How To Navigate The US Postal Service
A while back, I made a list of things that I’m good at, and encouraged you to do the same. In my list, I mentioned that I’ve gotten pretty good at learning the ins and outs of the postal system. Afterwards, I had a few requests to elaborate, so that’s what I’m going to do today! Just to be clear, I’m only familiar with the US postal service, and I don’t work for the USPS. These are just things that I’ve noticed in my experience with sending so much mail in the past six years.
If you just have a bill to mail in a plain white business envelope, you’re going to be set with one stamp that’s good for the current envelope rates. As of right now, that price is 49 cents. Any first class stamps with the word “Forever” printed on them will automatically increase to the new value in the event of an increase (the last increase was in January 2014). So if you’re interested in saving a bunch of pennies, stock up on your Forever stamps now! There are tons of great designs. Speaking of which, know that you don’t have to settle for the flags or bell stamps they tend to sell you if you don’t specify. While post offices don’t have all the options of the online store, there are definitely additional designs to choose from.
While we’re on the topic of conventional mail, postcards that are 6 x 4.25 inches or smaller don’t cost as much to send (domestically) as letters! I often see people wasting money on postage by slapping a Forever stamp on a normal postcard. Sure, it may only be 15 cents or so, but it can add up after a while! (Current price is 34 cents.)
Now, if you’re sending a lot of unconventional mail, like us mail artists, you’re going to need to take a few more things into consideration. I’ve invested in a postal scale, which you can purchase for as low as $11. This makes calculating postage costs a lot easier! For most pieces of mail, you can use the postage calculator to figure out how many stamps you need to put on. It walks you through the possible things that might cost extra.
For example, if an envelope is square, it costs more! Lots of people don’t know this. In order to send it, you need to add 21 cents. This also applies to envelopes that are more than one ounce. For every ounce, you must add an extra 21 cents. And to be honest, if I’m sending mail within the country and I have a doubt about whether something is “conventional”, be it width or containing something hard inside the envelope, I add another 21 cents. When in doubt, add 21 cents. So if I was sending a CD in a square envelope, I would put 91 cents on it. (49 for the regular envelope, 21 for the envelope being square, and 21 for it not being bendable.)
If you don’t want something to be bent or be run through the machines, make sure you write it on that piece of mail! Maybe you have an important document that you don’t want creased or a CD you don’t want cracked. Then, you need to write “Please do not bend!” If that’s not written, they’re likely going to bend it. I’ve had so many things show up in my PO Box bent and ruined because someone didn’t write a warning on the outside. And if you have something that you’re worried about getting torn off, like a bead or three dimensional sticker, you should write “non-machineable” somewhere legible.
Sending unconventional mail is kind of a discretionary thing. I’ve tried to send identical things at different post offices, only fifteen miles from each other, and one postal worker will send it for me no problem, and the other will deny me. If you frequent a post office, I recommend getting to know the people who work there. Bringing by snacks for them can’t hurt, either! My postal workers like me, and I get away with a lot. For example, recently I received an envelope with a Forever stamp, but some tape was covering it. The tape was clear, and only there to enforce the sides of the envelope, but technically you’re not supposed to cover any postage. It makes it “invalid”. So when I had a notice in my PO Box that said “postage due: 46 cents”, I brought it to the counter. My favorite postal worker, J, looked at the situation and said “Well there’s clearly a stamp on here. Nevermind.” See what I’m saying? Someone else might have made me pay 46 cents if I wanted to take that envelope home with me.
My suggestion for you is if you’re sending something that might be on the border, to figure out what the postage would be and drop it in one of those blue mailboxes on the street. Taking something to the post office gives the workers the power to turn you away. But once something is in the blue box, it’s far less likely that they’re going to bother returning it to you. When it doubt, blue box it! Go here, and select “collection boxes” to search for blue box locations near you.
Even though there may be people who will give you a hassle about sending your unconventional mail, I promise that it can be done. Naked mail is a really wonderful thing. People have attached postage to basket balls, vases, and fake birds, and all of them have arrived at their destination. Ultimately, if you pay enough, you can send anything. You can not only mail objects as is, but you can add some crazy stuff to envelopes and postcards! Don’t limit yourself. Remember to attach the right amount of postage and drop it in a blue box, and it’s much more likely to make it there!
Some things that people are afraid to do, but are actually okay are:
+ gluing old/canceled postage to your mail for decoration (remember that this has no monetary value)
+ using Airmail envelopes within the country
+ placing stamps upside-down, sideways, or in a place other than the top right corner
Things to remember:
+ always include a return address, even on postcards
+ machines have a difficult time reading red and pink inks
+ you can be general when filling out customs forms for overseas packages (ex: all paper goods can be labeled as stationery or paper, and trinkets, etc. can be labeled as toys)
+ you have to disclose if you’re mailing any of these items
+ envelopes that are square, difficult to bend, varying in thickness, or addressed vertically cost extra to send
+ letters to Canada are now the same price as sending to any other country, but it includes 2 ounces worth of goods (i.e. you can send 2 ounces of things to Canada for the same price as 1 ounce to Greece)
+ packages that are over 12 inches are going to be much more expensive
+ international packages that are over 4 pounds are going to be much more expensive
If you have any questions about things I didn’t cover, please feel free to comment or e-mail me. If I wrote absolutely everything I know, this post would be excessively long, so I’m stopping here. I really hope that you found this information helpful, and I encourage other mail enthusiasts to chime in below with tips and tricks.
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