Care packages are straight-up expensive.
It doesn’t matter how you cut it, buying the stuff and sending it cost a lot, especially if you send boxes frequently. It was something that totally smacked me in the face (hellooooo emotional spending!) and when I totaled what I spent over the course of a year deployment, I was pretty gobsmacked.
I’ve written about how to cut corners and save money without degrading the quality of the care package. (It is possible!)
But there is something else you can do.
Make the stuff– all of it–inside the box matter.
Yes, everything. Even the packaging material used to keep the goodies and treats in the care package safe.
When John was deployed to Afghanistan, I found myself playing a game of Care Package Tetris, figuring out how to fit the most stuff in the box. (After all, if you’re sending Priority, if it fits, it ships! So it pays you to cram as much in as possible.
But usually there’s still space.
Why does packaging material matter in care packages?
It’s practical: packaging material keeps the stuff in the box from rattling around. From your homemade cookies to that gadget your loved one asked you to send– packing materials keep everything snug and safe during transit. And, because mail (especially overseas mail) can be rough on care package contents even when you list something as “fragile,” using the correct packaging materials is an important and often overlooked step in the whole care package process.
Making the most of your care package with packing materials
You could just cram paper or packing peanuts in there, but that’s basically paying to ship garbage since your honey will most likely toss it upon opening. (Not to mention that it’s extremely not eco-friendly. In fact, depending on where your loved one is deployed, they may burn garbage, creating toxic fumes that sicken people on base and outside of it.)
Instead, think about using useful (or at least eco-friendly) packing materials as you plan and execute your care package. I started doing this when John asked me to start stuffing the edges of the box with plastic shopping bags. They were really useful during his deployment and he wanted a supply of them.
Of course I acquiesced to his request. Why wouldn’t it? Plastic bags are easy to come by (in fact, I had a drawer overflowing with them) and using them to pack every nook and cranny in a box I was already shipping made a lot of sense.
It got me thinking about other unique, useful, and creative ways to package boxes.
Try using these packing materials for your next care package
Here are more fun and/or useful packaging materials that can squash into the small spaces so every, single inch is used.
- Bubble wrap
- Inexpensive wrapping paper
- Jumbo-sized marshmallows
- Half-blown up balloons (we don’t want them to pop!)
- Stress balls
- Circus peanuts
- Pom poms
- Cheese puffs
- A t-shirt
- Packaged underwear
- Cotton balls, cotton swabs, facial cleansing pads, etc.
- Only use the comics pages of the newspaper
- Crumpled paper shopping bags
- Rolls of toilet paper
- A new, soft towel
- A sweatshirt or sweatpants
- An inexpensive pillow
- Use a stack of printer paper. Think of a message you want the received to get. Write one word from the message on each paper, then ball up and use as packaging. (You can number the papers to make the puzzle a little easier.) Then include a note to un-wad all the papers to find the secret message.
- Packaged cotton candy
- Easter grass. (This stuff is even biodegradable.)
- Loofahs/sea sponges
- Cereal marshmallows. (Buy them in bulk here.)
- Mr. Clean Dry Erasers
- TastyKakes (or other treats)
- A scarf
- Bagged cereal
- Bags of coffee or tea
- Bagels (No, really. You can send them in the mail! Here’s how.)
- A partially blown up beach ball
- Koosh balls
- A travel pillow
Make sure you use packing material correctly in your care package
The purpose of all of your packing material– whatever it is– is all about making sure that what you send gets there in one piece. And believe it or not, there is a bit of an art to it. Of course, the best thing to do is to not to send fragile, expensive items in a care package. But sometimes fragile items are things like cookies that you want to be intact upon arrival.
Try these ideas on for size with your chosen packing materials:
- If you’re sending something that already is packed, don’t unpack it to repack it. Keep it intact and pack around the box.
- Use layers of packing material, if you’re sending anything breakable. Create a snug, shock-abosorbing barrier around the breakable item first with paper (like newspaper or copier paper) and then with thick layers of packing material like cloth.
- Shipping homemade food? Think about vacuum sealing it first. If you don’t have a sealer, double package in a Ziploc bag and squeeze all of the air out. Then slide the food into a snug-fitting box. (I’m partial to cereal boxes for shipping homemade cookies and granola bars.)
- Shipping already-packaged food? It should already be good to go for a trip through the mail, so you’ll just need to pop it into your care package and ensure that there’s not too much space for it to rattle around.
- Make sure that your heaviest, sturdiest items are on the bottom of the box, with the lightest and most fragile items on top. If this is the case, don’t forget to obviously and clearly mark your care package “fragile” and “this side up” on the outside.
- When you take your care package to the post office, make sure that you are honest with the postal worker and let them know if you’re shipping anything liquid, perishable, fragile, or hazardous. They’ll mark the box accordingly. If you’re shipping something particularly expensive, you might want to jump for the extra insurance on your box. (Remember that Priority Mail already has a standard insurance that comes with shipping. Ask your postal worker for more information.)
- Read this article to learn how to package items so they won’t break going through the mail. (These are tried and true methods that really work1)
Looking For More Care Package Ideas? Try These:
- 40 Ways to Save Money on Care Packages
- The Gigantic List of Free Care Packages for Deployed Service Members
- Here’s What Troops Really Want in a Care Package