There are deals to be had online for holiday shopping season, meaning you're often just a few clicks away from sending a cross-country friend that amazing gift. But other times finding the perfect present has you making a pit stop at the post office. Since getting your long-distance holiday presents bought and shipped before the rush saves you time and money, I talked to James Widgel, a spokesperson for the United States Postal Service, to find the best strategies to beat the busy holiday mail season.
Have the post office come to you. Using those "if it fits, it ships" boxes can save time and money. If you know you're going to be mailing several packages, order boxes to be sent to your home or office; both the boxes and the mailing of the supplies are free. All you need to do after that, says James, is purchase and print the flat-rate postage online and hand off the packages to your postman.
Watch out for media mail. The rates may be cheap, but you can only send your package that way if it contains only media like CDs, books, or software. Nothing else can be in the box, so no accompanying box of chocolates or Christmas cards, James says.
Find out more of James' holiday mailing tips, including the best ways to ship internationally and alternatives to post offices, after the break.
Post office alternatives. Since post offices get very crowded during the holiday season, try to find alternatives to mail your packages. For example, some Office Depots have USPS capabilities and may not be as busy as traditional post offices, James says.
Sending internationally. If you're mailing overseas, find the deadlines to ship for Christmas delivery at the USPS website. The deadline to send a parcel post to a military FPO address in time for Christmas, for example, is November 11 — anything after that could cost more money. In addition, save time with overseas shipments by filling out the required customs forms online and printing them before you get to the post office.
Grab a card. Earlier this year, the postal service expanded their test-market Hallmark greeting card racks to more post offices, meaning you may be able to nix the stop-off at the drugstore to pick one up. The cards are often sold at larger post offices, James says, but call ahead to make sure.