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How to Ship a Package

I have acquired a few skills along the way. If I am able to help someone else with these skills, I am more than happy to share.

Do you struggle with shipping packages?

Do you struggle with shipping packages?

A Simple Guide on How to Ship Packages From the United States

Up until I started a business, my shipping consisted of sending Christmas and birthday presents to family members. I wrapped the package up and took it to the post office without any thought of the price.

I now realize I probably spent a lot more on postage and mailing supplies than necessary.

When I first started my home business, I read everything possible about shipping and mailing. The U.S. Postal Service website has everything you would ever want to know. There was so much shipping information that I could not retain it all.

I made many mistakes early on; some were very costly. I lost money on some sales. For example, I didn't realize I could get free boxes if I was shipping Priority Mail. I was buying all my own boxes.

Let me share what I have learned on the basics of shipping, and save you some money, time, and frustration.

The 13 Ounce Rule

If you think you are just going to swing by a mailbox on your way to work and plop a small package in a mailbox, you need to make sure it's under 13 ounces.

Ever since security was beefed up at post offices, you must bring any stamped package over 13 ounces into a post office in person.

The USPS website says:

"The 13-Ounce Mail Rule requires that any mail piece weighing over 13 ounces that is mailed with postage stamps has to be presented in person to a USPS employee at the Post Office."

"If left in a mailbox, it won’t be picked up; if dropped in a collection box or lobby drop, it will be returned to you."

Once you hand over your package to the postal associate, you will be asked a series of questions as to whether your shipment is liquid, fragile, perishable or hazardous and more...

See the list of what is considered hazardous. Some of the items on the list may surprise you.

Under 13 Ounces: First Class Mail

A standard-shaped package under 13 ounces can be sent First Class Mail. This is the least expensive and most efficient way to go. Over 13 ounces, it has to go Priority Mail or Standard Post, and the price goes up.

What Shipping Method to Use If It's Over 13 Ounces?

If you ship Priority Mail, you may be able to obtain a free box from your post offices. If you use a Priority Mail box, you need to ship via Priority Mail. This is a great way to save. While most post offices carry Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes, most do not carry the regular Priority Mailboxes. They are not interchangeable. If the regular boxes are not available at your post office, you may order them at the USPS website and have them shipped free to your home.

  • Priority Mail: You may ship any package from the lightest to 70 lbs. Priority Mail. However, it is less expensive to ship something 13 ounces and under by First Class Mail. The expected delivery time is 2 to 3 days for either method.
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate: This is a great choice for very heavy packages. As the advertisement says, "If it fits, it ships." If you can fit your object into the box, you can ship up to 70 lbs at the advertised rate. Every post office I have been to has the Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes in several different sizes.

Caution: Priority Mail Flat Rate could be a costly method of shipping if the weight of the object you are mailing would cost less to ship by regular Priority Mail. Yet another reason to weigh your package and see how much it would cost to mail regular Priority Mail rather than the Flat Rate.

Use the USPS Postage Price Calculator to determine the best shipping method.

APO/FPO Rules Are Different

There are free Priority Mail boxes available at the Post Office specifically for sending packages to APO/FPO addresses (Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office). Domestic shipping rates apply.

For sending overseas, you need a customs form.

Every item in the package must be listed. According to our Postmaster, all packages to service people overseas are opened, and if the item is not listed, it will be thrown away. So be sure and either grab a customs form before filling up your package or take an exact list with you to the post office to fill out a form.

Food items may not be sent in the same package as non-food items.

Home-made food items may only be sent to a family member in the military. If you are sending a package to a military person you are not related to, food items must be purchased items that are sealed in their original packages.

Pick the Right Size

You want to pick a box that is the right size. Big enough to hold the object and enough packing material to keep the object safe—the more fragile, the more packing material.

But there is more to it.

Pick the box that is sturdy enough yet weighs the least. Why? Because the weight of the box may push you up a level in postage. Don't underestimate the additional weight the box adds. I frequently need to use a 6 x 6 x 6 inch box; even that small box weighs 3.8 ounces.

Example: A 1 lb. package ships at the 1 lb. rate. However, If it's 1 lb. 1 oz. it ships at the 2 lb. price.

