10 Easy Ways to Get Shipping Supplies for Free- Or Close To It!


Presentation is paramount for a small business. I want my customer's purchase to feel like a special gift. Each vintage treasure is carefully packaged and customized using ample protective packaging to keep finds reaching their destination intact. Shipping supplies can be prohibitively expensive, so I've found ways to cut corners and save money while providing customers with the best experience possible. Here are my 10 tips for getting shipping supplies for free- or close to it!

1) Ask: friends/store owners if they have packaging to spare
2) Createa system where nearby stores set boxes/supplies aside for you
3) Assault: dumpsters behind grocery stores for boxes, peanuts, and bubble wrap
4) Estate Sales: sometimes have office/packing supplies for low prices
5) Save: boxes and packing supplies you receive in the mail and re-use them
6) Pillage: your workplace, use supplies they're going to toss
7) Cut: existing boxes into the shape you need; then tape it up!
8) Use: what you have around the house, be creative
9) Exploit: coupons for supply stores like Staples, Joanne's, and Michael's 
10) Customize: utilitarian up-cycled packaging with stickers and stamps

A fellow reseller friend of mine does shipping and receiving at a local organic food store. He provides me with boxes of all sizes and high quality bubble wrap that the company would otherwise throw away. This helps me ship my wares to customers around the world while keeping prices as low as possible. I'm brainstorming on more professional, attractive, and inexpensive packaging ideas, but this environmentally (and wallet!) friendly way works for now.

Where do you order your packing supplies? How do you get supplies for free or close to it? Do share in the comments!
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51 comments:

  1. Great tips. I do a lot of those things too. One of my favorite tips that I got from someone a long time ago is to cut open your boxes that have printing or shipping labels on the outside. You can then refold the box so that the printing is on the inside. Retape the corners, and voila, the outside is good as new! Makes your shipment look more professional. I always hate to have to mark out printing or labels, it just looks so ratty. This way, no matter how bad the outside looks, you can transform it into a brand new box!

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    1. Good idea! I always cover mine with brown packing paper for a neat look, but this idea is definitely thriftier. Gotta try it!

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    2. Love this reverse-the-box idea.

      My post office strongly advises against paper coverings unless they're ultra sturdy- too many times they get ripped off in the sorting machinery - along with your addresses and postage!

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    3. Ah ha, that makes sense! I do have to use a lot of packing tape to adhere the paper to the box in a sturdy fashion as well, so I'm warming up to the idea of turning boxes inside out more and more..

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  2. Brilliant Van! I'd never thought to ask around at other stores. I'm not a reseller but my friend is going to Paris and we're doing a correspondence project. This will make shipping her stuff internationally much less costly!

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    1. Yep, it's a big help. All retail stores have tons of boxes they'd love to offload on you!

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  3. You can get free boxes from the postal service for priority and express mail shipments. In most cases, it less expensive to ship priority mail than parcel post unless the package is 13 ounces or less or it is really, really heavy. I also reuse boxes from shipments to me, and I use newspapers and Walmart plastic sacks for packing material. And if you print your postage online, you get a discount as opposed to taking it to the post office.

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    1. All -excellent- tips! Thanks for sharing :D

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  4. Great idea about using stickers to personalize. I wrap my packages in Christmas wrapping paper. It is festive and the wrap makes me smile and I hope it makes my customer smile too! The gift wrap can be bought for cheap at after Christmas sales as well as thrift stores.

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    1. That's cute! I love receiving packages with colorful paper.

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  5. Brilliant Van! I'd never thought to ask around at other stores. I am not a reseller but my buddy will probablyParis and we're doing a correspondence project. You will get free boxes in the postal service for priority and express mail shipments.Generally, it more affordable to shipping this priority mail than parcel post unless the package is 13 ounces or less orit really is, really heavy.

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  6. The dumpsters behind art supply stores (such as Dick Blick) are good for finding large but narrow boxes for shipping art work and frames. New boxes intended for shipping art work are extremely expensive for some reason.

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  7. I save up most of my envelopes. Though eventually I actually had to get rid of some. The only ones I buy are the small bubble mailers I need for my shop. But I buy them a hundred at a time these days, which is so much cheaper than getting them 3 at a time!

    blueeyednightowl.blogspot.com/

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    1. Ordering stuff in bulk really is a huge help!

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  8. Hi Van
    Thanks for the great tips from you and your readers. I've been doing some of the same and also save colorful tissue paper from gifts I receive or from the dollar store - then I can wrap items in bright, festive paper. I also have been including a thank you card, business card and a small seashell from the coast of Maine - just to personalize the shipment a little bit.
    I was wondering if you or any of your readers have been using the US Postal service digital scale and online postage service? I'm considering purchasing and using this service but would like some input from others.
    thanks
    Victoria

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    1. I still use my vintage scale (my newest one goes up to 10lbs) and the usps online shipping calculator. (http://postcalc.usps.com/) I'm open to all suggestions, though. I love how you customize your orders. I customize mine with business cards, hand-drawn cards, and an illustration on every box.

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    2. I use an old Hanson utility scale I picked up at an estate sale for $2.50. The old girl is dead on and weighs up to 25 lbs.

      You can find an affordable scale online to suit your needs. What I really like about my scale is, it was a one time investment and I don't have to worry about batteries or plugging it in.

      I have only used Paypal to ship online. I do know that there have been some discussions on Etsy about mailing services, so you may want to run a search through their forums.

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  9. I love the idea for cutting boxes into custom shapes. That's super smart. I just realized the other day that I could fold larger padded envelopes over and tape them down to provide extra padding. I also like to wrap items up in old Martha Stewart articles and fasten it with a Thank You sticker. It looks "crafty" but really just serves to get rid of old issues of Martha Stewart Living...lol.

