My family lives in Florida. My husband's family is in Michigan. Unless somebody wants to bring back the Concorde and give us first-class tickets, it's impossible for us Atlantans to see all of our nearest and dearest on Christmas day. Instead, we spend the end of the year gathering gifts and shipping them away— to family, to friends, even to Secret Santa recipients halfway around the world. It gets... expensive.
If you're like me and find yourself practically living at the post office every December, here are a few strategies for saving on shipping. Whether you're shipping from home or buying gifts online, you'll probably be able to squeeze a little extra out of your holiday budget.
1. Save and reuse shipping packaging.
Starting around Thanksgiving, I like to save all the boxes and bubble wrap that come through our apartment. It's annoying having to find places to store the stuff, but I don't ever have to spend a cent on new shipping materials.
2. Ship directly from the web.
This one seems like a "duh" moment, but sometimes we all need a little nudge to point out the obvious. When you're buying a gift online, have it shipped directly to the recipient, instead of paying to ship it to your home and then theirs. If you're worried about keeping the present (literally) under wraps until Christmas day, see if the retailer offers gift wrapping, which usually means they leave the tell-tale packing slip out of the package. Or have it addressed to someone other than the giftee to wrap and place under the tree.
Procrastination is a virtue, in this case. Wait until you've gotten gifts for everyone in the family, then ship them at once. Think about not only the people who live at a given address, but also who will be celebrating together. That means Granny and Aunt Linda's gifts can go to your parents' place. One large package will usually be less expensive to ship than many small ones, but do the math to be sure.
4. Ship as soon as possible.
Every year, Christmas is on December 25th. And every year, there are people at the Pack-and-Ship on Christmas Eve spending $50 to get their stuff sent overnight. By getting ahead of the game by at least a week, you can use the slowest (read: cheapest) shipping speed. It can be tough when you're trying to consolidate your shipments, but this is by far the best way to save on shipping.
5. Forgo the shipping extras.
Receipt confirmation, insurance and tracking numbers are all add-ons to the normal cost of shipping. Opt out of these extras at the counter and you'll certainly see some savings. This is great for inexpensive gifts that can be replaced. For anything valuable or one-of-a-kind, splurge on the peace of mind.
6. Shop around.
The US Postal Service is, in my experience, almost always the cheapest option for shipping packages. But it's worth a look at other services to make sure you're getting the best deal. UPS and FedEx, along with USPS, allow you to create accounts and print shipping labels online so you can compare cost without leaving your chair. For a run-down of the least expensive shipping options from each carrier, check out this informative post on Lifehacker.