Save money on shipping with free boxes from USPS

Save money on shipping with free boxes from USPS

There I was, bustling around the kitchen making lunch for my daughter when our late morning routine was interrupted:Boom! Boom! Boom!

Milligan and I glanced toward the front door where the thunderous pounding had originated. “Holy cow!” I thought to myself, “There are only two groups of people who knock like that! This may not be good…”

Luckily, as I slowly opened the door, there was a stocky little lady in her late forties or fifties (with no badge). “Afternoon,” she said. “I've some packages for you… several packages for you. I'm gonna need some help carrying these around to the door.”

I started to tell her she must have the wrong house before I caught myself. “Whoa, that was fast”, I thought. Only 48 hours earlier, I'd been sitting in front of my computer cautiously ordering over 300 boxes of various sizes from United States Postal Office.

Free Boxes from USPS

For a while now, I've be aware the postal service provides free boxes when you ship through its Priority or Express Mail. Back when Courtney and I were purging all of our possessions in preparation for the year we spent traveling abroad, we had even stopped by our local post office to pick up several dozen of them.

But I recently discovered that the USPS will actually ship the boxes to you…for free! In fact, it's painfully easy. Currently, there seem to be two different ways to order free boxes:

  • The USPS Online Store. If you're willing to take 30 seconds to register an account on usps.com, you can order directly from the post service. This gives you access to dozens of different box and envelope sizes. The website quotes you 7-10 business days, but my huge order only took 48 hours!
  • USPS-eBay Partner Website. Alternatively, you can order free boxes with only your eBay account (no separate account needed with USPS). These boxes are also only for Priority Mail, but are branded with both the USPS logo and eBay's logo. Unfortunately, you can only order 6 different sizes with your eBay account, but there is a decent variety offered.

When you order online, you can select between a pack of 10 boxes or a pack of 25 for each different box size. You can also order between 10 and 100 envelopes in a single batch. I personally ordered an assortment of 25-packs from each site and received them all within two business days! Now I've just got to get through all these boxes!

The Catch?

While the boxes are really 100% free, you can only use the free Priority Mail boxes for… Priority Mail. USPS is very strict on this rule. You won't be able to use the boxes to ship Media Mail, First-Class, or Parcel Post. However, if in a fit of frugality you decide to use the boxes to wrap Christmas presents, you should be okay as long as no family members are undercover USPS agents!

Priority Mail is the default shipping method for many people who buy and sell on eBay. Packages normally arrive inside the 2-3 day quoted time frame, and the delivery confirmation and tracking (both free when ordering postage online) are important to a smooth transaction.

Whenever Courtney and I ship packages, whether it be through eBay or for family/friends, we almost always send them Priority Mail. So for us, we'll eventually weed through our new shipment of free boxes!

Avoid the Post Office Altogether!

If you're shipping a package via Priority Mail, the ability to order free boxes online means you can avoid the post office altogether! You could order the boxes, pack the item at home, print postage online, and even schedule a pickup for your outgoing shipment. That's right: USPS will come pick up deliveries that contain at least one package that is Priority or Express Mail.

Note: Express Mail is simply the expedited version of Priority Mail. You pay significantly more, but your shipment is quoted at one business day instead of 2-3 with Priority. Express Mail requires its own special boxes, but they too are free at shop.usps.com.

I have to admit that being at the post office isn't one of my favorite pastimes. Courtney and I will continue to sell our unneeded stuff on eBay (we also sell stuff for our extended family); the process will just no longer include any trips to the post office. Being able to go through the entire shipping process from our home office is much simpler for us!

Oh — and if you know anyone in the Indianapolis area who could use some free boxes, let me know. I have a couple extra laying around!

J.D.'s note: My family has owned a box factory for 25 years, but I never thought I'd host a box-related article at Get Rich Slowly. It'd be a shame if I didn't mention that if you need boxes in Portland, Oregon, my cousin and brother can steer you in the right direction.
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Dlyn
Dlyn
10 years ago

I’ve done this for a few years especially when I was selling on ebay. I still use them for sending homemade Christmas goodies and birthday gifts to family. I also buy all the postage online for a discount and get free delivery confirmation. I’m not at home for pick-up but then all I have to do is put them in a drop off box at the Post Office.

momcents
momcents
10 years ago

This seems like a rather handy idea. My post office has only five parking spots in front which makes using it a pain. I may have to try this service when it comes time to send Christmas presents to my family back east.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

Neat.