A one-ounce difference could make the cost of postage jump.

For small unbreakable objects, consider mailing envelopes.

Bubble Wrap Is the Best Protection

Hands down! I have had great success mailing even the most fragile glass objects if they were wrapped in bubble wrap.

I find I get more bang for the buck if I wrap the item loosely in bubble wrap -- leaving air pockets inside the wrap. I use a small piece of transparent tape to fix the bubble wrap in place. For breakable items, I use my own pinging method, I tap it with a ruler or pen in several places. If it makes a sound, I need more bubble wrap.

I also use the rattle method if packing more than one item. Gently shake the box; if you hear a rattle or clink, then you need to put more bubble wrap between the objects. I wad up the bubble wrap and place it as separators between the objects, so they are unable to touch.

A wad of bubble wrap on each side of the object will also keep it away from the edges of the box in case the box gets clunked.

There are environmental concerns with plastic, but when I receive a package in bubble wrap, I include the bubble wrap in my plastic bag recycling at the supermarket.

You Might Want to Invest in a Postal Scale

Weighing the object you are mailing is really the only way to get an accurate weight. Once you know the weight, you can play around with different boxes and packing materials to reduce the weight a little and get the lowest rate.

Many postal scales are fairly reasonable in price. They are available online. For United States citizens, just do a search for "United States Postal Scales." Office supply and discount stores also carry them.

Pick one that suits your needs. The weight of the packages you will be shipping most often may be a determining factor in picking a scale. You don't need one that goes up to 75 lbs if you are never going to ship near that weight.

Media Mail: Delivery in 2 to 8 Days for Books and CD's

Here is the USPS info on Media Mail.

What I have learned about Media Mail:

  • No matter how it's sealed, the Postal Service may open it to make sure it really is Media mail.
  • Media Mail is an inexpensive way to go, but it's not always the least expensive, depending on the weight of the object. Compare it to First Class and Priority Mail rates to be sure.
  • You are not allowed to ship something Media Mail if it contains advertisements.

I was mailing vintage magazines and had them set to go Media Mail. I mentioned to the postmaster that they were magazines, and she said: "If they contain advertisements, they can't go Media Mail."

"But," I said, "the advertisements are so old they are no longer valid as advertisements."

She responded that while that might be true and a valid argument, "the post office has no date on when advertisements would no longer be considered."

Another Tip

When mailing an item to a customer, I wrap the object in nice colored or patterned tissue paper first, then bubble wrap. Tissue paper is lightweight and adds little to the shipping weight.

Since I have been doing this, I get positive comments from customers about how pleased they are with the merchandise being nicely wrapped.

Now I do it when sending gifts to family and friends as well.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: When shipping a package, is it okay if it rattles if the contents aren't breakable?

Answer: I have mailed packages that rattle. I have always tried to make the contents not bouncing around inside or rattle, but it's not always possible. Now, I use packaging paper instead of plastic bubble wrap as it's a more positive green living choice.

© 2013 Ellen Gregory

Let Me Know You Stopped By

Dawn Fox on May 04, 2017:

I'm new in business and your article helped tremendously!!! Thanks!

Kim from Yonkers, NY on April 15, 2013:

P.S. I thought of something else that may come in handy. I've received packages from seemingly 'inept' people. The tiems in it were ripped, or broken because it was not packaged right. Maybe you can make or find a video or 2 to show how to packge with bubble wrwap & shipping paper as well packing items in the box (or even bubble envelope)

Kim from Yonkers, NY on April 15, 2013:

great Job adding to my Pen Pal Intro & Etiquette Guide

bethann21 on April 01, 2013:

What a clever topic!

Stephen Bush from Ohio on February 09, 2013:

Excellent advice. SquidAngel Blessings.

WriterJanis2 on February 07, 2013:

Really good info to know. I don't ship often, but when I do, I will remember your great tips. Blessed!

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on February 06, 2013:

Excellent information, and thorough. Thank you!

IowaFarmer on February 05, 2013:

Good tip about the 13 ounces, I didn't know that.

IowaFarmer on February 05, 2013:

Good tip about the 13 ounces, I didn't know that.