Last Minute Gifts: The procrastinator's guide to not looking like one


Black Friday has come and gone — but you still have holiday gifts to buy.

The last thing you want, mere days before Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, is to wander your local big-box store, wild-eyed, through destroyed aisles full of half-opened Snuggies and piles of As Seen On TV products. Call it procrastinator's hell: to be avoided at all costs.

And costs there will be. A spending survey by American Express finds that Americans plan to spend $908 on gifts this Christmas — and more than 50% will spend that hard-earned cash on the ultimate procrastinator tell: gift cards.

No wonder about 70% of people surveyed found the holidays to be stressful. 

But don't despair; you can do better than socks — or a super random gift card.

Here's how to find gifts that have big personality and style even though you may not have a lot of time or money.

Make their whole year merry

Month clubs have gotten a bad rap because typically the packages seem custom-made for grandparents: citrus all year!

And nothing says gift snub like a jelly of the month club.

Or the ultimate "I don't really know you that well" present: a gift card of the month club

But building on reliable club models — the kind that get you Blue Apron and Hello Fresh — there are some inventive clubs that may be more appealing to people your age on your list.

Got a hipster on your list? The Dive Bar Shirt Club hand-picks sweet shirts from "the best bars you've never heard of" all across the country and sends you one each month for $23 a month.

Or skip the shirt and go straight for a beer, wine or bourbon monthly club. Or send the 420 Goody Box, starting at $10 a month, which includes smoke gear and munchies, to the buddy who is getting lit, possibly in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal.

Buying for foodies? Check out Mouth, which has all the artisanal pickles, custom-packaged goodie baskets and American-made indie food packages they could want.

Got a partner who knows you know they know they've got too much going on?Tampons plus a side of chocolate delivered on the regular may be just the right thing: Le Parcel will send the goods, plus a chocolate treat, directly to their door for $12 a month.

For a similarly distracted person in your life, who can't quite remember or be bothered to update shaving gear, there's Harry's Shave Club, which will send a razor and shaving gel for $27 every few months.

And for the kid in your life look at Kiwi Crate, which delivers a handmade creative project for them to complete each month; Little Passports, with activities to explore a new country each month; or Genius Box, with a science project each month. Because you know your sister's house does not need more plastic kid-crap.

Price range: Month clubs start around $10 a month and go up and up from there. A few have a year requirement, but most you can gift for three or six months instead of the whole year.

Raid your drugstore or office supply center

No, seriously.

You're already running out of time if you want photo books, prints or other goodies from sources like Shutterfly, Vistaprint or EasyCanvas to get shipped to you before the holidays.

But similar products are also available within a day or so at your drugstore like Walgreens, CVS or Walmart — or even at an office supply store like FedEx, Staples or Office Max.

Pull together 12 photos, plus an extra one for the cover, and you've got a 12-month photo calendar for a friend, co-worker or family that chronicles your year together or taps into an inside joke.

You can put a photo on just about anything to make it more personal. And before you pass over this option as overly earnest, remember personal doesn't have to mean "sentimental" — it could also be funny or irreverent.

Put your mark on mugs or tumblers, tote-bags, pillows, blankets, phone and tablet cases, coasters or plates, playing cards or puzzles.

Finally, it is hard to go wrong with the tried-and-true framed photo.

Just make sure that the recipient, if they are pictured, looks awesome.

Price Range: Most photo mugs and basic photo calendars start around $10 and other photo gifts can go up from there — to $85 photo blankets and $189 canvas wall photos.

Give passes, memberships or subscriptions

Subscriptions, similar to month clubs, allow your gift to keep paying dividends throughout the year as the gifted person uses it.

You could give an active friend a ClassPass: exercise classes at thousands of gyms and studios in 39 cities world wide. 

For a more culturally-minded friend or family member, a membership to a museum, garden or zoo can be used throughout the year — and is super classy. Many come with additional benefits like free lectures and members-only events.

A friend or family member who is constantly borrowing your reading material may benefit from a subscription to a magazine or paper they enjoy, or an e-reader package like the Kindle Unlimited or Texture for the iPad. 

Or maybe they are looking for straight-up entertainment: If they don't already have one, you can buy a Netflix subscription or one for Amazon Prime, which is $99 for the year and gives the gifted free two-day shipping on many items.

For the gamer in your life, a PlayStation Plus subscription is $59.99 for the year, the same price as an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Both allow for multi-player mode and include some free games.

Price Range: Subscription prices vary greatly depending on the venue or product. The cost may be as low as $10 a month, but few allow month-to-month payment. Many ask for an annual payment. Those listed here are in the $60 to $150 range.

Find gifts that give back

Rise above the commercialism and superficiality of holiday-gift giving by buying from organizations that give back or by giving a charitable donation in honor of your friend and family members. 

When you shop at Women's Bean Project, a Denver-based organization that provides job skills training and employment to  women who are chronically unemployed, you're helping break the cycle of poverty. The women make prepared gourmet food items — salsas, cornbread mixes and a variety of bean soups — that make wonderful gifts, but you can also donate directly to the organization.

Stores like Global Goods Partners or Ten Thousand Villages offer fair trade gifts, household items and jewelry that are handmade by artisans around the world needing a sustainable marketplace.  

A gift of a year of school for girls in places like Afghanistan or Lebanon or safe passage to refuges through International Rescue can be a powerful gift for the right person in your life.

You've heard that song about the kid that only wants a hippopotamus for Christmas? Well what about a goat? At the Heifer International you can give a family a goat that may become a source of food, income or livelihood for them.

Or give the gift to a charitable cause that you know your friend or family member cares about by buying an entry in a charity race for the cause. Enter the race yourself and you can do it together.

One benefit to you of this kind of giving is that if it is a donation to charity, it is tax deductible

Price range: Gifts range from $10 to thousands of dollars. 

Give a DIY gift that will make them "aww"

No need to geek out on Martha Stewart here. Or give yourself Pinterest panic attacks. 

You can make something yourself that doesn't look goofy or lame. It is mostly about the presentation around a well-thought-out theme.

And not calling it a gift basket.

Here are three examples:

A bath bounty: It's so easy to make soap, it's amazing we bother to buy it. At a craft store like Michaels get melt and pour glycerine soap. After it's liquid you pour it into molds and add scents, color even herbs. Add some festive bath balls, which use standard ingredients except for citric acid, which you can get at a hardware store in the canning section. Fill out the trio with a bath scrub in a cute container that your friend or family member will like. Get a bucket or cool container and shrink wrap it like the pros (with your hair dryer).

A warming trio: Find a terrific recipe for a dry mix of hot cocoa (a popular choice is mint cocoa, but there are Mexican hot cocoa mixes and unadulterated chocolate). Track down a dry mix for wassail (a warm fruity drink with ingredients that may surprise you) and a box of fancy teas (it can be grocery story fancy tea). Put each in a mason jar or other container and then into a bucket or container with a pair of warm socks and go wild with the shrink wrap.

A cookie box: Find some cheap, attractive wine tubes at a craft store. These make the perfect carrier for an assortment of cookies. Bake three different kinds of cookies and nestle them into these wine tubes for a festive gift.

Price range: The cost to get the ingredients to make these gifts will run you between $20 and $40, but you can cut costs by making many gift baskets to give to several people out of those basic supplies.