- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 25, 2002

G ot stamps? At 12:01 a.m. on Sunday the rate for first-class mail along with many other services will increase as the U.S. Postal Service implements a new pricing schedule. The first ounce of a first-class letter will rise to 37 cents, up from 34 cents.

Full details of the rate increase are available online at www.usps.com.

While fax and e-mail have largely supplanted regular mail for many purposes (many of us send invoices via e-mail, make bill payments online and have turned from "mail order" shopping to online shopping), there is still plenty of mail to be delivered. In Washington and its environs, lobbyists and interest groups, among others, often have a great need for regular mailings to constituents and other interested parties.

When mailings are truly large, bulk rates (now dressed up with the euphemism "standard mail") and other discounts can come into play. But how can you save money on mailings that are smaller in size, or have to go out via first class and other means? For many small businesses, such mailings are essential.

Your computer can be a part of the savings process, if you do your homework and plan accordingly. Some tips:

•Size matters. Standard-size mailings, such as "number 10" envelopes, regular postcards, moderate-sized greeting cards, are likely to avoid special surcharges that increase prices. Such sizes are easier to print on a PC/printer combination using software such as Avery DesignPro Deluxe, which lists for $70 and is often available in stores for less. The DesignPro software makes it very easy to design labels, postcards and other items for mailing.

•Addressing matters, too. Using products such as Dymo's LabelWriter Turbo 330, you can address domestic and international letters with greater precision. In fact, Dymo offers a free address-checking software program (www.dymo.com) that works with Windows compatible-computers via the Internet to verify addresses and add the ZIP+4 code for domestic mail. Word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and Lotus WordPro, include envelope and label-addressing features to let you create and print addresses that can include a delivery bar code to make mail move faster and can, if done in sufficient quality, qualify for discounts.

•Weighty matters. Getting a good digital postal scale these range in price from $50 to $60 and weighing your letters and small packages can save money. Some scales can be connected to computers, but these are generally far more expensive.

Combine these two steps and you can ensure that mailings are properly printed, sized and weighed all of which is essential for paying just what you need to in terms of postage and not a penny more. But do you have the proper combination of stamps to make up a given rate?

You can if you have a means of printing postage labels for each mailing piece, or for a bunch of such items. For years, that required the rental of a postage meter with a hefty monthly fee, a trip to the post office to buy bulk postage and that wonderful red ink running onto your hands or clothes.

Now, using www.stamps.com or similar services from Pitney Bowes (www.pb.com) or Neopost (www.simplypostage.com), you can print, online or offline, postage labels for the exact rate. Some of these can only be used on domestic mail, while others can be used on international mail. The stamps.com software includes an address-correction feature that looks up and verifies addresses.

All these features will help make your mailings move more quickly and easily through the postal system and, again, save you wasted postage and other costs. Sadly, however, the nation's postal authorities are neglecting a powerful motivator to make sure you and I and all other mailers do their part.

During the past three or four postal rate increases, it has been proposed and rejected that those business and personal mailers that help the postal service do its work by using ZIP+4 codes, bar- code envelopes and doing other things to speed mail get a discount for automating their end of the mailing process.

Big mailers such as Washington Gas get the discount because they send out thousands of pieces at a time. But you and I can do, on a smaller scale, many of the steps the big mailers undertake and in fact we do, when using stamps.com or similar services, but we don't get a penny's worth of savings.

As the U.S. Postal Service seeks to stay afloat in the face of lower mail volumes, it would behoove them to reward all customers for making extra efforts to ready mail for processing and delivery. Otherwise, I fear the rate rises will continue and you will want to keep this column handy as a reminder of how to save on mailings yet again.

Write to: Mark Kellner c/o The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back to him, live, every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. EST on www.adrenalineradio.com.

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