After all the precious time and care you’ve put into your pregnancy announcements, baby shower invitations, or baptism invites, the last thing you want is to open your mailbox and find all one hundred of your beautiful invitations returned with horrible red markings from the post office because of insufficient postage. To avoid this not-so-pleasant experience and other surprises, here are a few tips to keep in mind when mailing your cards.
First-class or coach?
Use first-class mail. First-class mail is the most economical service for fast delivery of letters and first-class postage rates are the same regardless of destination within the United States. First-class mail postage also includes forwarding and return services, which give you the peace of mind that your cards will reach the recipients, otherwise, they’ll be returned to you.
Check twice, send once
Don’t assume that all envelopes only need a single first-class stamp. Not only can postal requirements change, but also invitation cards can vary widely in shape, size, and weight. If you’re the least bit unsure about the correct postage to use, take one completely assembled invitation – envelope, enclosures, et. al. – to the post office and have a postal clerk determine the exact postage rate. How much postage you’ll need depends on how compatible your mailings are to the post office’s processing machines.
Automated mail processing machines have specific tolerances for the types of mail that they can accommodate. If what you’re mailing cannot be handled by machine, they’re deemed “nonmachinable” and will have to be processed by hand. Because manual handling of mail takes additional resources, the post office will impose additional postage. There are a number of variables that impact when additional postage is applied.
Weight is probably the most well-known factor affecting postage rate. In most cases, a first-class stamp is sufficient for single-piece mail that weighs one ounce or less. Each ounce thereafter will cost extra.
Not too big, not too small
However, weight isn’t the only factor. Even if your fully assembled invitation weighs less than the one-ounce limit, you may need more than one first-class stamp if the piece is thicker than 1/4″, longer than 11-1/2″, or higher than 6-1/8″. Conversely, if your letter is thinner than 0.007″, shorter than 3-1/2″, or lower than 5″, then there will also be a surcharge. If it passes those requirements, then there’s a second set of dimensional criteria. If the letter is more than 4-1/4″ high or 6″ long and the thickness is less than 0.009″, then it’ll cost more to send. How do you tell which side is the length vs. height of a letter? The post office defines length as the side parallel to the address and height as the side that is perpendicular to the length. And how thick is 0.007″? As a rule of thumb, if your assembled envelope is as thick as an index card, then it’s thick enough. Thin, flimsy pieces tend to get caught and mangled in mail processing equipment, so make sure your letter meets the minimum thickness requirement.
Hip to be rectangle
Then there’s the issue of shape. The farther your envelope deviates from the conventional rectangular shape, the greater your chance of paying more postage. For instance, envelopes that are more square than rectangular may increase the postage. A way to check for square-ness is to divide the length of the envelope by its height. If the result – called the “aspect ratio” in post office lingo – is less than 1.3 or more than 2.5, then you’ll likely pay more than the standard rate. Also, the post office does not like rounded corners. They’d prefer letters and postcards to be rectangular with perfect 90-degree corners, although they may not penalize you if yours don’t conform to this preference.
Entanglement and entrapment
You may not qualify for the standard rate if your assembled invitation is too stiff or bulky to be processed mechanically. For example, mail containing items such as pens or pencils that cause the surface of the letter to be uneven or stiff can jam postal equipment and, subsequently, require manual processing. Likewise, envelopes that have closure devices like clasps, strings, and buttons may get tangled when going through machines and must be excluded from automated processes.
» Next: Mailing Tips – Part 2
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