Shipping Costs: The Stealth Bomber of Christmas Budgets

by mzumtaylor on December 20, 2011

in Considering Expenses,Personal Finance,Saving

I was so proud of myself for staying within the budget of what I had saved for Christmas spending this year. Everyone we want to buy gifts for had gifts, and they were all purchased before the 15th, mostly locally or with free shipping (another cost that always gets me), giving me plenty of time to ship them.

Then I went to the post office to do just that.

$55 later, all of our presents were on the way to their destinations, due to arrive before Christmas, but I had overspent my Christmas budget by $40. I don’t know why I thought it would only cost $15 to send three boxes to three different locations. My best guess is that I wasn’t thinking about it at all.

But here’s the thing, half of the people to whom we send Christmas presents live across the country. Which means that I have to be standing in line at the post office at least a week before Christmas, if their presents are going to arrive on time.

I know this. I plan my present-buying around the fact that if I’m not in line at the post office by the 17th, no one out East will have presents by the 24th. And in recent years, I’ve been very good about getting to the post office in time. So you would think, with all my careful planning and budgeting, I would remember to budget for shipping.

Part of the problem this year was that the things I wanted to send either didn’t fit in a flat-rate priority shipping box, or they had to go into a bigger flat-rate box than I anticipated ($28). Part of the problem was that I left my box tape and extra packing materials at home for the two boxes that I wasn’t able to pack before I got to the post office, which necessitated buying their “convenient” shipping supplies ($12). *sighs*

And part of the problem was that I got to the post office on the 18th, instead of the 17th, and the one box with items that were too big to fit in a priority flat-rate box had to be sent Priority instead of regular mail in order to be sure that it arrived on the 23rd. Regular mail would “theoretically” arrive on or before the 23rd, but as the woman behind the counter was so helpful to point out, they were much busier this time of year than usual, so any shipping might take an extra day or two.

In the end, I sprang for Priority shipping on a 14 lb. box ($15).

And this is not just a Christmas-time phenomenon. I do the same for Birthday presents and graduation presents, too. Last year, I budgeted $30 for my sister’s birthday present. I found this great item that I knew she would love an appreciate. It cost $26.99, before tax.

I was so excited that I had found a gift that she would love that was within my budget. … And then I took it to the post office to mail it to her, four days before her birthday. $11.00 and a larger-than-I-expected priority box later, her present was on its way, and I had blown my birthday budget by more than 30%.

What’s the solution? In part, I suspect picking up priority boxes before I’m at the post office to ship everything will help. I can be pretty creative about packing things, and the packing materials I have at home are better than those at the post office because they’re free. :)

The other solution is to set aside an extra $75 out of our Christmas savings to pay for shipping. It may not cost that much, but if it does, I’ll be ready.

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