The next few paragraphs contain an expensive and embarrassing moment for me. I'm sharing it with you, so you don't make the same mistake I did! Feel free to laugh, but make sure you keep reading for all the tips on how to get free supplies for your next care package with the USPS military kit.
In college, I dated a guy in the Army. When he deployed the first time, I joined a bunch of Facebook groups to make connections, get support, and learn. One of the big things I wanted to learn was about care packages.
Where did you get the supplies you needed? How did you send them? What should you put inside? Were there restrictions? Would it be expensive?
I read somewhere along the way that the United States Postal Service would ship boxes to military personnel deployed overseas for FREE.
I was SO excited about this news. I gathered up a big box and went on a shopping spree at the Dollar Store, Wal Mart, and Target, picking out tons of snacks, powders for his water, instant coffee and a mug, socks, a cheetah pillowcase (to keep him humble), and so much more.
I spent hours crouched over a pile of scrapbook paper, measuring the flaps, cutting the paper and letters out, and spraying it with a coffee-scented spray. The guy's name was Joe, so the theme was "My Cup of Joe" (devastatingly clever, I know). Seriously, I think I watched a full season of Lost while putting this behemoth together. The box was such a labor of love that I started calling it Rhonda. I even invited his friends and family to add things in the box. After all, the shipping would be free!
I spent at least $100 on all the snacks and items to go in the box.
A few days later, I waltzed into my post office with Rhonda, my care package the size of my torso, a pile of customs forms, and a gleeful smile. The postal worker made some comments about whoever receiving the package being lucky. He ran through the standard list of questions and then slid the box on the scale. After typing in some numbers, he said, "Alright, it's going to be $121."
A strange mix of dread and embarrassment crept up my neck.
"There must be some mistake," I said. "I thought shipping on care packages for the military was free."
Nope. Nada. Nunca. So I pulled my care package off the counter and went back to my car. I divided her into several smaller care packages and mailed them to him over the next few months. Lesson learned.
The post office does not currently ship boxes to service members overseas for free. They do, however, have free supplies you can use (we'll get into that in a minute), and they offer state-side shipping rates on their flat rate boxes. Below are some frequently asked questions about USPS, their military kit, and what you can get for free. And, while we're on the subject, how do you decorate those boxes anyway?
The military care kit from the United States Post Office is FREE. Zero dollars! And yes, while you can pick up flat rate boxes at your local post office for free, the USPS military kit has everything you need and is conveniently shipped to your house.
So, what's in the box?
The kit was put together because the USPS took note of what military families requested most for care packages. The kit comes with two APO/FPO boxes, four medium flat rate boxes (two top and two side loading options), one roll of Priority Mail tape, six address labels, and six custom envelopes.
How do I get my box?
You can visit their website or call 1-800-610-8734 and get connected with a representative who will send you a box. Unfortunately, your local post office will not have these on hand. You have to order them. And sometimes, post office staff don't know this service exists. So even if you ask and they have no clue what you're talking about, check online!
How long will it take to get to me?
Usually, the packages take 7 to 10 business days to arrive. If you're on a timeline, you'll want to account for these extra days!
Now, decorating USPS boxes is an art, or a giant pain — depending on your attitude. Personally, I don't love spending hours folding and cutting and gluing and cursing and regluing before deciding "it's the thought that counts."
I have seen people paint the insides (and outsides) of their care packages. That is not me. I would rather spend money than pretend to be Monet. If you are an artist, keep in mind that the paint will soak into the cardboard and may change the shape a little.
If you're in a hurry to get your care package shipped (or you hate arts and crafts more than small talk in public restrooms), there are some short cuts you can take.
There are lots of options out there. Heck, even Duct Tape jumped on board the care package train with some camo-colored tape. Washi tape is a quick way to get those flaps decorated without much hassle.
Etsy also has some great shops with simple decor solutions.
SeaToSeaWithLove is owned by a Navy spouse, Rachel. Her shop includes care package flap sticker kits. They are designed to fit the flaps of a medium or large flat rate box. Paper Paisley Shop and Care Package Sticker also have flap sticker kits.
If you like that idea but want to really do it yourself, you could use scrapbook paper and scrapbook adhesive to decorate the flaps to fit your theme. You could also experiment with felt or fabric, using fabric glue or staples to keep things in place.
What is your favorite way to decorate a care package?
Let us know in the comments!