Alex and Cassie - The Thrifty Couple
Alex and Cassie - The Thrifty Couple
10 years ago

We love this option and have used for years for our Ebay selling. If you can also get a cheap post office scale – you can have the complete post office at home. We just picked up a scale that sits on our desk. By doing this you can make sure you are estimating your your shipping as acurately and closely as possible! Our Ebay room is filled with these free boxes, but like you – we use them for shipping packages priority mail to friends, family etc. Very convenient, handy and smart of the USPS 😉

mary b
mary b
10 years ago

My first reaction was good tip, but hey doesn’t JD’s family have a box company 😉

I’ve always loved the ease of ordering the boxes online! If you are ordering a lot for holiday shipping, don’t wait until the last minute because popular sizes can get a little backordered at that time of year.

Drew
Drew
10 years ago

My wife and I are currently going thru a purge cycle in our basement and selling all kinds of junk…er…stuff on ebay. I was inspired to do so by, where else…here! While reading this blog one day I realized how much of my stress comes from the endless piles of clutter and crap I have collected over the years. Now this article on boxes…what timing! This is a great tip for those who need to do a lot of shipping. My wife and I are instigating a new rule of 2 things out for 1 thing in, in an attempt… Read more »

Liz
Liz
2 years ago
Reply to  Drew

Guilty. I use USPS for all my shipping and the free boxes regardless if it’s media mail, parcel select, etc.. Brown paper bag. I never gave it a second thought.

Katherine
Katherine
10 years ago

“However, if in a fit of frugality you decide to use the boxes to wrap Christmas presents, you should be okay as long as no family members are undercover USPS agents!” This is irresponsible advice. The boxes are not truly “free” – the cost of them is built into priority mail rates. If everyone starts taking and using the boxes for purposes other than sending priority mail, it will drive the cost of priority mail up for legitimate users. This is why USPS started printing on the inside of the boxes. Originally the insides were blank – people just turned… Read more »

Eric
Eric
1 year ago
Reply to  Katherine

Oh Katherine, I doubt that people using them for other than intended will cost the Post Office much when you consider the production cost of each Flat Rate Box regardless of size is less than $0.08. I use them a lot as they are intended. People can still use them however they wish without turning them inside out as a large roll of Postal paper is less than 5 dollars. Just saying

Brenton
Brenton
10 years ago

I wish I would have known this a few weeks ago when I stood in line for two hours at the post office to mail some stuff sold on eBay.

Thanks for the info.

In an unrelated note, my own father owned his own shipping business for years, but I would still send stuff through UPS or the USPS because it was more convenient. 🙂

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

I do love the free priority mail boxes and envelopes. However, I sell a lot of books, and shipping via media mail is a lot cheaper, even if you have to dig up your own box.

Holly
Holly
10 years ago

I didn’t realize that tracking confirmation was free when ordering online or that the shippping costs are discounted…and I already have a USPS online account. The discount is great since Priority Mail w/confirmation can get pricey.

So now I need to get a used post office scale (maybe from eBay!).

And do I have to call to schedule a pick-up or can I leave the package next to the mailbox w/a note?

Good information…thanks.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
10 years ago

I’ve always just gone and mooched boxes from local liquor stores. The boxes they get there are very strong and durable, to protect the bottles in shipping, and they only ship 6 big bottles or 12 small bottles to the case, so they constantly get in mountains of boxes that they have to then break down for recycling. You just have to let them know you want some, and they’ll usually tell you the best night to come get them.

Van
Van
10 years ago

I’m starting a vintage reselling side business so this post is so helpful, thank you.

But can we use the boxes to build an awesome fort? Tree house? Regular house? Can I use them to ship priority mail if I draw a different face on the eagle with sharpie? 🙂

Baker
Baker
10 years ago

Hahaha, Van. I’ve considered several of those options. 😉

Leah
Leah
10 years ago

Another good place for boxes is grocery stores (call and ask for them — they’ll save some for you) or, um, dumpster diving. I used to dumpster dive at my local hospital for boxes and packing supplies. I always found tons of packing peanuts and stuff. One year, I sold just over $1k worth of stuff on ebay to raise money for a new macbook (I also threw in my babysitting money). I spent perhaps $10 on shipping supplies — a sharpie, packing tape, and some labels. I haven’t sold on ebay for ages, but now I’m wondering if there’s… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

I agree with Katherine (#7) — I’m not keen on ordering these boxes and then using them for other purposes. I can’t decide if it’s because I come from a box-making family, though, or because it’s actually borderline shady.

