I feel somewhat disingenuous filing this under “Questions Answered,” as I’m not sure I really have an answer. But we’ll see what we can do. The very pretty Kim writes:
I have adopted your gift closet approach to shopping year-round, but this holiday season, it is biting me in the butt. All of my husband’s family live on the West coast and we live on the East coast. When I took several boxes to be shipped the other day, the cost of shipping was equal to or more than the cost of the gifts inside the boxes! And I was shipping using the cheapest option available (i.e. UPS ground or similar). A couple were heavy, but even the light ones were pricier than I expected. All the money I have carefully saved over the year is lost in shipping those gifts across the country. Should I have shipped sooner, like before Thanksgiving? Are there other options I should consider (like Sherpas)?
After hemorrhaging all that money to UPS and FedEx, I am considering abandoning the gift closet approach for the holidays, and instead use something like Amazon Prime to ship them and have the parents/spouse wrap them for me. I won’t have the fun of wrapping, but even a year of Amazon Prime is less than I spent on shipping those boxes.
What’s a bargain-lover to do?
Aside from the fact that Kim bring The Funny (yes, absolutely look into a Sherpa…), she raises an issue I was just mentioning to a friend the other day: Is it worth it to save on this stuff if you then blow the savings in shipping?
Let’s deconstruct the problem a little.
First: Does it make sense to have a gift closet? I still say yes. You will sometimes need local gifts; for thank-yous, for hostesses, for birthday parties. There are lots of good reasons to have some “emergency gifts” on hand. Aside from that, as aggravating as shipping costs are, if you pick up something for Uncle Joe in June because it’s a great deal and you know he’ll love it for Christmas, chances are you’re saving even more money on it than you’ll spend on shipping.
Second: So what are the gift closet caveats? First and foremost—weight. That great deal for Uncle Joe had best be on a book or something small. If it’s on the Ronco Splat-a-Matic 4000 that weighs thirty pounds and you’re likely to have to ship it? Pass.
Third: How do you save on shipping? The sad fact is that when gas went up to $4+/gallon last year (was that just last year…?), many other services which have traditionally raised their prices slowly went to huge rate hikes. You know this if you’ve bought a plane ticket or shipped anything since then. I use the USPS for everything except really large/heavy boxes, mostly because it’s convenient. For larger packages UPS and FedEx start to be less expensive, but really, I don’t think there’s any delivery service that’s significantly cheaper than another. Shipping is expensive everywhere.
There are a few ways to save, though.
1) Media Mail. You can ship books/DVDs/CDs via USPS Media Mail for a lower rate. It also takes a lot longer, so be prepared for that, particularly around the holidays. (And because someone will ask: Generally no, they don’t check to make sure your package only contains media, but I’ve heard tell of spot checks, so I’m going to recommend honesty here.)
2) Put it all in one box. If you’re shipping to a cluster of friends/relatives in the same area, you’re always going to be better off shipping one box than a bunch of them, because there’s a basic foundation charge you’ll only be paying once, rather than repeatedly. So if one of your recipients would be kind enough to play Santa and distribute the other contents, do that.
3) Pack creatively. Rather than sending those wine glasses with two pounds of padding, put that package inside the box with the sweaters for your nieces. Voila! Two birds, one stone.
4) Compare rates. Again, I don’t see a huge variation from shipper to shipper, but everyone has their rates available online, so check before you ship. Weigh your package—even if it’s only an approximate weight, like by you getting on and off your bathroom scale with it—and do your research.
As long as you’re not shipping express, Kim, shipping earlier in the year isn’t going to be any cheaper. Waiting til the last minute is always expensive, of course.
And as for just doing everything via Prime—look, I love Prime as much as the next person. But the shipping savings may end up being a wash if your dedication to Prime lands you somewhere that you justify paying full price because it’s easy. It’s up to each of us to honestly assess our spending habits and determine where we can save the best, you know?
Readers, additional thoughts?