The Color of Money

Being a careful shopper does not take the place of actually saving

Stocking up on Forever stamps in a bid to be frugal is a dubious strategy. Stocking up on Forever stamps in a bid to be frugal is a dubious strategy. (Kevin Lamarque/Associated Press)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michelle Singletary
May 8, 2007

I used to proudly proclaim I was a bargain shopper. I would get goose bumps when I saw a store sign that said "Save now."

But the truth about money is that when you spend, you never save.

Yes, if you buy shoes for full price and get a second pair for half off, you may have gotten a bargain. However, you have not saved a penny. You've just spent less.

I'm reminded of that as I contemplate whether I should stock up on the Postal Service's new Forever postage stamps. They were introduced to help ease consumers' aggravation at having to pony up additional postage because of an increase in the price of a first-class stamp. The stamps are called Forever because they will be good for any future single-piece first-class envelope weighing one ounce or less, no matter how prices might change.

The Forever stamp's launch comes as the cost of mailing a first-class letter rises again, to 41 cents from 39, effective Monday. But you don't have to wait until then to purchase the Forever stamp. It is available now for 41 cents, although you might want to wait to use them until May 14 or thereafter. The stamp depicts the Liberty Bell with the word "forever" printed on it. So far, the Postal Service has sold more than 500 million Forever stamps. In anticipation of demand, it has printed 5 billion, a spokesman said.

So should you rush out and stockpile sheets of this stamp?

I wouldn't, for the same reason that I'm financially cautious about filling my pantry with food and household items I might not use for months.

Before you buy in bulk, consider the cost of having that money tied up in items you won't use for some time. In the case of the Forever stamp, it would be a good bulk buy if you'll have a lot of mail to send after another future rate increase. Just make sure you buy before that next increase because the Forever stamp will sell at the future one-ounce, single-piece first-class mail price.

The good news is there's no need to fear massive increases in the cost of mailing a letter. In December, President Bush signed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, the first major change to the Postal Service since 1971. The law requires that postal rate increases be tied to the rate of inflation, as measured by the government's consumer price index.

Since 1983, the last year that the Postal Service received a federal subsidy, the price of a first-class stamp has remained at or near the rate of inflation, a spokesman said.

Under the new law, the Postal Service has the option of applying for one more rate increase by Dec. 20. After that date, the inflation linkage takes effect.

While you may not want to hoard Forever stamps just yet, some postal pricing changes are clearly a good deal. The Postal Service is changing some of its prices to reflect differences in envelope and package sizes.

The current system relies on weight. A two-ounce letter, a two-ounce flat envelope, and a two-ounce parcel all cost 63 cents to mail. The new shape-based system, which also goes into effect Monday, combines weight with shape to allow prices to be aligned with processing costs.

For example, if the contents of a first-class large envelope are folded and placed in a regular letter-size envelope, it will cost 58 cents to mail, instead of the new price of 97 cents.

The cost for many wedding invitations, which typically weigh two ounces, will drop to 58 cents from 63 cents under the shape-based system.

The Postal Service should be applauded for creating a pricing structure that will reduce spending on mail.

And notice I didn't use the word "save."

Michelle Singletary is a columnist for The Washington Post. She can be reached at

more stories like this

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.