Shipping holiday gifts successfully requires advance planning, unless you’re willing to spend a fortune on it. If you are, then by all means, ship your gifts December 21st by two-day air. If you’re like me and don’t want spend more on the shipping than the gift, use these seven tips to save money. You might even save time.

Plan to ship everything by Monday, December 17. That way you can use Priority Mail. (If you’re shipping jewelry or other expensive items, use UPS or FedEx ground delivery. It will cost more, but it’s more secure.)

If you haven’t already purchased the gifts you need to ship, order them online and have them shipped directly. If you’re buying from an online store that offers free shipping, see if the total cost of the gifts for each destination is more than the minimum purchase for free shipping. If so, place separate orders so you get free shipping to each destination. If you’d have to pay for shipping to each destination, compare the cost having them all shipped to you free and then shipping them to the recipients yourself.

Next year, use the online USPS, UPS, and FedEx rate calculators and online product information to determine the shipping costs for gifts you’re ordering. One year I discovered my cousin’s gift was very heavy. The post office would have charged $12 to ship it. Rather than include it in the order being shipped to me, I had it shipped directly to her. I had to pay $4.95 for wrapping, but it was still cheaper than shipping it myself. You can also compare the cost of buying the gift online and having it shipped direct vs. buying it at a local store and shipping it yourself. Another year I could buy my cousin’s gift cheaper at a local store. Once wrapping was factored in, the cost of ordering it was more than the cost for me to mail it.

Consolidate your gifts. Rather than buy individual gifts for each family member, choose something the parents and children or both members of the couple will enjoy together. That way you only have to ship one gift instead of three or four and it’s a chance for the family to spend time together.

If shipping holiday gifts by USPS, print your postage online. Simply create an account at their website, enter the address and weight info, then select your preferred method, and pay. You can print a label on plain paper and tape it to the box with clear packing tape. Not only will you save time waiting in line, but you get free delivery confirmation on Priority and Express mail packages. You can either drop the package off without waiting in line or arrange a free pick-up by your regular carrier. If you’re not home during the day, I recommend having it picked up from your office.

Use free packaging. Save some of the shipping boxes you receive during the year and reuse them to ship gifts. Save some of the packing material to avoid buying it yourself. If the gift will fit, you can also use the post office’s free Priority or Express Mail boxes for your gifts. UPS and FedEx also offer free packaging supplies.

Set aside a Saturday to wrap and package gifts. Rather than ship gifts a few times during the holidays, spend a few hours one weekend wrapping all your gifts, then putting them in shipping boxes, printing postage, and dropping them off at the post office. By doing everything at once, you’ll save a lot of time and hassle.

Don’t ship food gifts. If you’ve baked something, give it to local people. Homemade baked goods often arrive broken or spoiled. If you must ship baked goods, mail them on a Monday or Tuesday by two-day delivery so they arrive quickly and don’t have to spend a weekend in a warehouse.

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