Before you do anything, take stock of what you have to ship. If you can, weigh and measure the item, and the box you plan to ship it in. If you don't have packing materials, know you'll get charged for them when you take it to be shipped, so factor that into the shipping fee your buyer pays when they win your auction or buy from your store. Do what you can before you even sell the item so you don't wind up paying a portion of the shipping cost yourself.
Choose the Most Budget-Friendly Shipping Options
However, if it's rock-bottom shipping prices you need, here are your best options:
The US Postal Service
When it comes to everyday shipping within the United States, it's difficult to beat the US Postal Service on price and ease of use. Regardless of your opinions, the USPS has more locations in more places than most private shipping companies, and more cost-effective options for people who don't have accounts or regular shipping needs.
If you hate standing in line at the Post Office, find a location with a self-serve kiosk near you. You'll be in and out in no time. Walk up, weigh your item (if it's necessary), print a label, stick it to your item, put it in the slot, and walk away.
We have some other tips for dealing with the Post Office. but personally I can't say enough good things about the automated postal kiosks—once you start using them, you really won't want to use anything else. Here are some of your most cost-effective USPS shipping options:
How to Send and Receive Mail Using the US Post Office Without Pain and Suffering How to Send and Receive Mail Using the US Post Office Without Pain and Suffering How to Send and Receive Mail Using the US Post Off
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- USPS Standard Post . formerly known as Parcel Post. is the US Postal Service's lowest-cost shipping tier. If you're shipping one or two items, or a few items infrequently, this is probably your most cost-effective shipping method. Packages shipped domestically take two to eight days to get to their destination. There are no bells and whistles here, although Standard Post is applicable for insurance, shipping confirmation, return receipt, and other optional services you may be interested in, at an additional per-package cost.
- USPS First Class is the USPS standard shipping method for envelopes and letters. but you can ship packages first class, too. If your item qualifies for it, it's probably the cheapest and fastest (between one to three days) shipping method available. The problem is that First Class packages have to be quite small to qualify (less than 13 ounces). If it is, it's by far the most cost effective solution.
- Priority Mail is an attractive option if you need to ship quickly and on the cheap, or if you ship regularly. Priority packages take two to three days to get to their destination (there's even a map to help you find out when your item will arrive ), and Priority Flat Rate is one cost, no matter what you stuff into the box (although, if your item is light, it may not be worth the price of the flat rate box, so don't assume flat rate is always cheaper). Create an account with the USPS online and you can have shipping materials sent to your house. print your own mailing labels. and hand off to your mail carrier when they come to your door. It's probably the most efficient and cost effective method if you need to ship items regularly, and you don't even have to leave the house. Combine Priority (or First Class) with optional services if you need proof it was received, proof you shipped it, or insurance.
- USPS Media Mail is a great option if you're shipping books, textbooks, optical media (CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, etc), posters, magazines, documents, or other educational media and you need to ship it quickly. Media Mail is intended for educational materials, and only for papers and other discs. Items take two to eight days, and prices are remarkably low. Hard drives, USB keys, and other digital media aren't allowed, and there's specific packaging required to ship an item Media Mail. If the things you usually ship are books, textbooks, software, and documents, Media Mail is a solid and affordable option for you.
If you're shipping internationally, Priority Mail International . First Class Mail International . and First Class Package International are comparable options to the ones mentioned above. They're by far the slowest (six to ten days minimum), but they're definitely cheap.
The USPS isn't always the fastest way to get your packages to their destination, but they're the most consistently affordable and accessible for the average person, especially if you're only shipping items every once in a while. Even if you're running a small business out of your house, like an Amazon store or an Etsy shop, or if you just list a bunch of your stuff on eBay to clean out the garage, shipping items USPS is your best option to get them out of your house and to their destination without spending a ton of money just to ship them. Plus, considering you can do so much of the packing and shipping at home, all you have to do is wait for your mail carrier to show up and give them your packages to take with them.
UPS and FedEx
If you have frequent shipping needs, run a small business, need to ship internationally, ship frequently to APO/FPO/DPO locations or US Territories, or just need to ship more
than the USPS can keep up with, you may want to consider UPS or FedEx .
