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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Economical Packing Materials

A week or so ago, I talked about free USPS Priority shipping supplies. But what if you're shipping internationally? Or what if it's a really heavy item and your buyer chose parcel post? You'll need to come up with boxes for those items. This picture isn't my house, but it's what my eBay room looks like sometimes, when I let the boxes take over.

There are quite a few resources available to us for plain boxes. I've not tried all of them, because my closet is already overly full, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.
  • Friends and Family. Social networking isn't all just Farmville and Likes. It can be a very useful business tool. Just post a status update asking your friends and family to save boxes for you. This time of year is especially good for that, because people are ordering Christmas gifts online and are probably wondering what they're going to do with all those boxes, packing peanuts, and air pillows.
  • Craigslist/Freecycle. This is the same as my above point, but you're asking strangers instead of friends and family. Strangers buy Christmas gifts online too :)
  • Local Stores. You could always stop in to local stores and ask them what they do with their boxes. I've heard that Dollar General is an especially good place to ask for their boxes. Cell phone stores are good for air pillows. Ask around. It won't hurt to try.
  • Buy them. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay for boxes. Most of my boxes are free to me, but I never come across free boxes that will fit a microwave turntable, and believe it or not, I have a hard time finding free plain boxes that will fit a pair of shoes nicely without being way too big. I buy my turntable boxes and shoe boxes on eBay. The prices seem very high, so you'd want to be sure you're buying them for high profit margin items. When you're paying $1-2 per box, you don't want to use that box on an item you're only making $10 profit on. I generally make $20 profit on my turntables, so I can justify paying $1 for a box. It certainly beats spending 45 minutes building one!
Now for economical filler materials.
  • Newspaper is the most obvious, but it can actually add a lot of weight to a package. It also flattens easily, so it's definitely NOT good for breakables. I do use it for filler in shoe boxes though.
  • Shredded newspaper is another option. Of course you'd have to buy a shredder (long-cut, not cross-cut). Shredded newspaper is fluffier than regular, so you can use less of it to fill more space, which cuts down on the weight.
  • Egg cartons can be used to fill up a little extra space with virtually no extra weight. Again, they're crushable, so they will only work on not-heavy items.
  • Folded cardboard can fill extra space too. I've never done it, but I've received packages that had folded cardboard in them. It worked pretty well.
I'm sure this isn't an exhaustive list, but it's enough to get you started. What am I missing? What do you use for packing?


  1. I sell books mainly, but also some porcelain. I use priority boxes for porcelain, but need plain boxes to go Media for the books. I look in dumpsters behind strip malls and find useable boxes. I've found that breaking down the boxes takes up so much less room, but you need a system for finding the right size. I break them down, measure them and write the volume on the edge and store them by volume. When I ship a stack of books, I get a volume measurement from the books and then look for box from that. For single books, I've found a local supplier for a size that's reasonable. When shipping breakables, I bought a large roll of bubblewrap that I use. Also I save styrofoam for breakables. For books, I wrap them in plastic wrap (large roll reasonably priced at a restaurant supply store) and fill the box with free plastic bags, which I save and also gather from the recycling bin at the grocery.

  2. There is a local giftshop that is close to my house and I raid the (very clean/neat) trash bin. I do it the same day the truck delivers inventory. Lots of peanuts, bubble wrap etc. The problem for me is STORAGE. Priority boxes stack so neatly. It is time consuming to break down found boxes then and store them. I was at an auction once and they handed out boxes to take home purchases in. They got them from a liquor store. They looked nice/clean but I saw a HUGE roach run out of one of those boxes. GROSS. I still get squicked out thinking about it.

  3. You mentioning turntables reminded me the I found my first turntable at goodwill last week.... but unfortunately it didn't make it home. It didn't even make in to the car... because it slipped off a box I was carrying and smashed all over the parking lot. :(

  4. I was not as well prepared with shipping supplies for this holiday season as I thought. I've been selling a lot, which is a good thing, but I don't always have the correct box size :(.

    I get boxes at a lot of local stores. If I'm shipping while they are doing shipment I'll pick up a trunk load (I need a bigger car!).

    I need to find a good source of packing tape and paper.

  5. Amy, I buy this tape:

    It's thin, but I've used the thicker tape and hated it. I prefer the thin tape. This stuff doesn't tear or stick to itself. It's really huge rolls though, so it just barely fits on an empty packing tape roll from Walmart. I have one of the big hand-held tape dispensers that works nicely.

    As for paper ... I don't use much paper at all. Do you use yours for shipping labels? I have a thermal label printer, so I only use printer paper for international labels. I just buy it by the pack at Walmart.

  6. I use the grocery shopping bags for filler but Im not sure if it looks professional. I think most of my packages look crappy (I havent figured out how to neatly bubble wrap things)

  7. A great place for lightweight wraping material is behind furniture stores as a lot of wood furniture comes wrapped in thick spongy white sheets, and their trash bins are usually quite clean. I've also found large pieces of bubble wrap in the same bins; just sometimes have to remove tape from them (or cut it off). The book section at Sam's Club or Costco is a great place to find sturdy & clean boxes. ~~ Barbara

  8. My husband sometimes brings me boxes from work, used shipping boxes that are left out for recycling. I mostly reuse boxes that I receive items in (from Amazon, eBay orders and the like). If I'm sending something small I sometimes use empty household product boxes - like from dishwasher deteregent tablets or graham crackers or a shoe box.

  9. I've never thought about shredding the newspaper. That would've probably saved me money with my shipping a while ago! Had to pay extra $8 'cause of upgrading from Air Parcel to Expedited! :( Canada Post is so expensive. Need more tips like this. Thank you!

  10. I swear you ladies are psychic! It's as if you write the answers I need right before I can ask them--I just closed my first big money auction and needed to ship some breakables--I'm scared to death something will happen to them. Thanks so much for your post!

  11. One of the most economical options to filler materials is using old bubble plastics that you have from your appliances and gadgets. This can protect your fragile materials without the big cost, and can only use a little gram of weight.