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Last-minute gift ideas (who has time to shop?)

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle


This weekend we celebrated my god daughter’s and my niece’s 6th birthdays and my brother’s he-probably-doesn’t-want-me-to-tell-you-how-old-he-is birthday and on Friday afternoon, a few hours before we were supposed to hop into the car for a six-hour drive, I realized that I had completely forgotten to buy my god daughter a present.


No time to head to the toy store, or Target, or a chic boutique. But there’s a cool Asian grocery store near my office. Aside from great produce and dirt-cheap-but-delicious tea, they have a kitchenware section (with a lot of melamine bowls and bamboo steamers, yes, but also a few pretty pieces of pottery and china). I zipped on over.

Ten minutes and $10 later, I walked out with a tea set fit for an empress-in-training. A gorgeous deep-blue teapot. Six matching cups. Six white-and-blue flowered plates. Plus a serving platter for her cucumber sandwiches. It was prettier than the sets I’ve seen at the big box toy stores, sturdy enough to last for a while, and, since it was an actual working tea set, large enough to actually be used.

Sometimes, the perfect present is available at an unexpected place. Here are a few ways I’ve dealt with buying last-minute gifts:

Put together a gift basket at the grocery store. You don’t need to use an actual basket, either. I’ve whipped up a “Brownie Kit” for a friend by filling a Pyrex baking dish with Ghirardelli brownie mix, gourmet chocolate chips, a bag of caramels, and a wooden spoon.

Get crafty. Stores like Joann Fabrics and Michael’s are a treasure trove for last-minute birthday presents. They usually have craft kits available, but you can also stock up on cool supplies for craft-minded kids.

Think outside the big box stores. Ethnic grocery stores have some wonderful gift options. Some carry knick knacks, but I’m not talking about those. Choose a selection of curry pastes and chutneys for a friend who loves Indian food; buy a lidded ceramic mug and several types of tea in Chinatown; pick up a French coffee press and a pound of coffee at your little local shop.

Buy books. Books are one of my favorite last-minute gifts, because they’re perfect for pretty much everyone. Baby? Sturdy board books. Pre-schooler? A couple of stories plus the CD versions, so they can “read” to themselves. Elementary school? Classics like Ramona Quimby or Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. For teens, look for a biography of their favorite band and pair it with their latest album.


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2 comments so far...

  • A great gift idea is The Picture Mug, which allows you to insert your own photo or artwork and change it anytime.

    Randy  |  December 10th, 2008 at 2:03 pm

  • is the ultimate in last minute gifting. It’s a free service that connects you to over 300 retailers’ eGift cards, ensuring you’ll find something for everyone on your list + enabling you to send or print it on the go.


    Loren  |  December 15th, 2009 at 8:47 pm