Forget the post, money heading overseas should go by electronic transfer.
FORGET YOUR leisurely breakfast. The time has come to leap out of bed, sprint to the shops, grab a few festive gifts and catch the noon post in case you miss the last mail before Christmas to America, Australia and other far flung reaches of the globe.

Alternatively you could snuggle back down under the duvet and send money to your nearest and dearest abroad using one of the international electronic transmission networks.

The expense of posting even light parcels has made cash a popular seasonal alternative. When stamps outweigh the value of the gift, as often happens when posting abroad, then sending the money instead makes sense.

But sending hard cash is not advisable, as pounds 1.5m goes missing from mail each year, and the Christmas post is more vulnerable than most given the army of casual staff sifting and sorting.

Posting cheques is often not much better. Charges levied for cashing or accepting a foreign cheque, which can involve a tortuous process, can often exceed the value of the money sent.

However an electronic transfer can be quick, efficient and cheap, if you pick the most competitive network for the country you wish to send cash. Not all banks have links with all countries and they charge different tariffs for different destinations.

Some banks charge a flat fee others a fixed percentage of the amount sent. Always check that the recipient will not face further charges at the other end, although you can never guarantee that a rogue branch may not unilaterally levy a fee. Changing the gift into local currency before you send it can mitigate the chances of a double charge.

Also check whether the gift, which can normally be transferred straight into a bank account, will reach its destination within a set time. Some services guarantee delivery at no extra charge.

A survey by the Consumers' Association published this week discovered that the Co-op Bank Tipanet was the cheapest service among those guaranteeing delivery within a certain time, for Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the US. It typically charges pounds 7 per transfer with a five-day guarantee of delivery.

Lloyds Economy International Moneymover is even cheaper at pounds 5.50 per transfer, but restricts the service to Europe and the US. It also has a slightly longer guaranteed delivery date of seven days.

Transcheq was a best buy for destinations further afield such as Hong Kong, Mexico and most of South America. It has tiered rates with a minimum pounds 6 charge, and offers pretty-much instant transfer of funds.

Bank of Scotland Priority and Co-op Bank Swift were also recommended among the best of the rest although their delivery times are not guaranteed. But don't hold your breath. At pounds 15 to send pounds 50 to France the Scottish bank still looks like a deal to pass and Co-op Swift at pounds 12, isn't that much cheaper either.

An alternative to an electronic cash injection is to send a banker's draft, which is slightly safer than cash or a cheque, but still vulnerable to theft. Furthermore, some banks advise against the use of drafts in certain countries and it is always advisable to denominate them in the currency of destination.

Bank of Scotland and Midland are cheapest for drafts of around pounds 50 both charging pounds 7. But their rates rise with the size of the draft. Barclays charges a flat fee of pounds 8.

Whichever method you choose, you must pay for the transfer with cleared funds. This means a bank will only send cash paid for by cash, a debit card or credit card; so put away the cheque book.

But if you think cash is out of keeping with the spirit of Christmas, it is still not too late to choose those last minute presents for family and friends in Europe. Last posting for the continent is next Saturday. And after that there are 10 more days to post at home.