Get those holiday greetings out now

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Electronic greetings and overnight mail push that inevitable last minute to even later.

The holiday season is in full swing and your holiday greetings are … sitting at the bottom of your briefcase? Unsigned and sitting on the dining room table? Still in the box?

What kind of Grinch are you?

Yeah, I know. You meant to get all those Christmas cards out by now. With a cheery message individualized to each family member and friend. Except now it’s the week of Christmas and you’re late — again. OK, you still have a few options.

Going postal

Mail the cards today. Forget the personalized greeting — well, except maybe for grandma. Sign all those cards as fast as you can. Then dig around under the couch cushions for as many loose stamps as you can find.

Let’s face the inevitable: You have to head to the post office. Thankfully, they have vending machines that sell all those stamps, so you won’t have to stand in line. Unless you want those fancy holiday stamps, but then you should have thought of that sooner. So slap any ol’ stamp on those red and green envelopes and get them in that blue box.

When you’re done, take a minute to consider that the Post Office will deliver your holiday greetings for only 32 cents (this year) — no matter where (in the U.S.) you or the recipients live. The U.S. Postal Service will deliver billions of cards and packages this month, and believe it or not, most of them will get there pretty quickly. That’s assuming you wrote those addresses legibly.

Another solution is to just move on and tell everyone that these aren’t Christmas cards, but New Year’s cards instead. That way they’re not late — assuming you get them out now. This also has the advantage of avoiding the whole Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza religious issue.

Quick like Santa

Hey, if you want to make like Santa and do it all overnight, then expect to pay out the whazoo. I was planning on going into a list of options and rates for 2 day and overnight delivery, but it so ridiculous to spend so much in order to send a $1.00 card.

Allow me just give you a couple examples. Using FedEx, I can send my $1.00 Christmas card from West Palm Beach, Fla., to my dad in Asheville, N.C., for eight bucks. And if I wanted to get a card to my old pal David in San Luis Obispo, Calif., it would cost $9.50. Whoa. For that price I could send him nine cards next week.

If you are insane enough to try to send your holiday letter on December 23 to arrive by the time grandpa sits down to breakfast on Christmas Eve, we’re talking as much as $39.00 using Next Day Air Early AM Letter from UPS. Just because it arrives before Christmas doesn’t mean they won’t notice you procrastinated. That oversize express envelope will be a big clue. Maybe you should just call and promise you’ll do better next year.

Fast and multimedia

The digital age has given us a new excuse to procrastinate. But it only works if your friends and family are online. e-mail may not have the warm and fuzzy touch that some folks prefer, but electronic or virtual greeting cards may be the wave of the future. What’s more, they’re damn near immediate. In fact I sent out 10 different cards to my co-workers by the time this story finished.

Through AOL, you’ll find electronic greeting cards at Hallmark. You’ll have a grand time selecting from their huge collection and writing your personal message. Then you’ll find out it costs money! Hit the brakes!

To give Hallmark the benefit of the doubt, their cards do cost a lot less than one of those tree-killing paper cards. Hallmark offers you a deal of either 10 cards for $9.95 or the opportunity to send an unlimited number of cards for 6 months for $19.95 (less than your AOL monthly payment). What’s more, your holidays wishes will arrive on your loved one’s cyber-doormat, like, now.

However, search the Web just a little and you can get those belated e-cards out for FREE. Even better most of these provide animation and music as well as your greetings. Blue Mountain Arts provides about 70 percent of the electronic greeting cards that are sent, according to Jared Schutz, VP of business development. A paper greeting card company since 1971, Blue Mountain Arts of Boulder, Colo., began their Web site two years ago as a public service. This year they expect 10s of millions of holiday greetings to go out.

“It’s perfect for a last minute card,” explains Schutz, “if you discover you left someone off your list or don’t know their physical address.”

Another cool free e-greeting card site is Care-Mail. They do require that you go through an annoying process to become a member, but the cards are still free. Care-Mail says it donates a portion of its money from advertisers to wildlife charities each time you send a card — and they say members send 10,000 cards a day! Check it out — you could get your holiday greetings out on time and help the world a little. Now that’s spreading holiday cheer!