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How to ship your holiday presents on time

Letter carriers’ loads are about to get a whole lot bigger.

Woman packing gift for Christmas

The US Postal Service delivers billions — and that’s no exaggeration — of cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

You think you are on top of things, and then you lose track of yourself. Shipping dates sneak up quickly, so if you’ve got gifts to mail, keep reading for key dates and advice that will ensure your packages arrive on time and in perfect condition.

Go flat rate

Save a trip to the post office by simply using flat rate boxes to ship your gifts. Not only does it skip the sometimes tedious step of finding a box worthy of holding your purchases, but you can easily print out postage at home without weighing them. Have your mail carrier deliver flat rate boxes to your door by ordering them online.

Schedule at-home pickup

Avoid long lines just to drop off your packages. Instead, schedule a pickup with a couple of clicks of the mouse. Just head to to schedule a pickup. Consider it an early Christmas gift because this service is completely free. Prefer to ship FedEx? Look online for a drop off location near you.

Wrap batteries separately

Gadgets and toys often come ready to go with batteries, but the post office says it’s not a good idea to ship items with these installed. Instead, wrap the batteries separately in the same box.

Write clearly

Plenty of packages never make it to the destination because the address wasn’t legible! Put both the destination and the return address on the same side of the box.

Use plenty of padding

If you’re shipping fragile items, make sure to be extra careful. Use bubble wrap and tissue paper to protect those fragile items on their long journey. Experts even suggest taking the glass out of framed photographs and packaging them separately. If you’re really worried about your item making it to its destination in one piece, you may want to take it to FedEx and have an expert pack it for you. You can also bring an item you already packed to them and they’ll confirm whether you did it correctly.

Use the complete address

Just in case you haven’t mailed anything since last Christmas, here is a refresher on what a properly addressed package looks like. Start with the recipient’s name followed by the Post Office Box or street number, street name and suffix on the next line. The third line should include a secondary address such as an apartment or suite number. The city, state and zip code belong under that. If you don’t have the zip code, look it up using the USPS’s free online service.

Save the date

When it comes to shipping, the longer you wait, the more you will pay. Here are important dates for 2011 to remember when it comes to shipping those gifts:

  • Dec. 3 – Military mail destined for Afghanistan
  • Dec. 10 – Military mail for other overseas bases
  • Dec. 15 – Parcel Post, the most economical shipping service
  • Dec. 20 – First-Class Mail
  • Dec. 21 – Priority Mail
  • Dec. 22 – Express Mail

More holiday gift reads

Learn about Free Shipping Day
Holiday shopping return policies

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