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 and include an additional 21 cent stamp.
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!
Learn Everything There Is To Know About Snail Mail!
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.
Get a FREE envelope template, tutorial, and other snail mail freebies!
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I’ve been waiting for this post for a while now! I am thankful that you took the time to write it and I would not complain if you ever decide to write Part 2.
I am excited that you answered a question I’ve been trying to Google an answer to for a week or so now. I love airmail envelopes and I was scared to buy a pack and have them route to Bangladesh before heading to Oklahoma or something equally as ridiculous. Thanks for seeing the question inside my brain and answering it without me even asking.
Can I place stamps anywhere on my envelope? Anywhere, anywhere? Like an address in the center with the stamps underneath? That’s awesome and so good to know!
I never include my return address on envelopes- well, very rarely, anyway! Why should I be certain to do that if I know I have the proper “to” address and enough postage? I would love some more insight on that one.
Also I am going to bookmark this post and possibly link to it as well in the future. I plan on checking back to see what other people have to say in your comments.
This is so SO useful! I’ve been looking around for a guide to mailing with USPS, because I quite don’t like their vague information on their website, so kudos to you for writing one for curious people like me. I think getting a scale is a great idea, and I didn’t know much about stamps and their requirements until reading this. It’s also nice to hear that being known at a post office can be beneficial. I know the post office within less than a mile of me has a *really* perky and friendly postman, so I think I’ll be bringing some snacks if/when I become a regular!
You can place stamps anywhere but add extra postage just in case. I’ve gotten ‘anywhere postage’ letters back because they needed 20 cents more (and sometimes they’ve delivered without the extra– like Mary said, I think it depends on who gets it). Make sure it’s on the same side as the recipient’s address though, not covered and not taped.
You don’t HAVE to put the return address on, it’s not required. But I would anyway, even if it’s just along the bottom on the other side. Just because you 100% know that you have the address correct doesn’t mean that the postal employee can read it. In addition, if you’re making mail art and their address isn’t directly on the envelope (like if it’s on a sticker or glued on somehow) it could still fall off en route. The final (and probably best) reason? You can’t expect everyone you write to to have a good system for storing addresses. Many people go by what is written on the envelope.
An intleeiglnt answer – no BS – which makes a pleasant change
Thank you Michelle, so helpful.
I have another question that was in my head when I woke up this morning. I know there’s different rules about how big mail can be but what about tiny? I have the cutest little greeting cards that are about 2×3- big enough to fit an address and a stamp on it- will it get lost or should it make it to its destination as well as the next thing?
I actually had two questions upon waking up but I don’t remember the other one. I should have wrote it down.
I call the mail I put in Blue Boxes “stealth mail.” I mail lots of stealth mail.
And when I did that insane Snail Mail My Email thing a few years ago, and didn’t want to put my own address on a letter I wrote FOR a complete stranger, to a complete stranger, I was told by the postal clerk that return address is ALWAYS required and the USPS could just not deliver something if it didn’t have a return address. I don’t know how true that is, but I took that stupid piece of mail, went off into a corner, put a fake return address on it, then brought it back to her to weigh and mail (it was an awkward size because the letter request had some bizarre “extra” he wanted to be included). I know she knew the address was not mine and probably fake, but she took it anyway.
Like Post Muse said, if you’re mailing something at a post office they will make you put a return address. They honestly don’t care what it is, they just need to have it there as it’s part of their job to ensure its existence.
If you’re placing something in a blue box you don’t *have* to have a return address, but like Michelle said, you should! Because it makes it so much more difficult for many people to respond to you if you don’t include one.
For example, I received a letter relatively recently that doesn’t have a return address and I can’t make out the name at the end of the letter. It’s clear I’ve only written to this person once, and without a return address it’s impossible for me to respond because I don’t recognize the handwriting!