They both have low-cost shipping options, and both let you create an account, print your own labels, order supplies, and then schedule a pickup. Here are some of your most budget-friendly choices:
- FedEx SmartPost is a two to seven day shipping method for packages up to 70 pounds and promise delivery six days a week. SmartPost is actually a partnership between FedEx and the USPS, so while FedEx picks up the package and transports it to its destination city or region, it's handed off to the Postal Service to be hand-delivered on the last leg. Essentially, you give the box to FedEx, but the recipient gets it from their letter carrier. As a result, you save on the processing and final delivery costs, but that final delivery may be delayed while that hand-off takes place.
- FedEx Home Delivery and FedEx Ground are both affordable options if you're shipping items to a residence or business (respectively). Both methods are about one to seven business days depending on how close you are to where the package needs to go, and can be combined with optional services like evening delivery, weekend delivery, proof of delivery, insurance, and more. If you ship frequently using FedEx and time isn't a huge factor, this is the most efficient, affordable option for you.
- UPS Ground is your most cost effective UPS solution if UPS is your preferred shipper. It's roughly on par with FedEx Home Delivery/Ground cost-wise, and comes with similar perks. You'll be notified when your item is delivered, and optional services like will-call delivery, hold-for-pickup, delivery confirmation, proof of delivery, COD, and special handling are all available.
If you're shipping internationally, UPS has a selection of one to three day shipping options. and FedEx has options from five days to overnight. They're pricey, but they're universally faster, and depending on where your item is headed, they're probably more reliable. If you're shipping from the US to Canada, USPS isn't a bad option, but if you're shipping from the US to Turkey, you may want to let a company like UPS or FedEx—both of which have their own massive international logistical networks—make sure it gets across all of the required borders and through all of the necessary cities to its destination intact.
If money is less of a consideration than speed, your options go up from here. For substantially more money but much quicker delivery, consider FedEx Express Saver . a three-day option comparable to USPS Priority that's cheaper than the USPS for heavier items, and for organizations shipping more items at once. Express Saver also offers some nice perks like Saturday pickup that you don't get elsewhere. UPS 3-Day Select is the equivalent for UPS, and comes with optional features like COD and multiple delivery attempts that you may not get from other carriers.
Save the Packing Materials You Get, and Buy Others in Bulk
Regardless of the shipping method you pick, it's important to make sure your items are packed carefully so they'll survive the trip. All three major carriers let you order shipping supplies from them directly, including boxes and label sleeves that they promise will make sure your packages are appropriately handled. They're great, but they're almost always more expensive when you buy them direct than if you buy them in bulk at your local office supply store. Stop there instead (or order online) and you can pick up sleeves and boxes at a fraction of the price you'd spend at a UPS Store, FedEx/Kinkos, or at the Post Office.
Similarly, make sure to save all of the packing material you get from other shipments. Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, air pillows—it goes without saying, but having them lying around to stuff into packages when you ship them out means you don't have to buy them yourself. Boxes themselves are another matter—you may want to buy boxes unless the ones you keep and break down are in good condition and are relatively unlabeled. Some of the shipping methods we mentioned require you to note on the package that it's being shipped a certain way, but it's not until you get to the more expensive overnight and two-day shipping methods that special boxes or envelopes are required. You can always write "Priority" on the side of your Priority mail package, or grab those Priority Mail stickers that are almost always in the lobby of the post office and put one on each side of your package.
Choose the Carrier that Works Best for Your Needs (and Your Wallet)
It doesn't matter whether you ship USPS, FedEx, UPS, or some other carrier—your package will be one of thousands moving through their systems, and there's always the potential there's some disgruntled employee who won't treat it with the loving care that you would if you were in their place. That's why it's important to pack carefully, and use the right materials. That way even if the outside gets roughed up, the payload inside is still in good shape.
Over at The Simple Dollar. Trent offers his experiences shipping packages on the cheap. and they're similar to mine: There are people who'll swear off of one service and swear by another for one reason or another, and the more comments you read and testimonials you hear, the murkier the waters will get. The bottom line is that I, for one, have seen packages manhandled by all three major carriers. I've also gotten excellent service and speedy delivery from all three carriers. Pick the most convenient and cost effective one for you based on your shipping needs and your budget, not hearsay.
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Category: Personal Finance