THE CHECK IS IN THE MAIL
Shipping can be expensive, and sometimes it's hard to know which option is best. In addition to the major shipping services — the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx — there are nontraditional ways to ship that many people don't know about. These tips can help you save money when shipping just about anything.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
A Cheapism comparison of the Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx found that the Postal Service generally charges the lowest rates — but not always. UPS and FedEx offer competitive rates for ground shipping and more options if you're in a rush, so comparing costs can save money. The services have their own price calculators, but comparison tool ShipGooder looks at more than one at a time. Enter information for a package or envelope traveling within the United States to see cost estimates for different services.
The faster you need something shipped, the more expensive it is. Get it in the mail as soon as possible to avoid paying extra for speed. For example, sending something overnight through the Postal Service starts at $24.70, but Priority Mail and Retail Ground rates start at just $6.70.
If you have the storage space, or a lot of shipments coming in and out, keep shipping materials for reuse. Packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and those air-filled plastic packing pillows from online retailers can all be reused. Make sure boxes are sturdy and not too heavily labeled, though. UPS instructs customers reusing boxes to "Remove any labels, hazardous materials indicators, and other previous shipment markings on the box that are no longer applicable."
When shipping fragile items, don't feel the need to buy dedicated packing materials. People who ship a lot recommend everything from cut-up pool noodles to empty egg cartons to avoid damage and breakage.
GET FREE SUPPLIES
There are free flat-rate boxes and envelopes at the post office, and they can also be ordered free from the Postal Service and delivered to a home or office. Priority Mail boxes come in sets of 10 or 25, and Priority Mail envelopes come in sets of 10. UPS and FedEx also offer free supplies for users with a (free) account.
Greyhound Package Express is something of a trade secret among Etsy sellers as a shipping option for large or unusual items. Costs vary depending on weight, distance, and speed. Discounts are available for college students, active military members, and veterans. Greyhound also offers discounts for booking online and for shipments of six items or more.
MOVE BOXES WITH BUSFREIGHTER
If you're moving without furniture, where everything is in boxes and time isn't of the essence, Busfreighter — which ships on a space-available basis — is even cheaper than Greyhound Package Express (its partner). A Huffington Post price comparison found that moving five large boxes across the country with Busfreighter would cost about $160. (Amtrak can be nearly as cheap but doesn't go as many places.)
BID OUT THE JOB
Texas-based uShip matches people with transport companies that have truck space left over from another job. Post a list of what needs shipping — whether one item or a home's worth — and companies bid to move it. This option is especially good for large, heavy, or oddly shaped items. The company acknowledges that its marketplace is "not immune to scams" and offers a guide to avoiding fraud.
To send an article of clothing under 13 ounces, First-Class Mail through the Postal Service is best when considering cost and speed of delivery, according to one eBay power user. Use a polyvinyl mailer. For items heavier than 13 ounces, a flat-rate envelope is the best option.
Mailing exclusively books, sound recordings, video tapes, printed music, or CDs and DVDs? Use the U.S. Postal Service's Media Mail. The cost is based solely on weight, with the lowest price being $2.66 for an item up to 1 pound. Sending the same package at the Retail Ground rate would cost between $6.60 and $7.29. Make sure to follow the guidelines — video games aren't included.
SHIPPING A BIKE
Amtrak ships packages and "less-than-truckload" shipments to more than 100 cities. There are size and item restrictions, along with a 50-pound weight limit — but bikes are allowed, and Amtrak sells boxes especially for them for $15. The cost of shipping varies, depending on distance, but one cyclist shipped a touring bike from San Diego to Washington, D.C., for $76. Amtrak calls to let customers know their goods have arrived.