You made a list, you checked it twice, now you just need to get those gifts and cards to the post office on time for the holidays. The United States Postal Service is expecting 750 million packages will be delivered this holiday season, a 12 percent increase in package volume this year. Combined with holiday cards and other mail, USPS is anticipating 16 billion pieces of mail and packages delivered between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.

Thursday, Dec. 15 is the first mailing deadline of note, the last day you can send mail by USPS Retail Ground to guarantee delivery by Dec. 25. Formerly known as Parcel Post and Standard Post, Retail Ground is the cheapest option to send packages of all shapes and sizes to anywhere in the United States.


We've got the round-up of all of the send-by dates to get your mail out by the holidays.

First-class mail must be sent by Tuesday, Dec. 20; Priority Mail must be sent by Wednesday, Dec. 21; and Priority Mail Express shipments can be sent as late as Friday, Dec. 23 and still be there in time for Christmas, albeit at a heftier price tag.

You'll never find local post offices busier than you will the next few weeks, and Monday, Dec. 19, is expected to be the busiest mailing day of the year for greeting cards and packages. If you're trying to avoid long lines, we recommend going after the lunch rush around 2 p.m. or so on a weekday.

Local post office hours vary, but can be found outside the facility or online. The Westminster post office will have extended retail hours on Saturday, Dec. 17, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

If you really want to avoid the lines, just like your holiday shopping, you can do most of your holiday shipping online these days, too. Visit USPS.com/holiday to find quick links to order Priority Mail boxes or packaging to be delivered to your home of office for free, as well as filling out shipping levels and purchasing postage, then arranging package pickup.

Of course, if you're doing things the old-fashioned way, to guarantee your package gets to its destination on time, there are a few simple steps you can take. Make sure you clearly print addresses — both to and from — on the same side of the label. USPS officials also recommend placing a card inside the package, in case the mailing label becomes damaged or falls off.

Be sure you've affixed the correct amount of postage. Too little and it'll end up back on your own doorstep.

If you're not using USPS packaging, make sure the seams of your boxes are taped closed, and avoid using string or twine that can get caught in mail processing equipment.

To ensure your item gets to its destination in once piece, especially if it's a fragile item, don't forget to pad it with bubble wrap, foam peanuts, old newspapers or other cushioning material.

Finally, don't forget the ZIP code. If you're not sure, you can use the ZIP Code Finder at usps.com to look it up, but no ZIP code is worse than the wrong ZIP code, according to postal service officials.