As the end of the holiday shopping season quickly approaches, the procrastinators among us may be scrambling for gift ideas that don't scream "I bought this an hour ago."
If you've waited until the last minute, you may be disappointed to discover that the hot item you've been eyeing is out of stock as retailers seek to pare down extra inventory this holiday season. To help you out, we've scanned the Internet to bring you items that are sure to be readily available no matter where you are and what time you're shopping. Nearly all of them can be purchased from the comfort of your own home — because who really wants to leave the house when it's cold outside and there's a holiday movie marathon on? In addition, we've selected gifts that are mostly off the beaten path and go beyond the standard tie (Dad doesn't need another!).
So if you've left your holiday shopping until the last minute, click ahead to see these gift ideas that may save the day.
Updated by Katie Little
By Josephine Bila & Paul Toscano
Updated 17 December 2012
Posted 15 December 2011
As total student-debt continues its race upwards to more than $950 billion, paying off a chunk of a recent grad's debt may be one of the best gifts we've seen yet. It's more thoughtful than handing Junior a wad of cash, and something similar works well for new car owners or those who are paying off a mortgage.
Although it's not the flashiest gift of the year, it is arguably one of the most useful. Helping the people you love to reduce their debt burdens is integral to their long-term financial health. They'll thank you for it now … and later.
Cost: $150 to $500, potentially more
If you have a good sense of 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 complement its overall aesthetic and will remind them of you on a daily basis.
For around a low three-digit price tag, you can find original artwork in any part of the country. A gift such as this may not be as mainstream as others presented here, but a quick drive to the local art store could yield a memorable gift. In addition, even a medium-sized painting or statue will make an impressive present. If your friend is picky, a gift certificate to an online art website, such as art.com or the Metropolitan Museum of Art's store website, will work well too.
To give some artwork on a budget, consider creating your own. If you're stumped, check out Pinterest for ideas or grab a ruler and channel your inner Piet Mondrian or Theo van Doesburg.
Cost: $10 and up
Know a beauty sample lover or a fashionista who adds all of the latest sample sales to her Google calendar? A monthly subscription to a beauty sample service or an apparel one may be the ticket to crossing this person off your list.
For $10 per month, Birchbox will ship the man or woman on your list several of the latest beauty products in miniature form. The company also has a separate holiday gift section for those who don't want to commit to a monthly subscription. BeautyArmy, Julep and BeautyBar's Sample Society all offer similar deals. For monthly clothing subscriptions, check out i-Ella's The List for women or Bombfell for men.
Cost: $50 and up
Ever want a pet giraffe but didn't see eye to eye with your homeowners' association about it? If this describes your friend, check out a naming program. For as little as $50, you can "adopt" an animal for your loved one. This gift comes with a certificate of adoption and fun fact page. An additional $50 will get you a photograph of the animal, adoption bracelet and stuffed animal. The Greater Los Angeles Zoo has a similar initiative that takes the concept a step further and allows you to name the animal, but at a minimum of $1,000, this program may stretch the holiday budget.
Other naming and adoption programs exist for areas of the rainforest and coral reefs starting at as little as . As long as you choose a not-for-profit charity, this gift should provide an added bonus of increasing your charitable giving for the year. In light of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations, it may be wise to lock in this charitable donation now in case Washington decides to pare down the amount you can claim next year.
MP3 players are one of the most popular gifts of the decade, but there's a huge 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 readily available and come with new features such as games, apps, video capabilities and higher-resolution displays that trump the functionality of their predecessors. Apple's iPod and iPad devices are ubiquitous, as is Amazon's Kindle e-reader, but similar products exist from a variety of manufacturers, including Research in Motion, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Microsoft, Motorola, Samsung and Acer.
Cost: $1 to $12 per month
For the music, movie or video-game aficionado on your gift list, a subscription plan may be the perfect gift this holiday season.
Companies such as eMusic offer music, radio, and audio books, while sites such as Rhapsody and Pandora offer accounts for monthly or annual fees. Movie and TV subscription services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus offer unlimited streaming of shows. For video-game lovers, subscription services such as Gamefly.com offer game rentals that deliver straight to their homes. These subscription services offer greater versatility for your loved one than giving an individual movie, album, or game alone and don't require you to know the latest in cool for video games or movies.
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. For a little extra flair, go for a subscription offer to remind your loved ones that you appreciate them year round. "Of the Month" clubs offer interesting ideas, including ready-made Italian dinners, cheesecake, salsa, fruit or even peanut butter and jelly, and ship monthly. Options are available from a variety of sources through Amazon or other websites, such as FlyingNoodle.com or 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.
Caveat emptor: don't forget to cancel after the first year. You could be sending Grandma the cheese of the month into the next decade.
Cost: $25 and up
Even Super Bowl tickets are still available on StubHub but be prepared to shell out north of $2,000 to attend. For those in the New York area, another hot ticket this year is the Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" by the creators of the animated TV show "South Park." Although these tickets are hard to come by at the box office, they are readily available in the secondary market and can typically be printed directly from computer and wireless devices
Give the gift of membership this year. If your loved ones feels especially close to an alumni association, museum or non-profit, consider donating a full-year membership to an organization. Depending on the group, this gift will likely not be too pricey and will come with some side-benefits such as discounted admission and access to activities that your friend or loved one will be able to enjoy year-round.
Did you grow up thinking Johnnie Walker was one of your dad's best buddies? Does grandma enjoy chasing those holiday cookies with a highball of Bailey's? Would your sister and her husband enjoy drinking Moet & Chandon out of new champagne flutes during their New Year's toast? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, consider a liquor gift set.
These limited-edited sets typically include attractive packaging and often accompanying glassware also. Liquor gift sets can be found online and in nearly every town in the country in local liquor stores. Sets start at around $30.
The closest thing to gifting cold hard cash is to send it under the guise of an electronic gift card certificate. We like them because they are paperless and enable recipients to purchase exactly what they desire from a retailer. Sold by most large retailers on their websites, gift cards won't break the holiday budget this year.
Many brands now also offer e-gift certificates through their Facebook pages, allowing people to buy gift certificates for their friends and post them on receivers' walls. Last year, the five most requested gift cards were from Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon, Walgreen and Shell, according to a survey from GiftCardGranny.com.
Holiday greeting — typed. Credit card number — entered. Send button — clicked. Holiday shopping — done!
This gift is likely the least expensive of the list — setting you back merely a few hours. If you are a professional, a gift of your time could be a creative way to show your appreciation. For example, an accountant could donate some time to do a loved one's taxes or a lawyer could review a lease or create a will.
While these gifts will not require a considerable amount of time, they will be greatly appreciated by receivers who are not experts in the profession. For those who may not feel comfortable lending a hand professionally, offering a few hours of babysitting, pet sitting or errand running also make great gifts.
Cost: Starts at $25
Websites such as xperiencedays.com and cloud9living.com allow shoppers to search for activities that suit their recipient's personality, while daily deal sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial advertise 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 more locally focused daily deals sites offer gifts ranging from restaurants to spa treatment discounts.
Several minutes browsing these sites will likely spark some outside-of-the-box gift-giving ideas. You may even find yourself inspired to buy a certificate for yourself to share in the adventure.