The holidays are barreling down on all of us — and you've just realized that you are far, far behind where you should be with your gift shopping. You're at the point where "thoughtful and from the heart" is pretty much out the window — and you just want to be sure you have something to give.
You could go the traditional last-minute route — but things like lottery tickets, flowers and "coupon books" (good for a 20-minute massage or a half-hour of cleaning) are giant neon signs that you didn't put an effort in. And gift cards, another old chestnut, are too often tucked away and forgotten — or, worse, lost —making them a poor choice as well.
Fortunately, there's still time to be a gift-giving hero and put together a unique and welcome gift that will have your friend or loved one smiling. Here are some ideas that can add a touch of personalization to your last-minute gift — and spare you from grabbing something from the neighborhood drugstore on the way to your holiday celebration.
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Price: $85 and up
Travel's not just a nightmare during the holidays. Security lines are long all year long. If you've got a road warrior on your list, Clear could be a welcome gift. The service lets people speed through screening lines at 18 major airports (a number that's growing). Membership costs $179 per year, but Delta Skymiles members are eligible for discounts that can cut the cost to $99. Another option is TSA Pre, which can cut security lines to five minutes or so. A five-year membership runs just $85, though this option requires a bit more effort on behalf of the recipient.
Price: $12 and up
Know someone with a voracious appetite for education? A non-fiction book could work, certainly, but there's always the risk they've already read it or aren't interested in that particular topic. A good alternative is The Great Courses Plus. Run by The Teaching Company, this video-on-demand service covers an extensive array of topics, ranging from history and science to professional growth to food and travel. There are no tests or homework — just the sheer joy of learning something new. Prices range from $12 to $20 per month, depending on the length of the subscription you choose.
How well do you know your parents, grandparents or even best friend? While storytelling relays the highlights of a life, there are always parts you never think to ask about — and they never think to tell. StoryWorth is a narrative service that sends a weekly question to your gift recipient (such as "who was your first crush?" or "What personal expectations do you hold yourself to?"). They'll write (or record) a story answering the question, which the service stores and shares with you. After a year, you can bind those stories into a book to enjoy yourself or hand down to future generations. The service and book are available for a flat $79 rate.
Price: $30 and up
We're inundated with photos and videos these days thanks to the ease of shooting both with our smartphones. But compiling them into something we want to watch — especially on a larger screen — can be a chore. Fortunately, video editing is getting easier. A service like Kizoa offers online movie creation and video editing services that are easy to grasp. There's a free basic service, but for $30 to $100, there are a variety of premium services that will expand your storage and let you download the films to DVD or your PC. If your recipient has an aversion to uploading their memories to an online service, software like Cyberlink's DirectorSuite ($199) offers just about every tool you'll need for video, audio or photo editing, including 360-degree video, which will be increasingly useful as virtual reality takes off. It's a bit more work, but it lets you customize results in a variety of ways.
Price: $10 and up
Most people want to spoil themselves, but often stop short, since they think of something more practical to do with their money. That opens up a huge gift giving opportunity, though. If you're not sure what they want, there are several subscription services that cater to just about anyone. Gentleman's Box ($25 per month or $275 per year) is perfect for the person who reads GQ cover to cover each month. Each shipment contains everything from grooming products to clothing accessories. Birchbox ($10 per month or $110 per year) will send sample beauty products to women, ranging from lipstick to high-end dry shampoo. If she's already happy with her cosmetics, Rocksbox ($49 for a three-month membership or $149 for a year) is a subscription jewelry service that lets recipients try out rings, necklaces and earrings. If they love it, they can purchase the jewelry — or they can send it back and try something else instead.
After the holidays, no one wants to do more planning and shopping. Let your friend or loved one take a week or more off from food prep and the grocery store with a subscription to a food delivery service. Blue Apron ($60 per week for two people or $140 for a family of four) offers a mix of seasonal produce and hormone-free meats. Hello Fresh, meanwhile, offers plans in the $9 to $10 per meal range, with offerings including Thai beef skewers, butter-basted chicken and tricolor quinoa salad.
Know someone who's perennially stressed out — or especially anxious about the holidays? Maybe some yoga would do them good. These are largely local services, so not every one will offer guest memberships, but you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one that does.
An Amazon Prime membership ($99 per year) might not seem especially sentimental, but it's likely to be quite useful. Beyond the free two-day (or, in some cases, same day) shipping that so many people praise, it also will give your friend or loved one a robust video streaming service, access to more than 2 million streaming songs, unlimited online photo storage space and early access to certain deals on the site.
Didn't have time to swing by Best Buy or Gamestop (or they were sold out of the game you wanted to buy)? No worries. While you can't directly gift games from an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, you can still pay for someone's digital purchase when you're at their house (or sneak onto their system and buy and install it when they're not looking). PC gamers have things a bit easier as Steam allows you to gift games to other accounts. And that service also offers tremendous holiday deals letting you buy a lot for a little. Prices generally range from $20 to $60.
Price: $5 and up
As with Amazon Prime, there's not a lot of personalized love in ensuring someone never has to worry about common household objects. But the convenience of knowing they're always there is often greatly appreciated. Quip is a subscription service ($40-$150 initially, with quarterly refills ranging from $5-$40) that delivers fresh toothbrushes, toothpaste and other oral hygiene items. There's also the Dollar Shave Club ($55 for three months or $140 for a year) gift set, that includes monthly razors as well as a travel bag, razor and shaving creams and butters. And the Amazon Dash button ($5) ensures people can quickly reorder household staples, ranging from detergent to groceries. (You might, though, want to combine that with an Amazon gift certificate to pay for the first few shipments of those items.)