Not only is sending a care package a fun way to communicate with your military loved ones, but it also helps improve troop morale by providing useful items and a taste of home. But how do you ensure your care packages arrive successfully with all their contents intact? And without using all your savings?
Sooner or later, all military families become experts in sending care packages. Whether during your long-distance relationship or throughout multiple deployments overseas, you’ll end up spending lots of time at the post office.
During the first deployment of our marriage, I sent my husband many care packages. Most of them made it to his location overseas, but sometimes the box was completely squashed or the contents had leaked. I once tried to send birthday cake sealed in mason jars, but the cake was moldy by the time it arrived.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with care packages, and the first few I sent were certainly full of mistakes.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of care package tips that I’m happy to share with you so you don’t waste some of the time and money I did.
Follow These Care Package Tips During Your Next Deployment
Get your shipping materials for free
First lesson: Don’t buy boxes for care packages. The U.S. Post Office provides them to military families for free!
Technically, you can use any leftover cardboard box for a care package. However, the boxes provided in the USPS free military care package kit let you take advantage of the lowest shipping rates (Priority Mail). You ship Priority Mail boxes at a flat rate that depends on size, rather than weight. The large size ships for around $20, so load it up!
To order the military care package kit, you can either call the USPS Package Supply Center at 1-800-610-8734 or purchase it through the USPS website.
Plan ahead for delivery times
Delivery times vary throughout different deployments. Packages may be delivered as quickly as two weeks, but other times take closer to one month.
If you’re mailing something for a birthday, anniversary, or another holiday, be sure to send it well in advance. Because deployment mail is handled by the military, you won’t be able to track packages once they leave the USPS system, so don’t bother paying extra for tracking.
The post office releases a holiday shipping schedule for military bases overseas. Make sure you review it and send your package on time so your loved one can enjoy their gifts!
Have online purchases shipped directly
When ordering something online for your service member, don’t pay for shipping twice. There’s no need to have it mailed to your house just so you can repackage it and send it overseas.
Amazon and many other online companies now ship to FPO and APO addresses. Look for the option under “state,” then use AE or AP for “country.”
Ask friends and family to donate contents
I used to spend almost $100 per care package because my husband wanted it filled with tobacco products and beef jerky. Now I’ve learned that others are happy to donate items, supplies, or food.
Collect items whenever you visit home or when family visits you. Talk to local schools, churches, or non-profit organizations to see if they’ll sponsor the deployed unit. Many programs want to send items to troops. They just need an address for packages.
Include something for the single service members
Your spouse is lucky to receive a military care package, but not every deployed service member receives mail.
Ask your spouse if there are some single service members in the unit. Then include some cards or treats for them. If you need ideas, here are some items that are universally appreciated during deployment.
Buy in bulk
Since you’ll be mailing non-perishable items throughout the deployment, you can save money when you buy large quantities of your service member’s favorite snacks. Include a few packages or snacks in each box.
If you already have a membership to Sam’s Club or Costco, use it. If not, look for the case lot sales or bulk item aisle at your Commissary.
Make sure baked goods are properly sealed
Remember the moldy birthday cake I mentioned earlier? It happened because the mason jars didn’t seal properly when the cake cooked.
You can send cookies and cake to deployed troops, but since it will take several weeks, research the correct shipping methods first. There are good tips in this article here.
Don’t send restricted items
Don’t send liquids, flammable substances, batteries, or alcohol. If you include these items in your military care package, the entire package may be confiscated or destroyed.
Even if you don’t list a restricted item on the customs form, remember that boxes can still be opened and checked.
The Post Office has a full list of restricted items to avoid.
If you want to decorate, search Pinterest
Some people love to make their care packages fun by decorating the box. You can include a personal message, holiday decorations, funny pictures, or artwork.
Pinterest has thousands of ideas for fun and colorful decorations. Just remember not to include anything valuable in your decorations, since boxes will get thrown away.
The Bottom Line
With the holidays coming up, right now is the best time to start planning your special care packages. By following these tips, you’ll have a greater chance of success when sending your loved one a military care package from home. Better yet, you’ll save money along the way.