I arrived at the post office Thursday morning this week 10 minutes after it opened. There was one clerk, ten people were in line, and the APC machine was broken. Facing a long wait to ship a small package, I gave up and headed home determined to buy the postage online.
I wrote some time ago (http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthr...piece-Shipping) about my preference for first class mail to ship items domestically weighing around a half pound or less. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that while you can check the price of first class shipping at USPS.com, you can't actually buy the shipping label there.
I hunted around for an alternative, and I believe I found a good one: Ship Now from Paypal (google PAYPAL SHIP NOW for a link). You need a Paypal account, but your package does not need to be a fulfillment of an eBay sale. It's easy to use and offers Priority, Express, first class, parcel post, and even media mail services (media mail can be a real bargain for shipping heavier eligible items like books, although shipping times are much more variable than for first class).
Here's the weird thing: the price is actually a little cheaper through this service than it is buying directly through the post office. For example, a 5 oz. USPS first class parcel is $2.29 according to USPS.com, but it's $1.98 through Paypal which includes free delivery confirmation, an additional $0.85 charge through USPS. Last time I checked (though it's been a while), delivery confirmation through USPS was just that - the information online was updated only when the package was delivered. Somehow the DC number from Paypal (which you still track through USPS) provides detailed info as the package is in transit, albeit several hours delayed.
Priority small flat rate shipping through Paypal doesn't appear to have the discount, but does offer free delivery confirmation so it's still a deal if you typically buy that service.
I shipped my package using first class mail through Paypal from Chicago on Thursday and it arrived in Berkeley, California today, so the process actually works. I don't know how Paypal undercuts USPS prices like this but I couldn't be more pleased with the price and convenience.
[Edit] This link takes you to the Paypal login screen and then directly to Ship Now: www.Paypal.com/shipnow