparing your shipment. For example, if you’re shipping packages of a variety of sizes, do one size at a time (i.e., do all your bubble mailers together). Keep other processes together as well. For example, pack them all at once. Then wrap them all at once. Then address them all at once. Then weigh them all at once. And so on. Trust me, it saves a lot of time to do things this way rather than individually packing, weighing, wrapping, stamping and addressing each package one at a time.

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