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Tips for making sure your holiday packages arrive on time

Holiday shopping doesn't have to be stressful, and planning ahead can help keep the season joyful.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The 2020 holiday season will look unlike any other and with the coronavirus pandemic, more people may opt to ship their gifts this year.

However, holiday shopping - and shipping - doesn't have to be stressful this year, and planning ahead can help keep the season joyful.

Shop Smart and Start Early

The easiest piece of advice is to order those holiday gifts early. While Black Friday isn't until Nov. 27 this year, most retailers are offering deals during the entire month of November, so you don't have to wait to shop.

RELATED: Amazon reveals week-long Black Friday sale

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, more people may choose to shop online rather than visiting stores in-person. This increase could cause shipping delays, particularly around the holiday season, so you may want to place those orders earlier rather than later.

To avoid waiting on the mail, check to see if local stores are offering alternative shopping methods, such as in-store or curbside pick-up. 

If you are planning on shopping in-person, be sure to wear your mask and keep your distance from other shoppers.

Keep Deadlines in Mind

The pandemic may keep you from going to see family and friends this year, but that doesn't mean you get a free pass on getting them something nice for the holidays. 

The earlier you ship the items the better, but if you like to do your shopping last-minute, here are the dates you need to know to make sure those gifts arrive in time for Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

Shipping Deadlines for 2020 Holiday Season

USPS

Retail ground: Dec. 15
First Class: Dec. 18
Priority Mail: Dec. 19
Priority Mail Express: Dec. 23

UPS

Ground: Dec. 15
3-Day Select: Dec. 21
2-Day Air: Dec. 22
Next Day Air: Dec. 23

FedEx

Ground: Dec. 15
2-Day: Dec. 22
Overnight: Dec. 23

The closer it is to Christmas, check online to make sure these dates haven't changed. Increases in shipping demand could alter the schedule.

Know What Can and Can't Go Through the Mail

If you're planning on sending Uncle Larry a bottle of bourbon for Christmas, you may want to rethink your plan. There are several rules about what you can and can't send through the mail, and some of those rules can vary by state, city and county.

The easiest way to avoid any confusion or frustration is to contact your local post office, USPS said. You can also check out Publication 52where regulations about hazardous, restricted and perishable mail are listed.

This is not an all-inclusive list, but here are some of the things you can't send through the mail:

  • Liquor
  • Ammunition
  • Explosives
  • Mercury (including items which contain mercury, such as thermometers)
  • Gasoline

There are different rules for UPS and FedEx as well, so be sure to check their websites before dropping off your packages.

Think About Packaging

Planning your shipping plan ahead of time means you won't be scrambling to find an old cardboard box to stuff your gifts into the week before Christmas.

You can pick up boxes at your local post office or UPS store, or from retailers like Target or Walmart. If you are re-using another box, make sure that the old labels are removed or totally covered and make sure the box you choose is sturdy, since boxes can weaken during the shipping process.

There are also weight and size restrictions for packages, particularly ones shipped through the USPS. Items sent through the post office can't weigh more than 70 lbs. or measure more than 108 inches, according to UPS. 

Also, don't overpack your box - just because you can stuff everything in doesn't mean it's safe to ship.

More tips on shipping gifts this holiday season are available on the USPS website.

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