Okay, now try not to panic as you glance at the calendar . . . • GULP! Christmas is just one week away! Oh noooooooooooooooo! • If that's how you reacted, then rejoice: Here are 10 holiday shopping ideas for all the procrastinators out there. And the good news is that these last-minute approaches shouldn't be too terribly hard to pull off, no matter how pressed for time you may be.
1 Take advantage of "Free Shipping Day." More than 250 stores, including Macy's, Circuit City, JCPenney, Target, Crate & Barrel, Eddie Bauer, Sears and Toys "R" Us, have agreed to provide free shipping to their online customers today with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. For details, go to www.freeshippingday.com.
2 If you're not sure what to get someone, you could opt for online gift certificates that are sent via e-mail. Many retailers offer them, and they're easy to order. Some retailers allow the certificates to be used only on their Web sites, not in their stores, so make sure your recipient is comfortable shopping online. Also follow up to make sure that your electronic gift didn't get mistaken for spam.
3 In the mood to do something a little bit more personalized this year — and to wrap your gifts yourself? Then visit a major discount retailer, such as Target, Wal-Mart or Kmart, and make your way through the store systematically. This way you'll be able to find something for everyone on your list at decent prices, and you'll only have to visit the store once.
4 Books make great gifts, and you can get creative with them if you stop and think about the interests of the people on your list. You can get cookbooks for the folks who love to cook, travel books for the travel fiends, a Dr. Seuss collection for new parents, specialized children's books for kids who love dinosaurs or trucks — you get the idea. If you order online at Amazon.com or other sites, you can sometimes score free shipping on purchases of $25 or more.
5 Set up magazine subscriptions. This idea is related to the book idea, but it's a gift that keeps on giving. Choose a subscription for someone based on his or her interests and get it started. Then go to a newsstand, pick up the current issue and wrap that.
6 Food and drinks make great last- minute gifts. Reflect on "splurges" that people might not get for themselves: a case of wine; caviar; gourmet cheeses; fine chocolate; hard-to-find hot sauces. If you're a good cook or baker, you also could make your own yummy breads, pastries or cookies and wrap them in a festive way.
7 Create "gift certificates" for services you can provide in the coming weeks. These could include babysitting, petsitting, running errands, cooking a nice dinner, doing handyman work, repairing or detailing a car, or helping someone build a Web site, to name a few possibilities. Do follow through on your promises.
8 Make a customized kit. You can buy large quantities of items your recipients are sure to use, such as prepaid calling cards for friends who travel a lot, art supplies for art lovers or specialized emergency kits. For someone with car problems, wrap up a flashlight, gas can, jumper cables, flares and a AAA membership.
9 Donate to charity in your loved one's name. Through the nonprofit Charity Checks, you can order a check in any dollar amount and let your recipient select a charity from among more than 800,000 in the United States. Go to www.charitychecks.us or call toll-free 1-800-854-5601.
10Save money on swift mailing. The Priority Mail service offered by the U.S. Postal Service delivers packages nationwide within two to three days for less money than major delivery companies. The flat rates for packages weighing up to 70 pounds are $4.80 for an envelope and $9.80 for a box.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: FreeShippingDay.com (www.freeshippingday.com); Budget Savvy Magazine (www.budgetsavvymag.com)