Note: we aren’t necessarily endorsing all of the companies and services named in this post: it’s an overview of ideas, and we haven’t checked out all of the companies listed. Also, we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to make good fudge successfully on the first try.
GO TO AN ACTUAL STORE
Only the grocery store is open in your area? Our colleagues at Consumer Reports have some ideas for decent last-minute gifts that you can find in the supermarket aisles.
Visit the gourmet aisles: you’ll find fancy bottled olive oil, attractive packages of pasta, and fancy chocolate in a most stores these days. If you don’t know the recipient’s food preferences, there’s a simple alternative: grocery and drug stores also have handy gift card kiosks.
Gift cards have a lot of problems: they may lose their value if a retailer goes out of business, fraud can happen at the point of sale, and not everything that appears to be a “gift card” has the consumer protections of a traditional gift card. Most of them ultimately go unredeemed.
If you’re visiting from out of town and picking up gifts locally, pay attention to what’s available. I once stopped a fellow last-minute shopper from picking up an AMC Theatres gift card at Walgreens for a local relative. The problem: the closest AMC cinema was 250 miles away. Gift card selections in those kiosks aren’t customized to which stores are available in a given area.
Still, they do have a few advantages: they let you earmark money for something fun or a specific purpose. A gift card in a specific amount can actually be a very personal and thoughtful gift… but then, ultimately, so can cash, if you package it thoughtfully enough.
Lottery tickets might seem like a way to give someone cash without really giving cash, but here’s something to consider: would you be upset if the recipient won the top prize and didn’t share with you?
Subscriptions to magazines, websites, and other periodicals can be tricky if you aren’t familiar with the recipient’s habits, but it’s also possible to extend a subscription that you know they enjoy. You can even buy Netflix gift cards in grocery and drugstores now, which would make a nice complement to a streaming device or smart TV if you know that they happen to be receiving one from someone other than you.
One category that has really grown since the last time we covered last-minute gifts are subscription boxes, which now are available for everything from cosmetics to pet treats to snacks. Someone has probably developed a subscription box for subscription boxes.
Boxes for pets are their own industry now: there’s BarkBox, MeowBox (of course), and KitNipBox, and many others. Confusingly, CatLadyBox offers cat-themed items for humans, but you can also add items for actual cats to your subscription. They’re good if you’re looking for a gift for a pet or a pet lover, and a gift subscription delivered on Christmas by e-mail is a good cover for waiting until the last minute.
Meal-preparation kits are also growing in popularity: no gift says “I care about you, but you’re a terrible cook” quite like a subscription to Blue Apron or HelloFresh, services that send new recipes and all of the ingredients that you’ll need to make them.
The site My Subscription Addiction has reviews and overviews of any kind of subscription box that you can or can’t think of, but remember that they use affiliate links to get a cut of anything you buy, and often receive the boxes that they review for free.
One problem that we often hear about subscription boxes is that they’re hard to cancel, which is where giving someone a gift subscription instead of simply handing over a credit card number is an even more wonderful gift.
How about a lovely bouquet of chocolate-dipped bacon roses? There are a lot of edible things that seem like they take a lot more effort than they really do. My standby is peanut butter fudge, which you can put in a pretty box or toss in a plastic bag, and people will be happy either way because it’s fudge. Use your own strengths: maybe you can make other kinds of candy, cookies, brownies, or jerky.
You don’t need actual craft skills to put some basics together and end up with something worth more than the ingredients.
Get respectable-looking frames at big-box, dollar, or craft stores: print out some digital photos at your local drugstore, frame them, and you have a meaningful and not terribly expensive gift.
One idea from a Consumerist staffer is to buy clear glass ornaments and fill them with things. That could include photos or other keepsakes, glitter, sequins. Really, all you need to do is paint their name and the year on them, and you’ve created an instant heirloom with actual meaning. Maybe.
FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE FAR AWAY
Subscription boxes or other gifts delivered virtually work here, especially if you’ve already missed all of the shipping deadlines.