Bob
Bob
10 years ago

It’s unfortunate to see you wasting taxpayers money by misusing government resources for purposes other then what they are intended for. Careful to read the fine print, you may be committing a federal offense.

Holly
Holly
10 years ago

I think Baker was sort of joking…note the context: “If, in a fit of frugality you decide to use the boxes to wrap Christmas presents…” As in: it is last minute and you have just used up your last dept. store shirt box.

He and his wife had ordered them before their big move in order to pack and sell (purge) their possessions (through eBay or CL?).

I doubt the OP is suggesting that one should obtain the boxes for something other than their original intent.

Michelle
Michelle
10 years ago

“One trick I use (although the post office may not like it) is when I want to send by Parcel Post(cheaper than Priority Mail), just wrap the free Priority Mail boxes in “shipping paper” (the brown plain stuff) or cut to fit paper bags from the grocery store”

Then your unlucky recipient will have to pay postage due if the other PO notices this. Please don’t follow this advice.

Baker
Baker
10 years ago

Kat, J.D., and Holly –

Yep, I was trying to be a little light-hearted! I definitely am not suggesting people order boxes specifically to use in another fashion!

However, since a pack of 10 is the smallest you can order, what if you need to ship 8 items? There may certainly be a case where you’d legitimately have an extra box.

I’d hardly consider wrapping a Christmas present in one of these spare boxes unethical or malicious. However, I agree ordering with the intent of never shipping would be shady! 🙂

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

@Baker (#19)
Ha. Okay. Or maybe I just don’t have a sense of humor. 🙂

Actually, this is the line I was worried about when we exchanged e-mail the other day. I know from past experience that even if you are joking, this sort of thing doesn’t come across well. I make similar mistakes from time to time…

Adam
Adam
10 years ago

One thing I’ve done to ship smaller boxes first class or media mail is to wrap them with a brown paper bag (from the grocery store). It covers up the priority mail print on the box, so you can ship it any method you want.

It might not what the post office intends, but I’ve never had any issues doing it yet. 😉

Martha
Martha
10 years ago

I agree that using the boxes for other things is shady, as well as driving shipping costs up for the rest of us. And don’t think that people who would do that are so few that it doesn’t matter. I actually know a number of people who turn the boxes inside out, cover them, use them for other purposes, etc. I really appreciate that the post office provides these boxes, and let’s face it, if they make too big a loss on the process, they’ll stop.

Baker
Baker
10 years ago

@Martha

I’m with you a 100% on that one! 🙂

GBM
GBM
10 years ago

J.D., it’s because it’s shady. You’re taking advantage of our tax subsidies when you use the boxes for something other than Priority Mail, and by doing so, you make it less likely that the boxes will continue to be offered in the future. Maybe not a lot, but some. It’s dishonest, and I’m not willing to go that far for frugality.

Dee
Dee
10 years ago

From the USPS website:

“I understand that Express Mail, Priority Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International and Priority Mail International packaging is the property of the United States Postal Service and is provided solely for sending Express Mail, Priority Mail, Global Express Guaranteed, Express Mail International and Priority Mail International. Misuse may be a violation of federal law.”

Copyeditor sez....
Copyeditor sez....
10 years ago

This is a great post (and much better than the usual videos), but maybe the title line should be fixed? 🙂 “Baker previous featured an article on his own blog entitled “How I paid off $15,000 in 9 months by selling my Stuff on Ebay“.” 1st: previous –> previously? And the link is to a guest post on Baker’s blog from last October…? 🙂 This seems a little odd!!

Margaret
Margaret
10 years ago

Please don’t wrap boxes in brown paper before shipping. My family owns a picking and shipping store, and all the major carriers (USPS, UPS FedEx) strongly discourage this. These days, packages are sorted by machines, and if one loose corner gets caught in the machine, then the whole wrapping gets torn off, and with it, the shipping label. Packages are handled very roughly in the shipping business. Once the box and label are separated, you can pretty much guarantee they will never meet again and your package will never arrive.

