They say good things come to those who wait. For those who've waited even longer, we've got you covered. Here's a last-minute gift guide for keeping calm and retailing on.
Wherever you are and no matter the hour, options abound for everyone on your list, and virtually everything we've found can be purchased here on this very screen. Tech, luxury, fashion, fun, family, romance—we've got inspired, creative suggestions across the board.
First, take a deep breath and give yourself a break. Just because you've waited doesn't mean you don't care. There's still time to spread holiday cheer with presents that make it look like you've been filling your gift bag for weeks.
—By Dan Hochman, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 10 Dec. 2013
Price: Starting around $200
Want to rock someone's world? Transform the in-home listening experience with a sleek, easy-to-install wireless speaker system that brings lush sound to every room of the house. In the past couple of years, Wi-Fi Hi-Fi systems have gone from maybe-one-days to I-want-it-nows, particularly as our portable devices load up with music-streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and Rdio.
While component quality has gone up, prices have come down—as with our No. 1 pick for procrastinators, the Sonos Play: 1. Tiny but powerful, the unit is $199 for a speaker and bridge unit that connects wirelessly to your home Wi-Fi on a unique Sonos network. That helps eliminate dropouts common on Bluetooth and AirPlay.
Add a second speaker and you can pair them with a touch of the button for a wider, richer sound. Keep adding to build a five-point home theater system, and beyond. The system's limit is 32 speakers—but at that point you might just want to bring in the whole orchestra. Equally awesome: Throw in a year (or even a month, at $9.99) of Spotify Premium for access to millions of songs.
Price: $25 and up
Instant coffee doesn't really cut it anymore. If your beans aren't shade-grown, direct-trade, organic and bird-friendly (yes, that's a thing), it's as good as mud to true connoisseurs. The everyday coffee lover on your list won't sniff at an e-gift holiday card from Starbucks, but caffeine snobs need a choicer brew, which is where Tonx comes in.
The Los Angeles-based coffee service sources small batches of the finest beans from around the world, then ships fresh from its roaster to consumers. Every two weeks, a new silver package arrives with whole beans from Ecuador, Honduras, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
Subscriptions begin at $24, but you can get all fancy with a subscription that comes with a special Tonx mug and six-cup Chemex brewer. The company e-alerts the gift recipient the moment you place your order.
Price: Varies, depending on travel expenses
Give your mom, dad, grandparents or a special mentor the most important gift of all: your sincere gratitude. Research in the field of positive psychology shows that nothing brings greater happiness than expressing your appreciation with something called a "gratitude visit." It's straightforward but deeply meaningful, and you can start by making your intentions plain this holiday season.
Here's how: Think of someone who's been important to you but that you've never properly thanked. Sit down and write an old-fashioned letter (remember those?) telling the person, in detail, why they mean so much to you and the impact they've made. One page is perfect.
Next comes the powerful part—and is where the real gift comes in. Pick up the phone, or send a card or even an e-mail to set a time and place to share your gratitude letter out loud and in person. Once you've got a date, transcribe the letter onto fancy paper or even laminate it. Then present the recipient with a tribute he or she will treasure forever.
Price: $45 per box
The Box of Awesome pretty much takes the agony out of shopping for guys. Each month, the Manhattan-based company scours the consumer world to find interesting, stylish, bro-pleasing products, from a sleek set of steak knives to the ultimate traveler's Dopp kit.
What's great is that the recipient gets to decide which box to get. Not interested in this month's box of cigars? Skip it and wait for next month's shoeshine kit or set of handsome whisky tumblers. Even better, everything's returnable and the shipping is on them. Last-minute bonus: Digital gift cards are emailed instantly.
Price: $10 and up
Heifer International is a philanthropy working with communities around the world to end poverty and hunger in the most direct ways possible. Rather than aiding wider relief efforts or delivering handouts, the organization brings farm animals to impoverished agricultural communities. The goal is to help families achieve self-reliance through education and training with egg-laying, milk-providing, wool-bearing animals of all kinds.
In a season that's about giving, support of this type goes far beyond the latest gadget or fashion statement.
