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6 tips for savvy holiday shipping

Presents in shipping box
  • Dec. 16 is the last day for parcel post for delivery by Christmas via the post office.
  • Free shipping day for many online retailers is Dec. 17, with guaranteed Dec. 25 delivery.
  • Pack and wrap your gifts securely so they arrive intact.

Now that you've managed to purchase all the items on your gift list, make sure you don't drain your bank account in order to ship them.

Here's how to determine what shipping options will get your gifts to their destination safely, on time and without busting your budget.

1. Time is of the essence

When it comes to shipping your gifts, there is no shortage of options. The U.S. Postal Service, FedEx Corp., and pack-and-ship companies, such as The UPS Store, all have various services available to get your gifts to their destinations on time.

But the faster you need your items to get there, the more you're going to pay. Ground service could take as much as five to eight days, and the package goes from truck to truck to truck, while flight delivery services can get your goods to their destination as soon as overnight.

"The earlier you ship, the more options you have," says Megan Belt, a spokeswoman for The UPS Store.

Holiday mailing guidelines for the U.S. Postal Service
LocationLetters and cardsPriority MailExpress MailParcel Post
Anywhere in the U.S.Dec. 21Dec. 21Dec. 23Dec. 16

USPS holiday mailing guidelines for military mail
Addressed to APO/FPOLetters and cardsPriority MailExpress MailParcel PostParcel Airlift MailSpace Available Mail
AE, ZIPs 090-092Dec. 11Dec. 11Dec. 18Nov. 13Dec. 4Nov. 28
AE, ZIPs 093Dec. 4Dec. 4N/ANov. 13Dec. 1Nov. 21
AE, ZIPs 094-098Dec. 11Dec. 11Dec. 18Nov. 13Dec. 4Nov. 28
AE, ZIPs 340Dec. 11Dec. 11Dec. 18Nov. 13Dec. 4Nov. 28
AE, ZIPs 962-966Dec. 11Dec. 11Dec. 18Nov. 13Dec. 4Nov. 28

2. Compare costs

Your least-expensive option will depend on how far you're sending the package and how soon you need it to arrive. A 3-pound package being shipped from New York to Washington, D.C., would cost $6.20 via the U.S. Postal Service's Parcel Post service -- the slowest ground service offered. That same package would cost $6.25 via Priority Mail, with an expected two-day delivery and $22.20 via Express Mail, which would land it to its destination overnight.

One of the benefits of shipping via FedEx is you can designate more clearly what time a package needs to arrive. That same 3-pound package being shipped via FedEx may be scheduled to arrive the same day, or by 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. or 3 p.m. the next day, with prices ranging from $28.06 to $66.87.

One of the best things about the Internet is that the largest shipping companies, including the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and The UPS Store, all let you figure out the cost of service from the comfort of your own computer. As long as you know how much your package weighs, you can find out how much it will cost to get your package to its destination in various amounts of time.


3. The hassle factor

Cost isn't the only thing to consider. With so many obligations during the holiday season, it may be worth a little extra money to save you some time. Pack-and-ship companies, such as The UPS Store and FedEx Office, give busy shoppers a respite by actually packing the boxes.

"Our associates and our franchise owners are certified packing experts," says Belt. Even if you have enough time to pack items yourself, if you're shipping fragile items, it might be worth the peace of mind of having the items packed by a professional. Another way to save time and hassle is to order your shipping products in advance. Check the Web sites of shipping companies to order necessities like boxes, tape and shipping labels.


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