Even in an economy like today's, the holiday season means shopping, though the wish lists might be pared down while the sale radar is turned up high.
A perennial question for the eco-conscious is whether to schlep or ship.
Do you take your car to the mall, along with a few thousand others, and send your spouse or teenager to do the same next weekend, and finally pop around town the weekend after that to pick up the odds and ends that the mall didn't have? Or do you curl up at home with slippers and hot cocoa, surf the Internet and let UPS or the postman do the heavy lifting?
All in all, my pocketbook leans toward schlepping, while the environmentalist in me thinks shipping is the best way to avoid throwing extra emissions into the air.
Consumer Reports recently tested the price and dependability of FedEx, UPS (and the Postal Service for overnight, second-day and ground delivery. It spent from $10 to $74 to ship a five-pound box across the country.
The Postal Service has priority mail rates below $5 if what you are shipping fits in an envelope, but for anything that goes in a box, you're probably hitting Consumer Reports' $10 starting point for ground delivery. And who wants that?
Sure, you can have things sent the cheap, slow way and hope your swag arrives in time, but most of us won't take that chance. We'll pay for overnight or second-day delivery and hope Web retailers aren't padding shipping fees too much.
So unless you manage to do all of your holiday shopping at a single Web site or buy enough to qualify for free shipping on every site you visit, shipping fees will probably add up to more than the cost of a full tank of gas. And unless you drive a Hummer or you really have a lot of errands, your family can probably do its shopping on less than one tank.