Sorry for the long silence, now back to the show...
Stories abound about the United States' dysfunctional Postal Service and about how, at the rate they are going, they won't be around much longer. I heard they are stopping Saturday deliveries of everything except packages (a plan now put on hold), and rural branches are getting shuttered all the time. A little research reveals that the problems are much larger than any incidences of rude service, confusing changes in stamp values, and the mail carrier who somehow never gets it right. It has also been suggested that many of the USPS's woes are intentionally being escalated in an attempt to have the organization forced into massive bankruptcy, which would both eliminate current pensions and completely privatize the service. It has come to light that the spouses of US Senators have been given exclusive rights to sell USPS property. Corruption, anyone?
Is it email or ridiculous and unrealistic retirement plans? Or is most of what we are hearing misinformation? Or is it all about real estate? [If you haven't visited a blog in the past decade, when a group of words are underlined, that means they are a link you can click on.]
Now, don't get me wrong. I love the USPS. I think it is an amazing and quite affordable service when you consider just how much they do for you, and have done for you for your entire life. It really is amazing that you can send a letter to anybody, anywhere, no matter how cutty and out of the way they reside, for less than half a buck. Imagine you had to hand delivery all your packages.
Regardless of the reasons behind the troubles at the Postal Service, I sure hope they stick around, because my Part Time Picking business relies on them. Think about it... mail rules!
But visiting the Post Office does not rule. Visiting the local Post Office sucks! Lines are long, most customers are confused and angry, and most USPS representatives are pretty grumpy (the inevitable result of constantly having to ask confused, angry customers if their packages "contain anything fragile, perishable, or potentially hazardous").
Well, if you're shipping more than a few items a month, I would recommend considering an online postage service. You can buy shipping direct from Paypal, Amazon, and the USPS these days, although there are some limitations on what services you can use. The last time I checked, you couldn't ship Media Mail rate with USPS online. For myself, after a bit of research and a few particularly frustrating visits to my local post office, I decided to give stamps.com a try.
Stamps.com will cost you about $16 a month for their minimum service, but when you consider the hours saved by not waiting in line at the post office, I think it is worth the cost. You just enter the weight and dimensions of your package (or padded envelope), where its going, and by what service, plus any add-ons (tracking), and print your postage right at home. Apparently you can schedule a pick-up from your postal carrier, but I prefer to just drop off my stack at the local post office.
I trust you already have a computer, so the only other supplies you'll need are a scale and a big stack of labels. I prefer affordable generic 1/2 sheet labels that feed right into my laser printer. It's easy to copy and paste the tracking numbers into Amazon or eBay, and stamps.com keeps your shipping history if you need to look up info on a late package. One of the only drawbacks is that international shipping, with its customs forms, is still more reliable through actual human transaction.
There are other online postage services services available, and the costs and terms are always changing, so do a little research of your own. You may find that printing shipping at home is worth it just for the envious looks on the faces of those suckers who are still waiting in line at the post office.