Went out mail I more often than not put a little slip of paper in the letter with my address on it. It’s a fun way to use up slips of leftover paper from other projects. I rarely if ever put my return address on it, but I don’t go to the post office, either. I just drop it in the mailbox outside of my house. (Though I really have to find out of there is a Blue Box in walking distance of my house, that would be amazing.)
Ooo this is great, Mary! I always wondered about airmail stamps within the US and canceled stamps on envelops. Handy! And so funny because I just happened to send an “unconventional” item your way last week, ha. My postal workers rock. 🙂 Be on the look out!
You only ABSOLUTELY need a return address on something that you mail if it weighs more than 13 ounces and you are dropping it in a blue box. It’s mostly because you can drop literally anything into a blue box, and if it weighs more than 13 ounces without a return address on it, it will be labeled as “suspicious.” And possibly opened, x-rayed, or otherwise checked out to find out if it’s hazardous. This is all just to protect the mail carriers and their customers.
How do I know about this? I drove a mail truck one summer, delivering mail on a rural route, and I had to learn a lot of rules!
Thanks for taking the time to share this info! Very helpful! I love sending “birthday bottles” to the grandkids. I take an empty, clean, DRY water bottle (choose one that is more on the study side and not paper thin!). I make a slit in the side of it and put in steamers, confetti, candy, stickers, birthday card, etc. Then I seal the slit with some packing tape and cover with a label. If I’ve put small, lose stuff inside, I also seal the top with a touch of glut on the threads inside the lid. Of course these have to be taken to the post office to get exact postage, but I’ve never had one turned away and never had one not make it to the destination. Plus, the kiddos LOVE them! Just thought I’d share. 🙂
I have a stamp that has printed on it: The “H” Rate make-up stamp
(it’s a small turquoise stamp with a weather vane rooster)
How much is this stamp worth? And how do I use it?
Love your website – it’s very useful!
Thanks Linda! And excellent question. The stamp you have is worth 1 cent. It was made in the 90s for people to add to their first rate stamps, before there were Forever stamps. 🙂 But you can use it today the same you would use a 1 cent stamp. Hope that helps!
If I’m going to mail a regular-size wedding invitation to Canada, how many stamps would that require?
A regular sized envelope under one ounce going from the US to Canada costs $1.15. If you can, get a “Global Forever” stamp worth exactly that much, but if you only have Forever/49 cent stamps, you’ll need three to get to that amount. But you’re technically wasting 32 cents worth of postage.
I was concerned if whether my letter would get sent since I wasn’t familiar with sending out letters before so I reused a stap. I placed two stamps on the envelope. One stamp was new and the other stamp wasn’t. Would they send it back to me or what do you think the income of this will be? Please respond. Thank-you.
When you’re talking about a stamp being “not new” do you mean that it had already circulated through the postal system and had been canceled? If so, that means that stamp holds NO monetary value and can not be used to count towards your postage. It can, however, be a nice additional decoration on your envelope, but nothing more. I don’t know how much your envelope weighed, but if it was under one ounce and the “new” stamp you used was 49 cents and/or a “Forever” stamp, then it probably reached its destination without fail.
Yeah, they were both forever stamps. One was used and the other stamp wasn’t used, it was new. So if one of those two forever stamps is new and the envelope maybe weighted a little more than an ounce, would it still have been able to reach its destination without failure?
It’s possible, but I can’t guarantee that. It would be a subjective choice by the postal workers handling the mail. If it was over an ounce and it didn’t have the additional 21 cents on it that it would need, they have the option of either sending it back to the sender (you) or requiring the recipient to pay the 21 cents before they are allowed to have the envelope.
Do you know how the recipient would be able to pay the 21 cents? Since he’s currently at bootcamp training. Is there any way I could pay the additional 21 cents instead?
Honestly no idea. Sorry!
Okay, well thank you so much for taking your time to help me out 🙂 I highly appreciate it.