Nancy
Nancy
8 years ago
Reply to  Margaret

When you wrap a carton with paper, it is a good idea to mark with waterproof marker the address of recipient and sender on inner box. I do this on every side of carton. If paper is torn off you have all concerned with the shipping and or the return, I do put a piece of clear tape accross one of the recipient address and mine for extra security. Dumpster Divers I hope I never recieve any such box, with germs and etc. I rather see a cereal box, which is non professional. Send a package the way you would… Read more »

CB
CB
10 years ago

I think several people are missing the forest for the trees. I’m not saying it necessarily ethical to use the box for something other than the priority mail shipping (such as a Christmas or birthday present) but how’s that different from getting the box and leaving it in the attic because you didn’t need it at the time and forgot about it or using it to move because it happened to be the perfect size for that rare collection of widgets you’ve had since you were five? Similarly, the argument that you are “taking advantage of our tax subsidies” is… Read more »

Sandycheeks
Sandycheeks
10 years ago

YMMV, the last time I ordered boxes it took over 2 weeks for them to be delivered. And I ordered a small amount.

Leah
Leah
10 years ago

actually, the post office isn’t really subsidized by taxes. It is currently borrowing from the treasury . . . but if you read closely, the borrowing is to pay for pension and health care obligations (something that’s a problem for lots of places) and not for day to day expenses. So, by misusing boxes, we do create more of a crunch for the postal service. I really encourage those commenters who wrap their boxes in paper to stop doing so. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive to ship priority. If you want to pay parcel rates, go find your own… Read more »

Chris at yardsalequeen.com
Chris at yardsalequeen.com
10 years ago

The PO used to provide free priority mail tape too, but too many people were abusing the privilege and using the tape for their own personal non-priority use. So they did away with it. If everyone abused the use of free priority boxes, then they could take those away too.

This post should be edited to remove the “frugality” tip about using Priority Mail for non priority mail purposes. It’s just wrong.

tas
tas
10 years ago

I read a blog (Series Books for Girls) where the author regularly buys books from eBay. She also regularly (about 5-10% it seems) encounters buyers who have simply “covered up the Priority Mail stickers” and mailed the item. She is responsible for the extra shipping cost when it arrives at her door. Way to make a customer mad! While the PO is not directly supported by the government (notice the .com not .gov in their web address) (as Leah already mentioned), it is severely restricted by what it can sell. Things have to be directly related to shipping and that… Read more »

Josh
Josh
10 years ago

I agree with the thought that using them for unintended persons is, in fact, theft. The post office is a tax payer funded “business”, no matter how you want to argue. If they have to pay for the boxes, you steal them and don’t pay for the premium postage, then I get to pay keep them in business.

What part am I missing? If you can’t use them as intended, then don’t order them.

Lefty33
Lefty33
10 years ago

I’ve actually know several sellers on eBay who do this so that when they ship certain items because it costs them nothing to aquire boxes and they use the USPS boxes to store other things in their inventory.

The next time the USPS raises rates and when they get rid of Saturday delivery you can partially thank the outright theft of these boxes.

Shady indeed.

Wayward
Wayward
10 years ago

Aside from getting rid of our second car, I’ve really only sold books in our house purge. And I always send these out by media mail w/ confirmation, which means I must stand in line at the post office. I must live near the Twilight Zone. While my town’s main post office is a nightmare, yet the main post office in the next town over (which is actually closer to our house) is a dream to go to. I’ve never had to stand in line for more than 10 minutes and usually there isn’t even a line. Oh, and our… Read more »

Daniel
Daniel
10 years ago

Here are a couple of insider USPS tips from someone who has worked for a direct competitor and also shipped thousands of USPS parcels: Priority Mail has become *VERY* reliable. Don’t listen to the people who knock it … it’s a cheaper alternative to both UPS and FedEx with equivalent reliability – and often much faster. If you’re shipping from AK or HI to the continental U.S., or shipping from one side of the continental country to the other (East to West or the other way around), Parcel Post (the “slow” USPS service) takes less than a week. It’s flown… Read more »

Chris at yardsalequeen.com
Chris at yardsalequeen.com
10 years ago

#35 Wayward – I also print out my Media mail postage online. Although I bring them to the PO to drop them off, I don’t have to stand in line since the postage has already been paid (our PO has a section of counter space set aside just for people to leave their prepaid packages on.)

Anna
Anna
10 years ago

@JD, “Actually, this is the line I was worried about when we exchanged e-mail the other day. I know from past experience that even if you are joking, this sort of thing doesn’t come across well. I make similar mistakes from time to time…” I’m sorry (I’ve only been a reader for a few months so maybe I’m unfamiliar with the process you use for guest posts)– didn’t you read/sign off on this post and don’t you ultimately control the content? I wasn’t offended by Baker’s statement, though I think it’s unwise and understand the concerns of other commenters. But,… Read more »

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

Hey, Anna (#38). Yes, I do control what gets published, but I try not to rule with an iron fist. First, I don’t necessarily agree with every post I publish (I like to present opposing views, as long as they’re not dangerous). Second, when I do my edits, I figure it’s my job to push back in certain things. Some get more resistance from me than others. And sometimes I make mistakes.

