Post Office Survival Guide

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Post Office Survival Guide
While I may get excited about FedEx, UPS and even DHL making a delivery to my house, nothing warms my heart more than the USPS mail truck driving by and delivering packages and envelopes full of cheer. Heading to the actual post office however, can be a drag.

If the thought of going to the post office this holiday season makes you want to reach for another glass of spiked eggnog, you’re not alone.

Not many other places can crush your soul, especially when you’ve got 15 boxes to mail to your friends and family, with a few kids in tow. (The DMV clearly takes first place here, but I digress.) If you need to psych yourself up to make a post office run, I’ve got news for you. This ain’t your grandma’s post office. (Well, okay, it might be if you and your gram live near each other, but it’s got a few improved services since her day.)

You’ve probably already received a flyer in the mail that details all that the post office has to offer — and you’ve likely tossed it. Don’t worry; I’ve got you. Here’s a recap.

You can do everything from home. Let me repeat that so you can hear it over the Christmas bells. You can do everything from home.

That’s right good people. You may not actually have to set foot in the Post Office all holiday season. The USPS has some rather helpful online services. Let’s get started.

“LEGO” of your Post Office fears. Do everything online this year!

If you’re a person who actually sends Christmas cards, you can purchase both cards and stamps online with USPS. You can even buy gifts, from tote bags bearing stamp images to repurposed mail bags made into tablet cases and coin purses. Or, you can let Mr. Rogers be your neighbor forever with this framed picture.

If you’re gutsy enough to go to an actual store and purchase a different gift (instead of ordering something online and shipping it directly to the person) then you will definitely need a little jazz in your eggnog. Props to you for braving the crowds, but you can still avoid the Post Office if you plan ahead.

If you’re shipping via Priority Mail these days (and really, who isn’t?) then you can get either regular Priority Mail boxes or Priority Mail Flat Rate shipping supplies delivered right to your door. You can even go one step further and pre-pay for your Flat Rate shipping box. You’ll get the label attached with your return address. Then all you have to do is enter the recipient’s mailing address, seal the box, and drop it off. Military Care Package Kits are also available, here.

Pro tip: if you have heavy items, choose Flat Rate shipping. If you can cram it into one of the Flat Rate boxes or envelopes, it’s the same rate to every state up to 70lbs. That’s a lot of Christmas cheer.

Ordering from USPS will take a few days, so if you’re in a real hurry right before Christmas, check your local post office as they may have the box or envelope you need, or purchase your shipping supplies elsewhere.

If you didn’t pre-pay for shipping when you ordered your boxes, you can still print shipping labels at home. People, this is a GAME CHANGER. You’ll need to create an account online with USPS to do this, but if you’ve already stocked up on stamps and supplies, you’re golden. If you’re not shipping Flat Rate, you’ll need a kitchen scale or equivalent to weigh your package, plus a tape measure if you don’t already know the dimensions of your box. Input the recipient’s address, the package weight and dimensions, print your label and attach it. You can even buy sticky labels in advance, so you’re not cursing the tape roll for being too short.

International mailing is also doable online, but you’ll need to add customs info to the label. It’s also worth noting that once the item leaves the US, it is not traceable through USPS. So if you’re shipping something of high value or something sentimental to a friend or family member on foreign soil, consider shelling out for a service like DHL.

We would all love for the Post Office to have full drive through service, but technically they’ve always had a modified version. Just roll on up to a blue mailbox, roll your window down, and slip your packages through there. If it won’t fit, you’ll need to go inside, but you may not have to wait in line. Often, there is a mail chute that is large enough to handle a decent sized package.

Otherwise you can usually just skip the line and leave stamped packages at the end of the counter. I try to at least make eye contact with a frazzled postal employee, so someone knows it’s there. If you want the receipt proving that the post office accepted the item, you’ll need to wait in line, but sometimes an employee will buzz through with a handheld scanner so you won’t have to wait as long. If you’ve forgotten to order stamps online, now’s your chance to get them. Some locations (like the Hixson Post Office) have nifty kiosks where you can just have stamps printed without having to wait for an employee. If you need to actually go to the Post Office, be sure to check the hours. Some close earlier than others and it’s disheartening to haul your boxes out of the car, only to discover the door is locked.

Don’t be this guy. Schedule a package pickup.

If you can’t get to the post office, or the thought makes you want to crawl into a shipping box and hide until New Year’s Eve, then you can schedule a pick-up. Say what?! Yes indeed, that same postal worker who drops off your mail, can also pick up boxes of stuff right from your door. You simply need to schedule it in advance. (Generally, if your package is 13oz. or less, already stamped, and fits inside your mailbox, then you can just leave it there for collection with the flag up, as you would any letters.)

Be sure to get your stuff mailed on time. December 20th is the LAST day to mail items with both First-Class Mail Service and Priority Mail Service.

If you’re a true procrastinator, you have until December 22nd to fork over a bit more money and mail your items with Priority Mail Express Service.

As always, some restrictions apply, so double check the fine print on the website. Whatever complaints we all may have about the post office, it’s still pretty much a miracle that stuff gets from point A to point B in a relatively short period of time. Winter weather can wreak havoc on postal deliveries, so offer a little grace to your mailman. You can follow both tracking and alerts online as well.

One last tip: US mail carriers may receive a $20 or less gift per customer during the holidays, but cash, checks and gift cards that may be exchanged as cash are prohibited. See more here. And remember, there are plenty of gifts under $20 right on USPS online.

Happy shopping and shipping this holiday season!

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I spent my twenties and a good chunk of my thirties living and working in various countries. I met and married a South African sailor and I was quite content to keep traveling without kids. We landed in Chattanooga in 2013 and our son arrived over the summer of 2014. We haven’t really slept since. Sometimes jet-lag gets the blame. Or Daylight Savings, or even a good book. Usually though, it’s the Peanut. You can often find me charged up on caffeine, chasing after my son at Coolidge Park, the zoo or the library. You can also find me online on my blog.