Saturday is the last day that thank-you letter to Grandma for the Christmas sweater that almost fits can be mailed for 29 cents. As of midnight Saturday - actually 12:01 a.m. Sunday - first-class letters will go to 32 cents.

But the 32-cent stamps won't be printed and ready until around mid-March, so we'll be licking and sticking stamps bearing the letter "G" until then, according to John Faircloth, manager of the Salt Lake Postal Business Center.Faircloth said the Postal Service expected a rush of mailings, especially from its large business or bulk mailers, before the increase but the flurry is smaller than expected.

"It won't be anything like income tax time," Faircloth said, referring to the pre-midnight madness on April 15 that sees postal employees manning portable cancellation stations at curbside.

Although the increase is official as of a minute past midnight, "we'll be flexible about it," Faircloth promised. "We realize that some letters put into collection boxes won't be picked up right away. Monday is a holiday for us, too."

And what do you do with all those stray 29-cent stamps floating around the desk drawer? Use them.

The post office has a large supply of 3-cent stamps to bridge the gap, Faircloth said.

In fact, said Faircloth, this is the best prepared the Postal Service has been for a rate transition that he can recall. "Although the increase was not announced until Dec. 12, I'm amazed at how quick they've been able to disseminate the information," he said.

It's the first general increase in postal rates in four years, Faircloth said, and amounts to a 10.3 percent average increase in rates for all classes of mail. Inflation in that same period jumped 12.2 percent, Faircloth said, so mailing a letter is still a bargain.

"We still have one of the lowest postal rates of any country in the world," said Faircloth. "Plus we deliver 40 percent of the world's mail. The next nearest nation is Japan, with 8 percent."

There is some irony in how the increase is being accepted, Faircloth said.

"Among individuals, people like you or I who mail only a few letters or pay a few bills every month, there is some unhappiness, some complaining. People still think the Postal Service is subsidized by their tax dollars, but we're not.

"But among businesses, corporations that mail out thousands of envelopes a year, they accept it as inevitable, as part of the general increase in the cost of everything," said Faircloth.

"People think they're paying more and the service is worse. But it's not," said Faircloth. "It's getting better all the time. Utah is ranked ninth in the nation in efficiency of overnight delivery of first-class letters. Ninety percent of them are delivered overnight, and that's a pretty good rate when you consider the vastness of the state."