Without a magic sleigh and reindeer at our disposal, many of us rely on the U.S. Postal Service for our gift delivery needs. That's bad news for anyone who waits until the last minute do their holiday shopping online. This year, mail will take longer to reach its destination and cost more to send. To avoid postal-related disasters as Hanukkah and Christmas approach, make sure you plan ahead.

As Lifehacker reports, the USPS enacted new standards for its first-class services on October 1. Previously, first-class mail was delivered within two to three days regardless of its destination. Under the new policy, letters will take two days to arrive when delivered within a 139-mile radius, three days if the radius is 140 to 930 miles, four days for 931 to 1907 miles, and five days if it's greater than 1908 miles.

Customers may also end up paying more for slower service. Now through December 25, the cost of most packages will include an extra $0.25 to $5 depending on their weight and the distance they have to travel. Even your holiday cards may be more expensive to send in 2021. Earlier this year, the USPS raised the price of a Forever stamp from $0.55 to $0.58.

These changes may sound like a headache, but they're designed to make services better for customers in the long run. After losing $87 billion [PDF] over the past 14 fiscal years, the USPS hopes longer delivery times and price increases will help reverse its debt by 2031. The new policy should also make it easier for patrons to plan their holiday gift-giving. As anyone who shipped gifts through the USPS last December knows, the service didn't always live up to its shorter delivery standards. Historic volume combined with worker shortages led to unpredictable delays that complicated many people's holidays in 2020. Under the new distance-based policy, customers will hopefully have a more accurate estimate of when packages will reach their recipients.

The best way to ensure everyone on your list receives a gift on time is to get your holiday shopping and shipping done as early as possible. If you're worried about timing, another tip is to prioritize. If you have loved ones living on the other side of the country, send their packages first because they'll take the longest to ship. In the next wave, send items to your friends and family who live slightly closer, and save the recipients who live within driving distance for last. Beyond that, the only way to guarantee your gifts arrive quickly and safely is to put on a Santa hat and deliver them in person.

[h/t Lifehacker]