Ultimately, though, stuff like this makes the blog better. Both Adam and I can learn from this experience to make our posts stronger in the future!

Anna
Anna
10 years ago

Thanks for clarifying, JD. Just want to say again that my comment wasn’t intended to be snarky– I love your blog and value the diversity of views!!! 🙂

Rich in Texas
Rich in Texas
10 years ago

Although people may complain about the cost of first-class stamps, when adjusted for inflation, the cost of stamps remains virtually unchanged over the past four decades – something that cannot be said for health care premiums, homes, autos or almost any other consumer product or service. The USPS operates without any taxpayer-borne subsidies for postal delivery. The USPS operates on the sale of stamps, packaging, and other postal related items. Oh, and do free-marketers really think a private company could manage thousands of trucks, tens of thousands of vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of pickup boxes and still deliver any… Read more »

April411
April411
10 years ago

I sell things on ebay and have been using usps’s free supplies for years. I mainly sell clothes so I like using the priority mail flat rat envelopes to send items over 13 oz. It costs around 5 bucks to ship anywhere in the US. If you need to ship something parcel post I suggest Home Depot. Their boxes are dirt cheap. I just purchased some for 67 cents each.

April Dykman
10 years ago

Hmmm…this post and the comments tell me I know nothing about shipping methods in comparison with all of you! This is probably why I have yet to sell my stuff on eBay. 🙂

Kai Kim
Kai Kim
1 year ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I’m confused. I do sell on ebay but I’m no pro. I just used random recyced boxes. Can someone tell me how to use priority mail. I went to USPS.com but again I just want to know in simpler terms if that makes sense. I sell a lot of things on this one app. It lets me print the tracking and postage from my home by taking money out of the item I sold. Sometimes I pay for my own shipping and the post usually does First Class Mail. Would it be cheaper to use Priority of First Class? Let’s… Read more »

Shane G
Shane G
10 years ago

I used to use these boxes as well when they first offered the service…I’m not sure if this has been posted but what I would do is cut one of the edges on the box and turn it inside out…That way it would be just plain brown…It’s easier than wrapping it…

Violet
Violet
10 years ago

Shane – The post office now prints on the inside of the boxes as well.

Emile McLennan
Emile McLennan
8 years ago

Hi There,
I would love to get use some of these boxes, however, since I don’t have an address in the USA, USPS won’t ship them to me, even though I will be using them to send parcels to the USA.

Would someone consider receiving these for me and then forwarding it on to my address in South Africa. I’ll pay you the shipping costs and any other expenses involved through PayPal or something – Please, I would really appreciate the help 🙂

John
John
8 years ago

I was about to agree that yes, it’s unethical to order tons of free boxes and use them for a non-postal purpose, but then I had an attack of perspective. Given the current extent of corruption, tyranny and delusion in the USA now, I just can’t get all worked-up over boxes. Speaking of Priority Mail, having I just sold a camera on Ebay/Paypal, I then paid $5.30 to mail an 18 ounce package via USPS “Priority Mail”. It is prominently-labeled with a thirty-digit “USPS Tracking Number”. Except I’ve just found out there is no tracking of Priority Mail. Great. The… Read more »

Cassie
Cassie
8 years ago

U.S.P.S does checks on priorty boxes used via media mail or parcel post. there are fines and penalties why I know uncle retired. Best advice there is a shipping supply company you have to order media mail boxes in lots of 25 or 50 that will run you at $25- $40. or you can search amazon.com FREE SHIPPING BOXES Here is my best advice I will offer any one seriously: I save cardboard boxes and best advice go to your local retailers all those good are usually shipped in what people yep boxes…. I go early in morning as they… Read more »

Lou Odom
Lou Odom
7 years ago

I need to know if I can use the Priorty mail box to mail to my grandson, who’s in the Navy and stationed on a ship in the Persian Gulf? Also, should I fold the flaps, or lay them straight and tape?

Greg W.
Greg W.
7 years ago

I had no idea that they would send you free boxes! Do they send boxes for their other rates or just priority mail? I still like to get shipping supplies from other places though.

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