It’s frustrating when it costs more ship a gift than buy a gift. I’m always searching for the cheapest way to mail packages.
The lines at the post office are especially long over the holidays, but did you know the post office will pick up packages too? You can save time and money shipping packages if you follow some of these tried and true tips.
If you are wondering how to ship packages the cheapest way possible, I’ve compiled my best tips below.
Cheapest Ways to Mail Packages
It is possible to ship your packages for free! If you are fine with shopping online.
Almost every online retailer is offers free shipping at some price point. During the holidays, this price point usually drops and even the retailers that don’t offer free shipping normally will include it in their holiday promotions.
Other stores such as Kohls, Land’s End, Gap, Old Navy, Barnes and Noble, offer free shipping if you spend over a certain dollar amount. I try to buy as much as possible from Amazon.com, but for other items I always go through Rakuten since they often have a coupon code as well as cash back on my purchases.
Cheapest Way to Ship Packages via the Post Office
The post office has several different options for shipping a package. The cheapest is almost always Media Mail, but you must be mailing media (intended for educational materials).
This includes items such as books, film, manuscripts, sound recordings, video tapes, and computer readable media- CDs, and DVDs (restrictions apply*). You can mail a 10 pound package for only $7.25 using Media Mail.
The problem with media mail is there is no guaranteed delivery date (delivers within 2-8 days). If you are in a hurry, this is not a great option.
*Note that video games regardless of how they are packaged and USB drives are not eligible for media mailing.
USPS Retail Ground
The cheapest way to mail non media via the USPS is Retail Ground. Remember to always check the price. Many times Retail Ground isn’t much cheaper than priority and it is much slower (2-8 business days). retail ground is calculated by weight and location.
If you aren’t in a hurry or need to mail an oversized package this is a good shipping option. You can mail a 10 pound box across the country (from Maryland to Washington State) for about $25. You can learn more on the Post Office website.
The USPS has introduced Flat Rate Priority Mail boxes. Whatever you can jam in one of their boxes you can ship for one price. If you box weighs five or fifty pounds you pay the same price.
The flat rate priority mail boxes are free and are available at your local post office, or you can have them shipped to your door. Prices to ship priority mail in a flat rate box vary from $6.70 to $18.70 depending on box size.
If you choose to use your own packaging you can send it priority mail too. Prices are based on weight and location and start at about $6.
Priority mail is 2 to 3 day shipping, but it is not guaranteed.
What is nice about the priority mail option from the post office is that the box doesn’t have to keep its exact shape. So if you want to use a vacuum back to compress clothing and then stuff the box totally full (so it’s bulging) you can use this service.
The flat rate box is usually the cheapest way to ship clothing.
Priority Mail Express (Formerly Priority Mail)
If you are short on time but not on money, Priority Mail Express is your best option at the USPS. Express mail starts at $24 for an envelope and goes up from there. It is guaranteed overnight delivery to most locations and you get a refund if they don’t deliver it by the guaranteed day.
Unfortunately priority mail express is not one-day delivery for some rural addresses.
Other USPS Details
Insurance is not including when shipping via the USPS, unless you ship priority. You can purchase insurance for your packages, as well as other options such as delivery confirmation, tracking and more.
The post office will come pick up your packages as long as they are ready to be shipped. It is a free service as long as you are using an expedited service like Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, Global Express Guaranteed, or Merchandise Returns services.
There is also an on demand service which costs around $18 per pick-up, but allows you to schedule the window of pick up. You can find out more about mailing packages from your home on the pick-up options section of the USPS website.
How to Save on Shipping with UPS (and FedEx)
I love seeing that big brown truck pull up to my house, don’t you? The UPS has a shipping matrix that rivals most calculus textbooks, but the basic deal is, the heavier the package and the farther away it is going the more you pay.
The benefit of shipping via UPS (or FedEx) is that you know when the package is going to arrive, have access to tracking, and insurance is included in the price, up to $100 worth of coverage.
Below is an example of what 20 pound package shipped from Maryland to Florida would cost using the different UPS options.
- Next Day Air = $159.40
- 2 Day Air = $75.59
- 3 Day Select = $52.17
- Ground = $23.51
To compare, that same box shipped via the post office with 2 day priority mail is $43 at the post office. You can save even more with the priority mail flat rate large box. It costs $18.90 and gets there about the same time as UPS Ground.
Use the online tools to find the best deal when shipping heavy packages.
While UPS’s shipping matrix is complicated, it is actually very easy to calculate the cost of postage. Visit their website and use the shipping calculator to find out exactly how much it will cost to mail your package.
UPS will also pick packages up at your door if you schedule a pick-up.
FedEx is similar to UPS and you can find out their shipping rates on the FedEx website. You can also use FedEx Flat Rate (similar to the USPS) which can save on shipping over UPS and USPS priority mail depending on the package.
Cheapest way to mail a package
The bottom line, it all depends on what you are shipping.
If you are sending a large, heavy item, such as a television or grill, buy it on Amazon Prime and get free shipping. It’s even worth signing up for the free trial and canceling your prime membership after 30 days if you need to send large bulky items over the holidays.
The USPS Priority Mail flat rate boxes are great for shipping heavier small items like clothes, toys, kitchenware, and any metal items. If your items are light consider using your own packaging and using Retail Ground or first class mail if the item is under 15 ounces.
UPS or FedEx is usually the best option for shipping heavier items and provides superior tracking and delivery guarantees. With the new FedEx Flat Rate shipping method you might save more shipping with FedEx.
Whatever you chose remember to read the shipping guidelines before you ship that nail polish or perfume. There are many items that you cannot ship and you don’t want to waste the time or money shipping a prohibited item that will be returned.
Save on shipping boxes and packaging
- Remember to save boxes from Amazon and reuse them to ship your own packages.
- The Post Office, UPS, and FedEx all offer free boxes for their flat rate shipping.
- Don’t buy tape if you are shipping USPS Priority Mail flat rate box. They have tape at the post office and most boxes are self sealing.
- Reuse newspaper, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts to avoid having to purchase padding.
- Use the smallest box/ envelope possible. It’s almost always cheaper to ship using an envelope, so if the item fits, use the smallest package possible.
- Print USPS-approved postage right from your PC.
- Use Stamps.com postage to send letters, packages, and even Priority Mail.
- Stamps.com offer a 4-week no-risk trial for all new customers.
- Get $5 in free postage when you sign up!
Also, check out 5 Free Shipping Options for the Holidays to avoid paying for shipping altogether!