I went to the post office today with square thank you cards in hand, expecting to pay 70 cents each. They insisted it was light enough to be 49 cents… so I hope they didn’t waste my time… :\
That’s extremely interesting. I honestly wonder if they’re new working there because it’s common knowledge that anything square costs extra postage. They’ve even started labeled square greeting card envelopes at places like Hallmark. (Source: http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm100/tips-measure-letters.htm) I really hope that they reach their destination!
By any chance do you know if the process is the same to send a postcard internationally? As long as I have the proper amount of postage on the postcard can I drop it in a blue box or does that have to be taken to a teller because it’s not domestic?
Yes! You can drop a postcard or letter under one ounce with the correct amount of postage in any USPS blue box. You only need to take packages and large bubble mailer type envelopes to the counter to fill out a customs form.
Help please :(( I’ve probably mailed out 40 postcards internationally to various recipients. I’ve only been sticking on postcard stamp on each postcard and I haven’t gotten any back yet. I didn’t know anything about it maybe being more to send a postcard internationally. Do you think it is okay if I haven’t recieved any of them back yet??
Hey Haylea– what country are you mailing your postcards from?
Could you help out? I want to send a couple keychains to my friend in Canada, and I live in the United States. Do I have to visit the post office or can I just stick stamps on and put it in a mailbox? (Also, I’m confused as to how many stamps I would have to put on too. This is my first time sending anything by mail, and nothing I’ve found so far makes any sense.)
Due to the size and weight of key chains, I would definitely say to go to the post office. You might even need to fill out a customs form, just ask the postal clerk. In general, the concept is to figure out how much your sealed envelope weighs and go through the Price Calculator that I’ve linked to above (and here) which will walk you through the steps of figuring out how much postage to put on your envelope. But due to the nature of key chains (weight, bulkyness, etc.) I would definitely recommend going to the post office.
SAVING ON POSTAGE:
While locking in a (future) lower price for postage by buying “FOREVER” stamps works over time, you can, RIGHT NOW, save much more by buying postage on eBay.
Simply look in the category, Stamps > United States > Postage. Often the lots will state the face value of the stamps and you can buy older US Postage to modern at 70% of face value, although 80%-90% is more common. Remember to factor in the shipping costs when evaluating the purchase/bid.
You get postage at much less than face value plus the many interesting designs going back decades. Someone else took the hit by buying stamps at face value from the post office as long as 70 years ago or more, you reap the savings!
Note: All US stamps issued since 1861 are still valid for postal duty.
I HAVE ONE THOUSAND POST CARDS. CAN YOU RUN THEM THRU A MACHINE TO POSTAGE THEM?
No not to my knowledge. You can buy rolls of postcard stamps in the amount of 100 (if they’re 4 x 6 inches or slightly smaller they’re currently 35 cents and over 4 x 6 is 49 cents), but I don’t know of a machine that would do that process automatically. Might want to invite a few people over and have a stamping party!
If you know someone/ a business that has a postal meter machine like pitney bowes or neopost etc, then yes you can run post cards through at the post card rate which is now 0.34. I do it all the time, I work in a college mailroom.
I was just wondering what to do if you accidentally bought the wrong stamps? I bought these beautiful save the date stamps but stupidly didn’t realize they were 35 cent stamps and not 49 cent stamps. I would like to still use them on my envelopes but how can I make up for the remaining postage amount without ruining the look of my envelopes?
Hey Josie! Great question. I’ve actually never tried to return stamps, but I honestly bet if you were to go to the post office with the unaltered sheet you bought and explain what happened they would exchange them for you if you paid the difference. If that doesn’t work or you don’t want to go that route, you’d have two options: 1) Get a sheet of 22 cent stamps and end up paying eight cents extra per envelope you send 2) Purchase some 10 cent and 2 cent stamps and (or 4 cent stamps, I just think the 2 cent ones are prettier) and use those to make up the difference. That’s going to require a total of four stamps, so if that ruins the aesthetic you’re going for I’d try one of the first options. 🙂 Hope that helped!
