CONSUMERS are expected to post 750 million festive greetings out to friends and family this year, according to Royal Mail.
Plan ahead and take advantage of second class post, and it could pay off in more ways than one, Consumerwatch can reveal.
First class stamps cost 41p, so swapping to second class (32p) is an instant cost-cutter and could wipe 67.5 million off the nation's seasonal spend.
Interestingly, official figures also show that in the lead up to Christmas, only around half of items sent using first class arrive the next day, says Consumer Focus.
More than 90 per cent of items sent using second class arrive within the expected three days, it has been found.
And to make sure that you don't miss out, here are the Royal Mail's Christmas last postal dates: Standard Parcels – Wednesday, December 15, Second Class – Saturday, December 18 and First Class – Tuesday, December 21.
Robert Hammond, head of post and digital communications at Consumer Focus, said: "Christmas is expensive, but if people make sure they don't get snowed under in the rush and post their Christmas mail in advance, they can save much needed extra pounds.
"Everyone wants the things they post to get to loved ones in time and intact, especially at Christmas.
"So it's important to post early, wrap fragile gifts carefully and insure valuable ones.
"People should check letter sizes and the last posting dates, so friends and relatives aren't left disappointed if their presents don't arrive in time for the big day."
Five Top Christmas Post Tips
Post your item as early as possible to ensure it is delivered before Christmas – check the last postal dates and save money by sending second class if you can;
Make sure you pay the right postage. If in doubt, check the back of the card – most will be marked if you need a large letter stamp. Cards thicker than 5mm or heavier than 100g will need a large letter stamp.
If you're sending valuable presents ask for a free certificate of posting receipt, which are available from Post Offices. You will need this for full compensation for loss, damage or delay to your gift.
Skip the Christmas queues by buying and printing off postage online or using one of the automated kiosks in a main Post Office. But if it's valuable and you need a certificate of posting, you will still need to go to the Post Office counter.
Ensure fragile items are carefully packaged and marked. If it's valuable send it Special Delivery, which includes insurance.
Do not send cash or vouchers by post as if it gets lost and wasn't sent Special Delivery, you cannot get compensation. Use a cheque or postal order instead.
For advice, call Royal Mail on 08457 740 740 or visit www.consumerfocus.org.uk/postsize.
Tips to keep you on the move in the ice and snow
not everyone can avoid taking out the car in the ice and snow.
Consumerwatch has teamed up with The AA to find out how motorists can deal with the winter conditions.
Paul Leather, who is part of the AA Breakdown Patrol Team of the Year, said: "On colder days be particularly careful on tree-lined roads – the trees prevent the sun's warmth from reaching the road, which may still be icy when all around has thawed.
"In fog, I usually drive with the window down and the radio off – often you can hear problems like cars ahead going over bumps at low speed before you see them.
"On snow and ice just do everything very slowly because it can go wrong very quickly."
Driving tips and facts:
Stopping distances are 10 times longer in ice and snow;
Gentle manoeuvres are the key to safe driving;
Wear comfortable, dry shoes: cumbersome, snow-covered boots will slip on the pedals;
Select second gear when pulling away, easing your foot off the clutch gently to avoid wheel-spin;
When climbing a hill it's important to avoid having to stop on the hill by waiting until it is clear of other cars or by leaving plenty of room between you and the car in front. Try to maintain a constant speed;
Before driving downhill reduce your speed, use a low gear and try to avoid using the brakes. Leave as much room as possible between you and the car in front;
Always apply brakes gently. Release them and de-clutch if the car skids;
If you do get stuck, straighten the steering and clear the snow from the wheels. Put a sack or old rug in front of the driving wheels to give the tyres some grip.
Once on the move again, try not to stop until you reach firmer ground.
Snow is heat-loss check
SNOW could show you how energy efficient your home is.
Andrew Cooper, manager of the Energy Saving Trust advice centre for West Yorkshire, said: "The snowy weather is a heaven-sent opportunity to check if you or your neighbour's houses have effective loft insulation.
"Snow on houses with less insulation will disappear more quickly as heat escapes more easily through the roof. It could be that you just need your insulation topping up."
For more advice on insulation, call the Energy Saving Trust on 0800 512 012.
15.60 a head cost of crime
christmas crime is set to cost Yorkshire 82.3m – or 15.60 a head.
Shoplifting is on the up according to the Centre for Retail Research that conducted an independent study on shoplifting.
Professor Joshua Bamfield, centre director, said: "Some people may be surprised by the predicted increase in crime over the festive period given that this year, shoplifting levels have decreased. But we're entering into a difficult economic time of year with consumers questioning whether they can cope with the after-effects of the recession. This will stimulate a steep increase in theft over the next few weeks."
The centre also claims that more than half of shoplifting will be done by men.
Employees are expected to help themselves to a few million pounds worth of gifts.
Shopper gets a sole lot of satisfaction
kathleen Harbinson is celebrating after another success for Get It Sorted.
She got in touch after she was given the boot by Wynsors World of Shoes, which has a store on York Road.
Mrs Harbinson, who is from Seacroft, was told where to go after demanding an exchange on a pair of man's slip-on shoes that she said were not fit for purpose.
A brown coating had worn off the sole of the shoes, revealing a black material that rubs off and marks surfaces it comes into contact with.
A spokesman for the store has now told Get It Sorted that Mrs Harbinson can either get a refund or exchange the shoes as a gesture of good will.
Also in Seacroft, Roy Archer has been in touch to report that the icy conditions have left up to 30 residents trapped in their sheltered housing.
The 65-year-old, who walks with the help of two sticks, has said that neither Sanctuary Housing Association or Leeds City Council have shown any interest in clearing Brooklands Court of ice.
"It isn't just for me," he said. "There's a lot of elderly people living here who can't get out."
Roadworks on Ivegate at Yeadon will be finished in the New Year.