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    1. The box cutting trick has saved my ass when it comes to shipping big flat pieces of art. I like your Martha Stewart mag up-cycled packaging ;)

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    2. I buy large bubble bags in bulk and do exactly that - fold them over to provide extra padding in shipment.

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  10. I get free boxes from the store and from where I take karate.I will buy big boxes of wrapping paper for cheap at yard/estate sales to use as packing material.
    If I sell something small and fragile,I like to pack it in ramen noodle boxes(the 12 pack has an open cardboard box).One box will tightly fit on top of another and it is super sturdy.Good thing my teenagers love ramen,lol.

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    1. Food supply boxes are often super sturdy, that's why I love raiding our organic grocery store dumpsters for goodies.

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  11. Most of my foam comes off of construction sites.

    Ceiling fans and light fixtures are always packaged in foam. I bust it up and use it as needed.

    Sometimes our cabinets come wrapped in an 1/8" sheet of foam. Which is nice because it works as well as bubble wrap.

    Other then tape, I have spent less than $20 in packaging materials over the past three years. It's all recycled. Plastic bags, egg cartons, cardboard cup carriers from fast food joints.

    To save customers from a mess I like to bag peanuts.

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    1. Loving these good ideas. I never would have thought to bag the peanuts to save customers the hassle!

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  12. Hmmm..I purchase most of my shipping supplies. I do snag bubble wrap and foam peanuts when I can from work, with permission of course.

    Just a little tip if you haven't already. I use the USPS charts to help estimate my shipping costs. http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/notice123.htm

    It helps so much to have all those rates handy!

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    1. Thanks for sharing the chart, never seen that. I always use the calculator. Where do you purchase your supplies from?

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    2. I buy most of my supplies off ebay. I do buy some boxes from Wal-Mart when I run out.

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  13. I think that it would be great to learn the 10 easy way to get shipping supplies. I know that I would be able to save a lot of money with this great information. I know that everyone wanted to learn on how to save money on getting shipping supplies.

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  14. Love the tips, Van!

    I get 90% of my packing supplies from work. We get tons of office supply shipments. Our housekeeping dept likes for me to take it home & mngt could care less. :)

    I buy ribbon from clearance bins from places like Hancock's or Michaels. I do vintage clothing mostly-so I wrap in colorful tissue paper then tie with ribbon. I then slide my parcel into a ziplock bag (dollar tree). I'm always worried something will get wet in shipment.

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  15. I do all of the above and save tons of money on shipping supplies. I do buy bubble envelopes and mylar envelope (for shipping clothing, very lightweight and sturdy) from Uline.com. My main concern is keeping weight down and sometimes just an oz can make the difference in shipping cost. If that is the case I'll trim away a little extra cardboard. I also use the USPS site to calculate postage, using my scale, and then print out my labels from paypal. It is only international and amazon payments that I need to take to the window at the post office, it seems USPs click-n-ship doesn't print out first class postage. Pre-printing labels saves me time in the post office line.

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    1. I've noticed that with the oz making a difference, I trim out excess cardboard too. I never print my shipping at home, though. May have to look into that.

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  16. OH!! local recycling centers always have peanut and styrofoam for free!!

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    1. Ah ha, I'll have to look into this. Thanks for the tips, Laura. I need to get better about seeking out cheap packaging at thrift stores as well.

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  17. also I thrift my manilla envelopes I keep a huge stash makes it super cheap!!

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  18. This is so great. It is getting so expensive to ship things. I would love it if you would share over at Sunny Simple Sundays.http://sunnysimplelife.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks for the invite, I shall definitely check that out. :)

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  19. great ideas! i'd say my #1 is "ask" as well. friends, family, freecycle! it's amazing what people are happy to give away.

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    1. Yes indeed! I didn't think of using freecycle, but I can usually get so many boxes from other sources that I don't even need to use it.

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  20. Pretty kitty! Oh gosh, my box collection is scandalous. And rather dangerous at this point. I have all of these boxes that I say, "this would be the perfect size for...something!" and into the pile it goes.

    Since it seems like a lot of my stuff ends up going Priority mail, I got the free boxes from the postal service. All that you have to do is set up a quick account online and your mail carrier will deliver packages of unfolded boxes to your door for free. I usually try to keep one stack of each size around. And they make GREAT boxes to wrap presents in that your'e not mailing. They also will send free labels and packaging tape that says "Priority Mail". I have to admit that many times, I'd turn them inside out and use them for Non-Priority mail but the post office got wise of people like me and now have stamped the inside of the boxes so it can't be done. Pretty sneaky!

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    1. I had to decrease my box "collection," it's easy for it to get out of hand when it's all free. Had no idea they'd started stamping the inside of the boxes. Sneaky indeed!

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  21. To heep all the saved boxes from completely taking over, I flatten them then stack them all inside the largest one on their sides. A local breakfast diner will have cool egg trays that hold 3 dozen - great packing stuff. Thanks for the tips.

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  22. large roll bubble wrap are become more popular for the shipping and handling of fragile products.

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  23. All of the major shipping services have websites that allow you to input the package information into and get a price. Several of my giveaway winners have been in the Portland area.

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  24. What I do is use old dress patterns I get for really cheap at thrift shops for packing into my boxes and love using Freecycle.org also to get such things as well.

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  25. ABC worked really well for me. They shipped a car from FL to CA . It was great communication the whole time, great price for the service rendered, and really fast delivery relative to the distance. I will use them again if needed! www.viabox.com

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