This might sound like a silly question but Im trying to use up the last of my wedding stamps on thnak-yous cards. Do you think it’s okay to send the 2-ounce stamp on thank-you cards?
Yes, absolutely! You’re technically wasting a bit of money if you’re not sending a 2 ounce card, but they will *absolutely* work. You might even consider throwing in a photo or paper goodie to make it worth your money! 🙂
Thank you for this post- it is very helpful! I’m trying to send out my wedding invitations and am hoping to have them hand cancelled. Apparently it is hard to find a PO that will do it, but I’m hoping if I’m friendly enough they will do it for me or allow me to do it while standing off to the side. Any advise? Also, the PO lady I spoke to said that I could pay an extra 22 cents for “do not bend / not machineable” to have it cased (I think that’s the word she used?). Is that the same as hand cancelling, or at least would it have the same outcome as hand cancelling? Thank you so much!!
Hey Lyn! So adding the extra 22 cents and writing do not bend and/or no-machineable ensures that it won’t go through the mechanical sorting systems, but it doesn’t always equal getting hand canceled. In my experience, the non-machineable instructions end up having the envelopes delivered unmarked completely. My advice for getting the envelopes hand canceled is to go to your post office during a down time, I recommend a weekday morning, bringing some snacks for the workers and saying thank you for all they do. Then say you would really like for these to be hand canceled, and if there was anyway they could do that in between customers when they had time you would really appreciate it. It might even help to say they don’t have to go out today, and they could even do it over a couple days. Just be really nice, and hope it pays off! Good luck!
Our wedding invitation rsvp card is intended to be a postcard. The designer however made them 6.25×4.25, so I put forever stamps on them at my local post office’s suggestion (vs wasting time resizing and reprinting them.) that said I’m now seeing that there’s a weight minimum. They are a traditional card stock-I don’t know the weight. Will they make it back to me? I cannot have 270 peoples replays not come through-what a nightmare!
I send postcards that size all the time for the postcard rate, but to be extra sure you might want to spring for Forever stamps (47 cents instead of 34) just to make sure they get there and there are no problems. You can also go to the post office with one example and ask what they’d charge you and then buy the stamps they suggest.
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The best way to mail homemade cards and know for certain they will arrive uncrushed and unharmed: send them “first class parcel” rate — in other words, send them as small packages. More expensive but a warranty they arrive at the destination without harm. My post office tells me it does no good whatsoever to write “non-machinable” on the envelopes. All envelopes go through the machines. Parcels do not!
I’ve been looking for a post like this, thank you!
I have a question though.
I’m sending a couple letters to Japan and I’m using the global moon 2016 stamps. The thing is I didn’t think these stamps would be so huge (lol)
So some of the stamps had to be bent over the corners so the address doesn’t get covered (Japanese stationary is cute but tiny lol) is it still okay to send?
Yes. Try to get as much of the stamp on the front of the envelope as you can, but bending stamps and labels across the back of the envelope is okay in a pinch. The post office has to do it with their labels all the time. The important thing is that you don’t add tape on top of the stamps once they’re adhered to the envelope because then they’re considered “tampered with”… so make sure they’re on there nice and tight! Happy mailing!
Hi! Thanks again for your reply.
I got a situation. So I mailed my letters (that are going overseas) and two of them came back processed (machine ink on the stamp) to my house like I was “suppose” to receive them.
