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Shipping for the holidays
Give yourself plenty of time to mail your packages, and don't forget to pack them properly.
December 9, 2005: 3:39 PM EST
By Gerri Willis, contributing columnist
Race for holiday bargains begins
Shoppers flock stores seeking discounts on Black Friday but will it last? (Full story.)

NEW YORK ( - The rush of holiday shopping can be stressful enough. Add in sending gifts to loved ones far away and the stress may become too much to handle.

Today's 5 tips gives you the ins and outs of shipping your gifts this holiday season and getting them there on time.

1. Know your deadlines

Don't procrastinate; the best thing to do is to get your gifts out as early as possible. The longer you wait the less of a chance you have of your gifts arriving before the holidays and the more money you will end up spending.

It's not too late now to have your gifts arrive for the holidays without breaking the bank, but you need to act fast. If you use the U.S. Postal Service, the deadline to send gifts using the standard parcel service is Saturday, December 10.

UPS and Fedex have set the deadline of December 16 to send packages using their ground services.

If you wait until the last minute, there are express options that are offered by the major delivery companies. Fedex and UPS have set a cutoff date of the 22nd for gifts to arrive on the 23rd, and the USPS offers express mail as late as the December 23 for arrival on the 24th. Of course these services come at a premium.

If you are buying online, cutoff dates can differ from store to store.

2. Pack correctly

When sending gifts in the mail the last thing you want to happen is for them to get lost or broken. Making sure your gifts are packed the right way will help prevent this from happening.

The USPS, Fedex and UPS all recommend that new boxes are used when shipping. If you need to use an old box, make sure that it is durable and that any old labels are removed from the box.

"If you don't remove old labels from your boxes, who knows where it will end up?" says Fedex spokesperson Lourdes Pena.

Having the right cushion and wrapping is also a must. Bubble wrap and Styrofoam peanuts are recommended by all the shippers. If you are packing multiple items in a box, leave two inches of padding in between each item.

Monica Suraci, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, stresses the importance of having a return address on the box and inside the package. "Put your return address on an index card inside the box, so items inside can be returned if the box is damaged," she says.

According to Diana Hatcher, a spokesperson for UPS, if you are sending items that are assembled, take them apart for shipping. "Lots of people just wrap picture frames and send it. You want to take the frame apart and wrap each part individually," she adds.

Using the right tape is also a must. Any old tape around the house won't cut it. "Duct tape will peel off of a box very easily," says Hatcher. It's best to use packaging tape that is made for shipping and cardboard.

For more tips on packing go to and click on "packing and shipping tips".

3. Sending international

If you are sending gifts out of the country, send them early and do your research.

Fedex's Pena recommends doing as much research as possible when sending internationally. "Information is power. The more you know the easier it will be for you," she says.

Every country has different documents and forms that are needed for packages going through various customs departments. To make sure that no mistakes are made, it's best to go in and talk with someone from the USPS or one of the shipping companies to guarantee all of the proper documentation is in order.

Rates will also differ depending on the country to which you are shipping. Fedex offers lots of good information about international shipping on its Web site . Go to and click on the international tools section. If you are worried that shippers won't ship to the country you're sending to, check

4. Insurance for gifts

If there is always the thought in the back of your head of that your package will get damaged or lost, insure the value of gifts when you send them.

The U.S. postal service offers different rates for insurance up to $500. Rates are available at the post office and on

Fedex will guarantee $100 on the item included in the shipping fee. They charge an additional $2.50 for every $100 of protection that you purchase. Fedex deals with high-end items on a case by case basis. The company recommends customers call 1-800-GO-FEDEX.

UPS will also include $100 of protection with its shipping fees. It will cost you an additional $1.20 to insure your package up to $300 after that. It's an additional 40 cents for every $100 after that. UPS will insure a package for up to $70,000.

5. Sending special items

If you are sending an item that you are worried about shipping, it's best to take extra precautions when packing and sending the gift. Gifts that can break easy should be well cushioned and wrapped with twice the amount you would normally use.

If you are mailing perishable items, it's best to send them overnight and make sure that someone is there to receive them. All food should be wrapped up and sealed individually.

If you are sending high-end items, like a diamond necklace or an expensive gold watch, deception might be your best bet. "The best precaution you can take is to not make it look like a jewelry," says Hatcher.

With all special gifts, it's best to take the gift to the post office or a shipping location and have them pack it for you.

The most important specialty package that you send this year might be sent by your child. The USPS has set the deadline for letters to get to Santa Claus at Dec. 15.

Letters can be sent to: North Pole Christmas Cancellation, Post Master, 5400 Mail Trail, Fairbanks, Alaska, 99709-9998.


For all the latest top 5 Tips columns, click here.

Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to  Top of page

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