Uh-oh. Have you procrastinated about doing your holiday shopping? Again? Alright, deadline-pushers, you can officially stop despairing. These tips will require a minimum investment of time on your part, and they'll help you survive another holiday season while elating your friends and family as well.
1Hop online today and score free shipping. Shopping online can be fast and convenient, but shipping fees can be downright painful. To avoid them this year, shop on "Free Shipping Day," which is today (Dec. 17). More than 630 merchants have agreed to provide free shipping to their online customers, with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve. For more details, visit www.freeshippingday.com.
2Think about your daily commute. If you're facing a last-minute shopping crunch, it's likely because you're extremely busy. To save time and avoid out-of-the-way errands, reflect on all the possible retail stops along routes you regularly drive. Can you zip inside one or two of them during a lunch break or after work one day? At the very least, you could buy gift cards at a local grocery store. (Publix sells a variety of retailers' gift cards, for instance.)
3Electronic gift certificates always work in a pinch. So long as your gift recipient is an online-savvy person, you could visit the Web site of a store he or she likes and have a gift certificate sent out via e-mail. Just be aware that some retailers only allow such certificates to be used on their Web sites, not in their stores. You also may need to make sure your electronic gift didn't get mistaken for spam.
4A discount retailer can be your salvation. If you're not psychologically prepared to handle the mall, do this: Head out to a major discount retailer, such as Target, Walmart or Kmart, grab a cart and start rolling through the store in a systematic way. This way you'll be able to find something for every person on your list at decent prices, and you'll only have to visit the store once. Pick up all gift-wrapping supplies at the same time.
5Tailor gifts around a certain theme. This doesn't have to take as much time and energy as you might think. If, for instance, one of your gift recipients is environmentally conscious, whip together a "green" kit for that person, which could include a reusable shopping bag that's so small it could fit in a purse (check out www.reusablebags.com); a stack of eco-friendly dish towels (to reduce the need to use tons of paper towels); and a reusable travel cup or mug (to reduce the waste of paper coffee cups over the course of a year).
6Books stand the test of time. People often cherish special books for a lifetime, and you can make the gift of a book even more special by writing a personalized note inside the jacket. Just pick nice, hardcover books — or sets of books — that tie in with your gift recipients' interests. By ordering at Amazon.com or other sites, you can sometimes score free shipping, regardless of when you shop.
7Give specialized magazines with fanfare. Is someone on your list into cooking? Traveling? Golf? Something else? Then get that person a subscription to a magazine in that vein, or stop by a book store or newsstand and buy a hefty stack of magazines that fit the person's interests. Then he or she can spend a relaxing weekend with all those fun magazines.
8Share gifts that people can eat and drink. Stores that sell food and beverages will be open until the 11th hour, so this can be a great last-minute solution. Think about fun splurges: nice bottles of booze and liqueur; a full case of wine; caviar; prosciutto; gourmet cheeses; specialty vinegars; fine chocolate; premium olive oils; hard-to-find hot sauces. You also could make your own pastries, breads or cookies and wrap them up in a festive way. If you don't have that kind of time, swing by a local bakery and ask them to do the cooking part for you.
9Give the gift of you. Create "gift certificates" for services you can provide in the coming weeks: babysitting, pet-sitting, 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. Just be sure to follow through on your commitment.
10Donate to charity in your loved one's name. You (and your gift recipients) can find interesting and worthy recipients of charitable donations through Kiva.org (www.kiva.org), DonorsChoose.org (www.donorschoose.org) and Charity Checks (www.charitychecks.us or toll-free 1-800-854-5601).
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.