Can I remail them again (recycle the stamps) or do I have to buy new stamps again? This is a dreaded mailman mistake…
If the stamps have been “canceled” AKA have the postal ink across the top of them, then no, you can’t resend them, unfortunately. Your only luck is to take them to the post office in person and explain the situation. I’ve had luck with nice postal clerks who have understood the situation and resent them through the mail with this exact situation, but you can’t just send them in a blue box if they’ve been canceled. If there’s no ink on them or postal marks, then it’s probably safe to just throw them in a mailbox, but I’d make sure you check your envelope to see why exactly the envelope was sent back to you. Was your return address on the back of the envelope for example? That can confuse the machines. 🙂
FYI – Non-Machinable in the US cost an additional 21 cents in addition to your regular postage already applied. I am in several post card swaps and always when I choose non-machinable, have to pay the additional 21 cents. If you pay the additional 21 cents, the PO affixes an additional stamp that is used for non-machinable items, thus flagging it as non-machinable. If you do not, then you are not guaranteed that it will not go through machine, etc. (may not be guaranteed any way – who knows)
Yes, good point! I thought I put that in there, but I just added it for clarification. Anything non-machineable costs the extra 21 cents.
If I want some one to get an envelope the day I mail it and they have a PO Box. can I have the mail clerk stamp it and put it in their PO box right away if their po box is at the post office I bring it to.
If you’re nice and explain to the clerk that it’s just going to a PO Box right over there *points* and could you make sure it gets in there today pretty please, I’m sure they’d have no problem whatsoever processing it and walking it over if you paid for the correct postage. 🙂 It’s a unique situation, they’d have to be in a pretty bad mood to say no. But you definitely would need to say something. Otherwise it would just get put in the “local” pile. It would probably take a whole day to get noticed that it was going down the hall, not down the street. Hope that helps!
My daughter drew on the envelope for father’s day but she drew on the front. Can I put the address and stamp on the back ( the side that gets sealed) and it still get sent or do I have to buy a new envelope?
You can put it on the back, yes!
Thank you very much!
Is there a market for unused 1 cent stamps that come on return envelopes from charities? I have hundreds.
I tried to reply to a comment made by another visitor and could not (clicking on the “reply” link did nothing at all). So be it. My question, however, is this: if I am shipping a package, what is likely to happen if there is no return address and I have put my postage on the side rather than the front of the package? I am making sure to put enough postage, but I am afraid the post office will look at it and say, “Hm. Stamps not on the front with the address. Hm. Return to sender. Hm. No sender. Can’t deliver it, put it in the Lost Mail bin and forget about it. Next!”
Why no return address? I have my reasons! My question is about what happens ON A PACKAGE when the more-than-adequate postage doesn’t go where expected. Insights?
If there is enough postage, it should be absolutely fine if you have indeed calculated it correctly. If there is not enough postage, it’s more likely for it to get tossed in the lost mail bin. However, I’ve had plenty of experiences where the postal workers will just push it through and deliver it to the address they *do* have (being the recipient). I would simply draw a small arrow with a Sharpie, directing the postal worker’s attention to the other side of the package in case they don’t originally see the remaining postage. Also, another tip is to write the recipient’s address in both the recipient and the sender’s spot, so if it gets returned to sender, it still gets sent to where you want it go. 😉
(First time commenters get screened and I have to approve them, that’s why it didn’t look like it went through.) 🙂
Thank you!! This is what I had hoped you would tell me, and I went ahead and mailed it with no return postage and all the postage squeezed onto the front. Now the test will be, will it arrive? I will update with more info when/ if I have it!
Hi! I’ve recently gotten into being pen pals with a few of my friends, and so far have been making mail art that is machinable. However, I have been getting increasingly excited over prospects of sending really fun mail. Looking through the usps website, the guidelines specifically say that nonmachinable stamps can be used for larger, square, or clasped mail, but I was wondering if if I put enough postage on it if I could send smaller than 3.5×5 envelopes or even envelopes that aren’t right angled (like could I send a circular envelope?) I have been looking everywhere but have not found anything that explicitly says yes or no to either of those, and my local post office took 15 minutes to figure out what I meant when I asked for nonmachinable butterfly stamps so I am worried their answer would not be the most accurate. I’m content with just sending some funky art, but I want to know how far I can go between nonmachinable and nonmailable.
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