How to save time and money at the post office
The best way is to avoid the post office and print postage at home. Here's how it works.
You don’t have to ask too many of my friends, or my wife, to learn that I am not a fan of waiting. I hate sitting in traffic, especially if it’s just “congestion,” and I really hate waiting at the post office, where it seems as if there are always twice as many counters as there are people staffing them.
So that’s why, over the years, I’ve developed a few simple strategies to help me avoid waiting at the post office.
The overall strategy is to deconstruct the post office experience and try to avoid needing counter service whenever possible. Here are some tips to help you reduce the time it takes to get your packages on their way.
Buy a scale. Everything starts with the weight of the package or letter. With a scale, you can weigh the package yourself and make some important time vs. money decisions. You also save money when you avoid overpaying for postage.
- For letters, the standard postage is 44 cents for an ounce or less. Bump it up to 61 cents if it’s 2 ounces, 78 cents for 3 ounces.
- For packages, review the First Class mail prices, but the all-important tipping point is 13 ounces. If your package is more than 13 ounces, you will be required to go to the post office if you use postage stamps. If you use the U.S. Postal Service’s Click-N-Ship, or print postage from an authorized vendor, then you can drop it into a blue bin.
- If you are mailing media (such as books), Media Mail is cheaper than First Class if it’s more than 7 to 8 ounces (which books typically are). A media mail package under 1 pound is $2.38. Also, as long as you print the postage online (i.e., don’t use postage stamps) you can drop the package in a mailbox and avoid a trip to the post office.
Print postage at home. If you’re shipping something by Express Mail, Priority Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International, or Priority Mail International, you can print your postage online at USPS.com’s Print Shipping Labels page. You will need to register an account and sign in, but to reward you the system will remember your return address and credit card details (if you want) so you can save time entering that information.
You will save time on any packages you want to mail by Express and Priority Mail because instead of waiting in line at the post office, you can drop them off in a blue USPS mailbox. Your package gets free delivery confirmation.
However, for whatever reason, you can’t print First Class or Media Mail postage from USPS but you can print it at PayPal. The only cost other than the postage is 19 cents for delivery confirmation.
Request package pickup. If you are shipping by Express Mail, Priority Mail or International, you can request pickup service from the USPS. The 13-ounce rule applies if you use postage stamps. Otherwise, if you print out an electronic label, the weight limit is 70 pounds.
The carrier will pick up your packages along with your regular mail and the service is free. You can schedule a pickup on demand, where a carrier comes in a specified two-hour timeframe, for $15.30 a trip.
Be selective in your post office. Each ZIP code has its own post office but the busiest ones are those in residential areas. If you know of a commercial area (lots of stores, warehouses, transport facilities), try that ZIP code’s post office instead. My experience with this has been very good because stores, warehouses, and transport facilities don’t send a lot of mail through the USPS. This theory is further corroborated by the size of post offices in commercial areas; they are typically significantly smaller.
Go during slow periods. A USPS spokesperson told Real Simple that the best time to go to the post office is half an hour after it opens. You avoid the morning rush and hit the morning lull. I try to go at 10:30 a.m. mid-week, just before the people running lunch errands. I avoid the days around major holidays too because that’s when the post offices are absolutely packed to the gills.
The next time you go to your post office, ask when the slow periods are. Your post office may not follow the same traffic patterns as the average, so learning specifics from the person behind the counter is crucial.
Do you have any other suggestions?
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