Christmas shopping 2013: cheapest ways to send parcels in the UK

However, if you know where to look it's possible to slash the cost of posting presents and save time wasted in lengthy Post Office queues.

For the ultimate in convenience, low-cost couriers will come and pick up items delivered from your house, or for even bigger savings you can drop off items at depots and convenience stores before the courier picks up a job lot for delivery.

Here we compare the cost of delivering your presents with the Royal Mail with some of its rival delivery services.

Small and light parcels

Using the example of a small (45cm x 35cm x 8cm or 35cm x 25cm x 16cm) lightweight parcel weighing less than a 1kg, Royal Mail would charge £3 for first-class delivery, rising to £4.10 if you want the parcel to be signed for on receipt. The cost falls to £2.60 if you have time to post second class (£20 worth of compensation would be included at these prices).

For the same size parcel, the cheapest rival we could find was My Hermes, which would charge £4.20 for a courier to come and pick the item up from your door, or £3.90 if you dropped it off at a local Parcel Locker or Parcel Shop (typically in a local convenience store or supermarket). Goods would be covered up to £50 and you can pay £1 extra if you want the parcel to be signed for on receipt. It aims to deliver within three working days.

For a small parcel, less than 1 kilo in weight, Royal Mail is cheaper and faster - but if you're busy and don't fancy waiting in Post Office queues you might not mind paying a bit more for the convenience of a courier.

Bigger packages

It's as your parcels become bigger and heavier that the price difference between Royal Mail and the couriers grows. A small 1.5kg parcel would cost £6.85 with Royal Mail first class or £5.60 second class - in both cases you must add £1.10 if you want a signed for services. If your 1.5kg parcel is a bit bulkier and classified by Royal Mail as a medium parcel (61cm x 46cm x 46cm) then costs rise to £8 or £8.90, depending on whether you want first or second class.

However any parcel weighing less than 2kg - irrespective of its dimensions would still only cost £4.20 for a courier with My Hermes or £3.90 if you prefer the drop-off service.

It's substantially cheaper - and for many people - a lot more convenient than Royal Mail.

For parcels between 2 and 5 kilos, My Hermes prices rise to £5.10 for drop-off or £5.40 for courier. However, a medium parcel weighing just under 5kg with Royal Mail (with £50 cover this time) would cost £16.20 first class or £14.45 second class.

Collect +

Collect + is an alternative option, it doesn't offer home pick-ups but instead you drop your package off at a local convenience store. Packages below two kilos cost £5.49 on its standard service - which delivers in two days - or £4.89 if you go for economy where delivery is within five days. For packages between two and five kilos it charges £7.19 on the standard service and £6.19 for economy.

Parcel Monkey, meanwhile, charges £5.39 or £8.39 for small dimension parcels up to five kilos, depending on whether you use one of its courier services or a drop-off facility provided by By Box where packages are left in secure lockers. Costs rise with weight and larger dimensions.

Whichever service you use, be aware that there may be certain items that will be excluded or not covered by its compensation scheme - typically including glass, antiques, other breakable items or food, so check its guidelines first. It's also well worth following the company's packaging guidelines to ensure the item arrives safely.

Just how much your parcel costs to post will depend on its weight, its size, destination and the level of insurance you want on it as will the speed of delivery you require.

But this year don't just resign yourself to lost lunch hours in the post office - it could be quicker and cheaper to ditch Royal Mail and use one of the growing number of alternatives.

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