What is the cheapest way to ship packages from home?

If you know the weight and size of your parcels, where you want to ship them and how fast they need to get there, then it’s fairly simple to decide which provider will give you the best deal. We’ll show you how to find to the right solution.

It’s a simple question—but there are a lot of answers! Whether you’re shipping to friends and family or have your own business, we’ll help you navigate the ins and outs of saving money on shipping packages. Once you’ve answered a few questions, you should have a clear idea of how to save the most money. Remember, though, that any shipping provider’s rates can change overnight, so make sure to check for yourself or use a shipping solution like PitneyShip before making a commitment.

What do you want to ship?

When you’re shipping to customers and want to keep them happy while boosting your bottom line, the first step is to think about what you’re shipping. Some items need special consideration and can save you money—or cost you extra.

  • Books: If you need to ship books, or other media items like DVDs, videotapes, cassettes and so on, USPS Media Mail is worth considering. It’s harder to know exactly when it will arrive, though, as it takes 2-8 days to reach its destination, and it’s domestic US only.
  • Clothing: Shipping clothing is easy—it’s typically lightweight and can fit into most standard shipping boxes, so you can either find a great deal and work backward from there to packaging or find the ideal packaging and then go deal-hunting with PitneyShip. Note that if it’s vintage or otherwise high value, you should strongly consider insuring it.
  • Food (and other perishables): This can be tricky depending on what you’re trying to send. No matter what, make sure your packaging is tightly sealed and sturdy enough to protect its contents. Dried fruit, candy, and other not-very-perishable food can be shipped using whichever means give you the best deal. Other items may need special attention, though.
    • How perishable is it? If it’s only going to last a week, you’d better ship it overnight or maybe use two-day shipping.
    • Does it need to stay cold? This is going to cost you extra, if only for dry ice packs and insulated packaging. As with other perishable items, speed is your friend, so next day or two-day shipping is the right choice.
  • Jewelry (and other high-value items): If you want to minimize risk, you’ve got several options. Some of them are cheap, like not labeling your parcels “JEWELRY” or anything else that might entice thieves between your house and your recipient. You should also drop it off at the shipping provider yourself, if possible. Ask for signature upon delivery—it may cost a bit extra, but it’s another level of security. Insurance isn’t cheap, but for big-ticket items it makes a lot of sense. If you’re comfortable with your risk, you can find great deals with USPS, FedEx, or UPS through PitneyShip.

Where do you want to ship it?

If you’re shipping to someone down the street, it’s going to be cheaper than someone an ocean away from you. Consider where you’re shipping to save money.

  • Domestic: Shipping providers have split the US into eight shipping zones, and rates go up  with increasing distance between them. If you use a shipping solution like PitneyShip, you’ll get this information automatically and can select the best shipping provider for each recipient. It can be a hassle to do it yourself, especially if you’re handling lots of packages, so shipping software can pay for itself just in the time you save. And they can often get you discounted rates you can’t get directly from the provider.
  • International: Use First Class Mail International for anything under 4 pounds and USPS Priority Mail International for larger parcels. But if you need to get it there super-fast, FedEx International Priority should save you money (though it’s not exactly cheap).

How soon does it need to get there?

In almost every instance, the sooner you need it to arrive, the more you’re going to pay.

  • 2-3 days: If a few days is okay, then you should go with USPS Priority Mail. If your parcel is more than 10 pounds, though, you should check out UPS and FedEx, as they start to get competitive with larger sizes. PitneyShip will figure it out for you, of course.
  • 2-day shipping: USPS does not offer a hard 2-day ship guarantee, so if you need it, you’ll find that UPS and FedEx offer very similar rates that are a fair amount higher than 2-3-day shipping.
  • Next-day shipping: Whether you need next-day or next-day AM shipping, you’ll get the best rates from UPS or FedEx. Once again, they’re not cheap—but sometimes urgency overrides all other concerns.

Tips for shipping with special needs

Some special considerations are worth mentioning when you’re trying to save money on shipping costs.

  • Large or bulky items: All major shipping providers use dimensional pricing for nonstandard parcels. This means you need to multiply the length, width, and depth of your parcel together to figure out how much you’ll pay. If your parcels are big enough to require dimensional pricing, you will usually find that USPS offers the lowest rates.
  • Heavy items: If you’re shipping something that’s over 15 pounds (except books or other media—see above), FedEx Ground is usually going to give you the cheapest rates. It’s well worth using PitneyShip to confirm before shipping, because lugging heavy packages back and forth between shippers is a great way to ruin your day.
  • Fragile items: Fragile items must be packaged carefully, of course, but otherwise you shouldn’t see any additional shipping costs. If you need insurance, you may need to pay a little more, but other than that, it’s the same as any other parcel.