July 13, 2024

The Procrastinator’s Guide to Affordable Last-Minute Gifts


Maybe that little reminder just popped up on your phone letting you know that the Secret Santa exchange with your coworkers is actually tonight, not next week, and you have no idea what to get for Craig in HR. Maybe you had every intention of doing your Christmas shopping like three weekends ago, but stuff kept coming up, and you decided that was a problem for future you.

Well, the future is here, my friend, and it’s now called the present. But no matter when, why or how you’ve procrastinated on your shopping this season, I get it. I’ve been there. And I’ve got your back with some last-minute gift ideas that also happen to be budget-friendly. Now, instead of digging around to find that candle your grandma gave you last year so you can stuff it in a sad, wrinkled bag and call it a day, you can read this and hopefully get a better plan in place.

Here are my no-fail tips for finding the perfect, affordable gift at the eleventh hour:

1. Make a list of what they love
Even if it’s last-minute, you still want the gift to feel personal and thoughtful. So, a good strategy is to make a quick list of what you know about their likes, hobbies, etc. and then find a $10–20 item in one of those categories. (P.S. If you’re not sure, be observant at their desk or in conversation, or ask someone who knows them well!) If they’re a tech geek, there are plenty of fun gadgets out there, like headphones or small smart speakers, that won’t break the bank. Do they love to write? Can’t go wrong with a nice leather journal or even a fancy pen.
If you really don’t know anything about the person, don’t panic. There are other ideas on this list that pretty much anybody will love (or you can jump straight to number 6).

2. Don’t be afraid to DIY
Okay, so maybe you’re not Martha Stewart (but if you are . . . hey, Martha!), but the possibilities are pretty endless here. You could make baked goods or candy using an easy internet recipe and put them in festive bags. Or parents love framed photos of their kids and grandkids, and that’s a sentimental DIY that anybody can do.
If you do have artistic talent, you could look at the popular gifts that are trending on sites like Etsy and try to recreate them. Make an ornament, hand-letter a sign, do a watercolor portrait of the family dog, you name it. Pinterest is another great resource—just look up “easy homemade gifts” and scroll to your heart’s delight.

3. Group items together
You can easily combine a few related items to make it look like you put more time and effort into the gift than you actually did. For example, for coffee addicts, you could pair a nice bag of dark roast with a mug and some flavored syrup. Foodies would appreciate a few obscure-but-delicious snacks (no need to spend a lot on this—just find the fancier-looking stuff at places like Aldi or TJ Maxx). You could give the pet parent in your life a collection of treats, toys and maybe even one of those cute tiny sweaters that their pet is sure to hate. For someone who just needs to relax, you could put together a self-care package with some tea, a face mask and a candle. And don’t forget about one of my favorite last-minute options (for those who partake): a bottle of bourbon with a cigar.

4. Invest in an experience
Some people would way rather spend quality time than get more “stuff,” which is lucky for you because experiences make great last-minute gifts. You can use an app like Canva to make a cool-looking invite or voucher for an activity that you two can do together in the future. Or just go ahead and buy the tickets or passes online and print them out. This could be anything from a movie to miniature golf to a comedy show—whatever fits your budget.

5. Don’t overlook the cheap stores
You can actually find great gifts at places like Costco, Home Goods, Walmart and even dollar stores. No one has to know where they came from. You might even want to look for gifts at—hear me out—the gas station. I’m not a gambling man, but I’ve gotten $5 or $10 crossword scratch-off tickets for my whole family before, and let me tell you, it was a blast!

6. When in doubt, grab a gift card
Gift cards have gotten a bad rap (or is it “bad rep”—I never know which one is right, and I refuse to figure it out) for being the cop-out present, but I disagree. When’s the last time you heard someone complain about getting a gift card to a place they love? Oh, right. You haven’t. Plus, this is the ultimate solution if you’re running low on time. If you want to make it feel more personal, write a heartfelt note to go with it.
Hopefully this list has helped you get some ideas flowing for last-minute gifts that won’t destroy your budget. And hey, you might want to take advantage of those Christmas sales and get a head start on next year’s shopping while you’re at it. But then again, that sounds like a problem for . . . future you.

* George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a countercultural approach to money. He’s the host of The Fine Print podcast and The EntreLeadership Podcast on the Ramsey Network. Since 2013, George has served at Ramsey Solutions, where his goal is to help people spend less, save more, and avoid consumer traps so they can make the most of their money. Follow George on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or find out more about him online at www.ramseysolutions.com/personalities 


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