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Rant: Postal service has me licked, one penny at a time

My quarry was proving elusive.

I stalked it throughout the house. I left no drawer unopened, no cupboard full, no furniture cushion in place.

I was tearing the house apart.

But my prey was nowhere to be found. It had the advantage of being small, about the size of a stamp.

A 1-cent stamp.

Holding a bill that had to be mailed that day, I discovered the only stamps on hand were 41-centers. With the price of a first-class letter now 42 cents, I, like dozens of others, was stuck with leftover 41s that I had bought before the increase was announced.

I hadn't thought about the "forever stamp" then. I needed stamps and simply asked for a book.

It's not the first time I've scrounged for stamps of such small denominations. It happens each time the first-class rate rises. I've pilfered more than a few from my wife's stamp collection.

This time, that well was dry.

But I'm not here to whine about the postal service increasing its price — again.

Everything is going up.

I want to know why, after coming up with the innovative "forever stamp," the post office would sell anything else for first-class postage? I'm sure its offices are flush with 42-centers right now. And what happens to its leftover 41s? (You can actually still buy them on the postal service Web site.) Will they hit the trash bin? How much is spent printing 1-cent and 2-cent stamps whenever there is a price bump?

The concept is great: buy stamps now, and use them whenever you need them. It's great for us, and for the post office. It gets paid now for a service that could be rendered six months, a year, or more down the road.

Or never.

Most CFOs would do somersaults if customers were willing to pay now for future service.

So why sell anything but the forever? I can't think of too many reasons.

To keep collectors happy? Nah, no real money in that.

Maybe the postal service bosses are head-over-heels happy knowing most of our leftover 41s will just get tossed out. Or doubled up.

I can't think of any other reason. Well, other than all those extra pennies they get when people buy three or four 1-cent stamps.

I guess I shouldn't expect anything else from the USPS. These are the people who give discounts to companies who mail thousands of bills at a time, but charge us full price to pay our light bill. They give bulk-rate breaks to the folks who send us reams of stuff that goes right into the recycling bin.

Sure, the bulk-rate customers help pay the bills, but why do the people who use the service the most pay the least? No one ever bestows that kind of break on me.

Maybe I'll ask for a bulk rate on 20 Quarter Pounders. After all, I'll be cutting their overhead. They will use fewer bags. But I'm guessing the only benefit I'll see, besides a lot of beef and buns, is a prescription for Lipitor.

Try asking for a volume discount when you fill up your Hummer. Wait, scratch that. Sell your Hummer.

Airlines? Some are starting to charge a bulk rate. If you check two bags you pay more. Now that makes sense.

At the end of my search I'd learned a lesson. A 1-cent stamp was nowhere to be found. So I stuck two 41-centers on the bill, and put it in my mailbox. Two days later, in what might be the biggest waste of time ever, I went to the post office to buy six 1-centers to validate my remaining 41s (and, smartly, a book of forevers).

After waiting for one clerk (there were three closed windows) to work through the line, I vowed to never again buy anything but the forever — and to expand my use of online bill paying.

Times staff writer Kyle Kreiger rants about the serious and silly with one question in mind: Why? Contact him at [email protected] Include your name, age and city.

Rant: Postal service has me licked, one penny at a time 05/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2008 11:23am]
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