Browse the Heifer International Catalog to see a list of animals and projects. Sheep, for instance, provides an entire community with warm clothing as well as income through sales of extra wool. A tax-deductible gift of $120—emailed to your recipient in his or her honor—covers an entire sheep, though you can also buy a share in one for $10. Other selections include a flock of chicks for $20 or honeybees for $30.
Price: Varies, but generally $10 and up
With sophisticated cameras on our phones, taking photographs is part of everyday life, and yet most pictures stay on our devices—or else live on Instagram, Facebook and such. How nice it is to receive a personalized calendar, mug, poster, pillow or jewelry with photos to look at all year.
Online photo services like Snapfish can turn around cards, books and calendars by Christmas for orders placed as late as 6 p.m. PT on Friday, Dec. 20. Apple's print products take a few days longer but look amazing. For the true procrastinator, Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies can print simple photo books and prints the same day, and many locations are open on Christmas.
Price: As low as $159
Maybe your mother-in-law's house is tight on space this holiday season, or your kids need a little extra room for sleepovers. On one hand, giving someone an inflatable bed is practical to the point of "what the huh?" but if you wrap the gift with love, it could be a life changer.
Think how delighted guests will be knowing there's a comfortable place to sleep at the touch of a button. Grandma's den is suddenly a four-star resort. The basement rec room is now the basement B&B.
The mattress to buy is AeroBed's Luxury Collection Raised Headboard Bed. It's available at Bed Bath & Beyond, and there's no wait for expedited shipping.The bed auto-inflates and features seven customizable firmness settings. It also uses the AeroBed Whoosh valve, which deflates the bed in seconds, versus waiting for a pump.
Not everyone's comfortable spending time or money on spa treatments or regular manicures and pedicures for themselves A series of appointments at a local nail or hair salon or day spa is an easy last-minute gift that reaps rewards in quality of life.
For extra pleasure, arrange to go along. One might feel indulgent. Two's just fun.
When was the last time you heard, "I love scrubbing floors!" Give someone a break from everyday chores with a gift of housecleaning services. Once a month is very generous, but even just once is nice. Ask around for recommendations or use a national service like Molly Maid.
If a cleanup feels like too much of a statement, consider a series of cleanings—or perhaps auto detailing—at a local car wash. Winter is the busiest season in the car wash industry, so December's a perfect time for a gift certificate.
Price: $10 and up
There's so much noise in our world, virtual and otherwise. Consider a present that turns down the volume. In the last year, mindfulness apps have proliferated. One of the very best is Get Some Headspace, which provides 365 daily 10-minute meditations for $7.99 a month.
Freedom software ($10) switches off the Internet for predetermined periods so you can focus undistracted for up to 8 hours at a time.
For a great, woo-woo-free read on mindfulness, there's "Search Inside Yourself," by Google's Chade-Meng Tan. One of the company's earliest engineers, he offers advice on developing meditation practices and improving emotional intelligence in life and work. Available in print and as an eBook at Amazon and elsewhere.
A good set of Bose Quiet 15 Noise Cancellation Headphones can ship in two days from Amazon. If nothing else, you could throw in a stocking stuffer of Hearos Ear Plugs Xtreme Ear Protection, which have a noise reduction rating of 33 decibels, the highest on the market.
Price: $100 and up
Giving cash isn't warm and fuzzy, but have you seen the new C-notes? The redesigned $100 bills, fresh from the Treasury this fall, are gorgeous. Ben Franklin looks positively radiant, and they have an estimated "life span" of 15 years—the longest of any bill in circulation. Not that anyone's going to hold on to this gift that long.
OK, so it also could be piano lessons, or French horn or alto sax. The point is, music instruction is often a pathway to instant joy for adults who forgot how good it feels to learn something completely new.
Three or four lessons from a local instrument store or teaching studio gives a good taste of whether it's worth continuing, and many shops and schools rent instruments or offer loaners at first. A gift of this sort is a vote of confidence, too. It says, hey, you're still growing as a person and I bet you can make beautiful music.