Monday is USPS's busiest day; 4 tips to avoid Post Office panic

A customer waits in line with packages at the United States Post Office on Evans Street on December 16, 2013 in San Francisco, California.
A customer waits in line with packages at the United States Post Office on Evans Street on December 16, 2013 in San Francisco, California.
Stephen Lam/Getty Images

With 15.5 billion cards, letters and packages expected to make their way to holiday-celebrating homes around the nation, it's crunch time for the United States Postal Service. Monday will be the agency's busiest day. 

The USPS is bracing for a 12 percent increase over last year's cargo, which was up 12 percent from the year before, thanks mainly to a rebounding economy and a boom in online orders.

"We're looking at 470 million packages delivered during the holiday season," said Post Office spokesman Richard Maher, "People are feeling good, so they're spending more money. And more people are shopping online," he added.

Many post offices will be open seven days a week for the next couple weeks to accommodate the onslaught, and lines will likely be long. 

With that in mind, we offer a few shipping tips: 

1. Deadline for standard mail is tomorrow

Monday is expected to be the busiest day for a reason: It's the last day you can ship a package by standard mail within the U.S. and be sure it will arrive by Christmas.

Saturday, December 20 is the last day you can send a package for the big holiday by Priority or first class mail. (Pro-tip: Priority Mail packages are now insured and tracked.)

Procrastination nation, beware: Tuesday, December 23rd is the last day you can ship — far more expensively — by priority mail express in order to get your goods to friends and family's homes. 

2. Stalking your shipment

For several years, the USPS has allowed folks to track both their incoming and outgoing shipments online. Last year, they added priority mail to the list of trackable package types. You can also sign up to get email or text alerts on where your shipments are in the process, have a package redirected mid-journey, or view and schedule delivery of your incoming packages. 

3. Self-serve to avoid the lines

One way of avoiding the long lines Monday: head to the post offices with self-serve kiosks. You can look them up using post office location finder. Just drop down to "self serve kiosks" in the "location type" field. Many of them are open 24/7.

4. DIY from home

Better yet, if you have a computer and printer, why not skip the trip to the post office altogether. You can schedule a shipment and pickup online free, provided you can print out the shipping label. 

"You can download postage and print shipping labels and then you can schedule a free pick up," Maher said. "Your carrier will stop by and pick up that package from you."

Happy holiday shipping!