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Today’s topic was a request from a IRL friend. And not just any friend! This one.

Anyway, the request was for some tips on saving money while shipping. It’s a tall order but I promised I’d see what I can do.

As soon as I started this post, I immediately realized this has the potential to become a whole series but let me see if I can do a quick and dirty compressed overview for this post. I’m hoping other readers will be willing to jump in and share their tips as well.

So, enough with the ado, here’s my top tips for saving money on shipping:

  1. Never pay for packaging supplies unless you absolutely have to. Fair warning, this one tip could be an entire post so understand I’m just going bare bones here but you should only rarely need to buy shipping supplies. UPS and FedEx both give you free boxes when you use their services. The USPS will also give you free boxes provided you ship using Priority Mail or Express. All three of those carriers have the boxes in their physical locations but, for greater selection, you can order them for free on their respective websites. While you’re there, you’ll find that they’ll also give you other supplies like plastic shipping envelopes, shipping labels (both UPS and FedEx do this) and even free tape that you can use for certain classes of mail. If none of those options work for your needs, ask around at local businesses for unwanted boxes or other supplies. The company where my friend works actually has to pay to dispose of shipping supplies like bubble wrap, packing peanuts and air pouches so I’m doing them a favor when I take them for my own use. Will there be times when you actually have to buy a box for a particularly awkward item? Sure. But that should be the rare exception, not the norm.
  2. Use a box that’s the best fit for what you’re selling. The more extra space in the box you ship in, the more likely the item is going to get bounced around and damaged. But, more to the point of this post, the more you’re going to have to pad it with to make up the difference and thus, the more it will weigh and cost. The better the box fits the item you’re shipping, the cheaper said shipment will be. Don’t be afraid to modify an existing box or just straight up Frankenstein a perfect fit box out of several other boxes.
  3. Research and compare postage rates before you ship. It’s going to vary from item to item what service or even carrier is your best shipping value. Does that free insurance up to $100 that FedEx and UPS offer end up offsetting the difference between their postage rate and the USPS’s? Is this item eligible for the the super-cheap (but hella slow) Media Mail? Would a Regional Rate or Flat Rate Box be a better deal? (Note: Flat Rate is only RARELY the best deal. I’ll come back to this topic in a future post but at least keep that much in mind for now.) Use the postage cost calculators on the different websites and look at all the options instead of just going with the first one you think of.
  4. When you have to buy shipping supplies, buy in bulk whenever you can. Some of the items we sell all the time require very specific shipping supplies that we actually have to buy. But instead of paying, say, $1.50 for a single padded envelope at Staples, we buy them in ludicrous quantities so they end up being more like 10 cents an envelope. Tape, bubble wrap, whatever you need can all be bought for a savings the more you buy. And if you don’t really ship often enough to justify that quantity? Well then just keep what you need and sell off the rest. You’ll usually end up profiting in the end.
  5. Take advantage of carrier discounts and special offers. Did you know that USPS postage is cheaper when you print it out online then when you pay for it in the store AND they give you free delivery confirmation? Did you know that both UPS and FedEx offer rate discounts for a variety of reasons (including just being an eBay seller)? Call them and see what discounts you qualify for. Did you know that retail shipping centers like PostNet and PackMail send out coupons for discounts on shipping costs when you join their mailing lists? Even eBay gives sellers discounts on delivery confirmation and shipping costs if you opt in. Why would you ever pay full price for something when a discount is usually only a sign-up or printed postage label away?

OK, that’s a good start I think. Before I revisit this topic in greater detail, what money saving tips would you add?