With the end of the holiday season approaching, the shopping procrastinators among us may be scrambling for gift ideas or risk of leaving a loved one disappointed.
This year, there is a wide selection of popular tech products and perennial gifts to give, but for the shopper looking for something different, these products may not be the first thing that come to mind.
This is especially handy if you’ve waited until the last minute. Retailers have been keeping lean inventories, and some of the most popular items may be out of stock. Here are some gifts that are sure to be readily available no matter where you are, and may not even require you to leave the house to make the purchase. In addition, most people would likely find these gifts unique and enjoyable, since most can be customized for particular preferences and are generally off the beaten path.
So if you’ve left your holiday buying until the last minute, click ahead to see these gift ideas that may save the day.
By Josephine Bila & Paul Toscano
Posted 15 December 2011
Cost: Prices vary by type of food item
For the foodie on your holiday list, a mail-order service might be the perfect gift this season, and there are plenty to choose from.
Dean & Deluca offers a wide range of gourmet options, from seafood and hors d’oeuvres to bakery items and wine, as do many other fine retailers. However, choosing a more specific gift and possibly making it a subscription may offer that little extra flair for your loved one. “Of the Month” clubs offer interesting ideas, ranging from ready-made italian dinners to cheesecake, salsa, fruit or even peanut butter and jelly, delivered each month. Options are available from a variety of sources through Amazon.comor other websites, such as FlyingNoodle.comor ClubsGalore.com.
Mail-order steak companies such as Omaha Steaks,the Chicago Steak Co.,or the Kansas City Steak Co.also offer mail-order steak options that are perfect for the holidays. They even sell other food items such as lobster, poultry, pork, and have monthly delivery plans.
For more ideas, see our round-up of unique subscription gifts.
Cost: Price varies by type of product
MP3 players are one of the most-gifted products of the decade, but you’d have to be hidden from society to not notice the wide variety of tablets and e-readers available on the market today. If your loved one is a little behind the cutting edge for new devices, one of these items may be perfect in a pinch.
The best thing about these devices is that they are available almost anywhere and new features such as games, apps, video capabilities, and higher resolution trump the functionality of their predecessors. Apple’s iPod and iPad devices are ubiqutious, as is Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, but similar products exist from a variety of manufacturers, including Research in Motion, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Motorola, Samsung, Acer, and more.
To put some extra thought in, however, take into account how they’ll be using their new devices, such as running, traveling, or just casually browsing their music, book, or video libraries. Buying a model that will perform well under conditions specific to the recipient will be that much more appreciated.
Cost: We suggest 2 percent to 5 percent of loan principal
It’s a special gift for the recession, or really any time, especially for recent graduates, new car owners, or homeowners taking on their first mortgage. Paying off debt can be thought of as the gift that keeps on giving, and it’s a little more thoughtful and vastly more rewarding than simply giving money.
For example, if someone you know is carrying student debt of $20,000 borrowed at 8 percent, depending on how it compounds, that will cost the graduate $1,600 or more annually. If that person were to apply a gift of $500 directly to the principal of the loan, it would essentially save $40 in interest payments every year until the loan is paid off. That adds up to $400 over 10 years, for a total of $900 in savings. This number gets even higher if interest compounds over short time periods.
Although it’s not the flashiest gift of the year, it is arguably one of the most useful, since helping someone you love reduce their debt burden is integral to their long-term financial health. They’ll thank you for it now...and later.
Cost: Expect to pay $150 to $500, potentially more
If you can honestly say you have a good sense for your loved ones’ artistic tastes, a painting or other type of artwork may be the perfect last-minute gift. Art can brighten up a room or compliment its overall aesthetic, and will likely be something that the gift recipient will see every day.
In almost any part of the country, you can find stores selling various types of artwork, often original pieces, that you can get for several hundred dollars. A gift such as this may not be as mainstream as others presented here, but a quick drive to the local art store could have you walking out with a memorable gift. In addition, even a medium-sized painting or statue will look impressive when gift-wrapped.
Cost: Expect to pay $100 or more, depending on the item
Sometimes the best gifts arise from things you already have. It may pay off to take inventory of what your loved one uses on a daily basis and ask yourself whether some items have fallen into disrepair.
Items such as leather handbags and shoes can be refurbished for a fraction of their original price. (Although this can vary based on the complexity of the product.) Car interiors and exteriors, furniture, jackets, or jewelry that are showing signs of age can all be made to look as good as new. Even if the item hasn’t fallen into disrepair, look for potential improvements or additions that might make a beloved object even better.
In addition, if the recipient has already spent plenty of time with the item, his or her emotional attachment will likely add an extra level of excitement when the gift is received, even though it may be for the second time.
Cost: $1 to $12 per month
For the music, movie, or videogame aficionados on your gift list, a subscription plan could be exactly what they want.
Companies such as eMusicoffer music, radio, and audio books, while sites such as Rhapsodyand Pandoraoffer accounts for monthly or annual fees. Movie and TV subscription services such as Netflixand Hulu Plusoffer unlimited streaming of shows online, which can also be watched through television sets, with the right equiptment. Lastly, for a videogame lover, subscription services such as Gamefly.comoffer game rentals that are delivered to your home for the major videogame consoles and hand-held gaming systems. For any of these subscription services, the account can be managed through an online dashboard and offers much greater versatility for your loved one than giving an individual movie, album, or game alone.
Cost: starts at $25
Who knew fun-filled experiences could come in e-certificates? Websites such as xperiencedays.comand cloud9living.comallow shoppers to search for activities that suit their recipient's personality, while sites like Groupon.comand LivingSocial.comallow users to find locally discounted experiences that can be purchased as gifts.
Examples from the experience sites include everything from wine tours and airplane flight lessons, to glass-blowing classes and whale-watching trips. The daily discount sites are more locally focused, but offer everything from discounts at restaurants to spa treatments. Several minutes on any of these sites will likely inspire a unique gift you that may have never thought of otherwise, and there's truly something for everyone. You may even find yourself inspired to buy a certificate for yourself to share in the adventure.
Most often, customers visiting the secondary market sites also have the option of purchasing tickets that can be immediately printed directly from their computer or wireless device.
Did you grow up thinking Johnny Walker was one of your dad’s best buddies? Does grandma enjoy sitting by the fireplace with a highball of Bailey's? Would your sister and her husband enjoy drinking Moët & Chandon out of new champagne flutes during their New Year’s toast? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, why not purchase a gift set of liquor?
Distilleries offer customers their favorite brands in beautiful packaging, limited editions, and more often than not, accompanying glassware. Liquor gift sets can be found online and in nearly every town in the country, from local liquor stores to department stores. Sets start at around $30.
Cost: $5 to $10
The closest thing to gifting cold hard cash is to send it under the guise of an electronic gift card certificate. E-gifts are great because most large-scale retailers sell them on their websites. We also love them because they are paperless and offer recipients the opportunity to purchase exactly what they desire from a retailer.
You don't have to spend a lot to send an e-gift. Starbucks.com certificates start at $5. Other websites that sell e-gifts include AmericanExpress.com,Amazon.com,VictoriasSecret.com,Apple.com, and Sephora.com. Many brands now are also offering e-gift certificates through their Facebook pages, allowing people to buy gift certificates for their friends, adding a social component of posting these gifts on a friend’s wall.
Holiday greeting — typed. Credit card number — entered. Send button — clicked. Holiday shopping — done!