Sunday, December 21, 2014

USPS Mailing Tips

My packages awaiting pickup.
It's that magical time of year when often people show their worst side while standing in the dreaded Post Office line. In Charlottesville, you are guaranteed a long wait at any of the three main offices. Some of the best post offices to go to during the Holiday season are the small rural stations. My personal favorite is in Ivy. A teeny post office conveniently attached to a cute garden center out of a scene from Dr. Zhivago or It's a Wonderful Life.

If I had to go to the USPS 365 days a year.
After years of selling online, I have acquired many tips from my mail carrier. Last year I set the goal to sell one item each day and I actually exceeded this goal. Driving to the post office 365 days a year would not only be insane but time consuming! I would have shut my business down or gone postal if I had not changed my shipping habits. Standing in line is one of my least favorite things to do (inherited from my Grandmother English who was a notorious butt in liner). The only thing I miss about not going to the Cville Central Post Office is that I no longer run into Charlottesville's finest. On several trips, I wished I had taken my camera. I never figured out why the lady with the pink curlers was in the line to get a passport photo!

My vintage mailbox, an old door knob as the pull handle.
If you mail a lot of packages your first step is to upgrade to a bigger mailbox. I found our jumbo box at the Habitat Restore. When stuffing in the packages, arrange it so they all can be seen or attach a note with the package quantity (a substitute carrier missed one of my packages that was hiding in the back dark corner).

Debbie my exceptional mail carrier with my packages.
My mail carrier is what I will call a "full service carrier". I complained to her that I had to go to the post office and stand in line to get stamps. She looked at me and said, why did you do that, you know I have you covered! I never knew that stamps and other postal products can be ordered directly from your mail carrier! She handed me an orange envelop that can be filled out and placed my box along with a check. You can even request specific types of stamps, I think we often forget that behind the mailbox is a person that can make your life easier. In a pinch, you can also get a first class (.49 cent stamp), at the grocery store.

Gazing over Forsythia Hill instead of driving to the USPS.
Even with a big mailbox, often packages are too large to fit. After complaining AGAIN to my mail carrier about the long lines and wait, she told me to just pop the flag up and slip a piece of paper in my box saying there was a package at my door and she would drive up and get it. She always says, we want your business! Prearrange this process with your carrier, it's been working smoothly for 2 years for me on Forsythia Hill.

My organized shipping supply closet.
In four years of online selling, I have never purchased boxes, bubble wrap, wrapping paper, or peanuts. I have a strong commitment to reusing shipping materials. It not only saves money but it's environmentally responsible. Materials can be found on freecycle and from local businesses. My mother picks up boxes from a local optical shop in Roanoke and they are happy to unload them. My father has dementia and removing the labels is a way for him to participate in my business venture and he looks forward to it!

Sylvie my Shipping Manager oversees the action.

Because I recycle so many boxes, I asked my carrier what would happen if I mailed a package First Class but the box had a Priority Mail sticker left on it. She said the postal carrier would have to collect the extra postage on the other end! So if you are recycling boxes, make sure you remove all the old stickers!

My biggest dilemma was how to ship golf clubs. One day when browsing through the FREE USPS mailing boxes. I stumbled upon a FREE box that holds such a thing! EUREKA! Some items are what they classify as flat rate which means there is a set mailing price regardless of the package weight (if it fits it ships for that flat price), others are just priority boxes and you will be charged a varying priority rate based on the weight.

Don't be a chicken - just ask!
You can print mailing labels from your home in paypal. There are also online companies that you can buy insurance from, often cheaper than the postal rate and less of a hassle if you have to file a loss. Instead of buying expensive sticky labels, I print directly on a regular piece of paper and use shipping tape to completely cover and adhere it on to the package.

Don't be afraid to talk to your mail carrier. It can be a game changer and make your life so much easier!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Alternative Gift Giving

Desperate for a gift, maybe this Cow Necklace fits the bill.
There may be someone on your Christmas Giving list that is just plain hard to shop for. Don't despair, there are alternative gift choices for that person that seems to have everything or no longer wants anything!

or how about a nice Wide Tie ?
The other side of the coin is to sit down and think about what you are really trying to convey this holiday season. Gift giving is an expression of love, thoughtfulness, and kindness. I always try to purchase something meaningful, but often, out of despair buy something that I fear has little interest. A Soap on a Rope that will go unused hanging in a shower as a show piece for 25 years, only to acquire a nice coating of dust and dirt, seems a waste of a thoughtful gift moment!

Mom giving me a sack of Corn Meal for Xmas.
Why don't we instead select a local charity and make a gift in honor or in memory. Holidays are often tough for those that have lost someone during the holiday season. Sadly my Grandmother passed on Christmas Day and it was her favorite holiday. An "in memory" donation might be the best gift you could make.

My sweet Daisy Doodle, found at the shelter.
Because of my long involvement in Animal Rescue, I tend to donate to agencies that benefit animals. Think about the person you are giving to and if they or the person you are memorializing liked animals. I can't think of a nicer thing to do than to make a donation in honor of a friend and their beloved pet(s).

Local private animal rescue agencies have to spend countless hours begging (and I mean begging) for funding. It's often thought that local SPCA's receive funding from the national ASPCA, Humane Society of the US, or Federal or State funding. They do not. The only situation where a local SPCA receives county funding is when it operates the state mandated Animal Shelter. This is a rarity in Virginia but is actually the case in Charlottesville but funds only cover the collection and housing of animals, they do not cover spay neuter, vaccines, or other humane outreach. Many local humane societies struggle to keep the doors open and giving to them is a direct benefit to your community.

Saved by Animal Control with HOWS involvement.
I seek out agencies that work "in the trenches" or are located in low income areas as they tend to need extra support. Last year Voices for Animals in Charlottesville merged with Houses of Wood and Straw (HOWS) and both groups do amazing work for our local animals. If you have ever been involved in animal rescue, some of the saddest cases are animals left outside 24 x 7. Both of these groups help animals, that in my opinion, are the most needy in our community.

Now you get it ?
This year I received notice that the Humane Society that I worked for 5 years ago was CLOSING. Donations had trickled to a near stop. The group had worked so hard to help the animals that fundraising took a backseat. County shelter euthanasia rates had dropped to historic lows but so did donations. Fortunately, animal lovers heard the cry and donations flooded in. Grants were also written to help fund spay neuter programs. The Pulaski County Humane Society operates in a part of Virginia that has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the state. The last thing this community needs is to have an "in the trenches" group close.

Many privately run animal groups are teetering between opening and closing. This is not an uncommon case since they are rarely supported by local tax revenue like other charitable agencies. Think of how much work could be directed to helping the animals if a regular check came in the mail to support their programs!

Two more of my babies saved by the Humane Society.
I have talked about a non-profit sector that I personally know well but there are many agencies that do good deeds in your own community that can benefit from your charitable gift this time of the year. A meaningful gift is the best gift!

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