It’s that time of year: those last days where the holiday shopping season is at its peak, but shipping deadlines loom, so you only have a few days to get the people on your list something they’d actually enjoy.
Let me tell you a secret: last-minute gifts are actually my favorite kind.
Sure, buying something well-considered and well-planned (maybe something from The New York Times gift guide?) has its appeal too, especially when you know a certain someone will absolutely love that exact thing you plan to get them, but it’s those “oh no, there’s only three days left to have something shipped” gifts that really test you, and I do love a challenge.
Luckily, my friends and colleagues at Wirecutter, the New York Times company that reviews products, also love a challenge and have plenty of last-minute suggestions that anyone will love. I checked in with them for some ideas, added my own, and with our powers combined, we’ll help you finish off your gift list.
Think about what you (or they) use every day
Part of giving a great gift is empathy — you know, the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person, think about what it’s like to live their lives, and understand their feelings and motivations? So think about what your gift recipient does on a daily basis, as far as you know.
How is their commute? Could they use some shiny new headphones to make the train ride a little more bearable? My friend and colleague Lauren Dragan knows everything about audio gear, and has headphone suggestions for all types here. Maybe they could use a new book to read, or a few free months to their favorite streaming music or TV service. If they drive, maybe a travel mug is in order, to keep their coffee warm on the way to the office.
Think about their day at work. Maybe they could use a nice bag to carry lunch to the office, or a slim, rugged keychain to wrangle all the keys they have to carry around. Have they complained about something you could get them a little something to alleviate? (Sadly, their co-workers don’t count.)
What about their leisure time? If you have a gamer on your gift list, last-minute gifts are easy. Some Steam wallet credit, gift cards to Sony’s PlayStation store or Microsoft’s Xbox Live, or a few free months of PlayStation Pro or Xbox Game Pass, or a free year of Nintendo Switch Online are all easily gifted, even at the last minute. New more ideas? Some of the Wirecutter editors put together a list of great games and game credit to give, even in these last few days. My suggestion? Untitled Goose Game. Whoever you buy it for will love it.
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If you don’t have a lot of info on their day-to-day, think about yours, and your common pain points. Think about what you have in common with them that maybe you can help them with. Do they have trouble remembering to take breaks, or grab lunch? Give them the gift of a lunch buddy, maybe once a week, so you both remember to do it. Do you constantly forget to stay hydrated during the workday? A good water bottle is a great gift for anyone, and you can even give them some stickers or something to personalize it and make it special. Don’t forget those little touches: they turn an ordinary gift into one that your recipient will use fondly and remember you for.
Give the gift of food, drink, or merriment
I love giving friends and family the gift of consumables. My father loves good cheese (like father, like son), so I’ve often given him gift subscriptions to Cowgirl Creamery for a few months, just so he has something nice to snack on (and I can try some too, when I go visit!) If you want even more cheese, consider a subscription from Murray’s Cheese, although be careful, these subscriptions can get pricey.
Many of my friends are coffee lovers, so a customized subscription from Trade Coffee or Blue Bottle Coffee, makes for a great gift, and the opportunity to try different blends, regions, and flavors — it’s a gift that quite seriously keeps on giving. Speaking of which, if you’re a wine fan, you can get similar subscription experiences that are tailored to the recipient’s palate from companies like Tasting Room and Winc. If your recipient is into wine but doesn’t want to open a whole bottle themselves, try Vinebox, which ships tasting selections of several wines, but only enough to fill a glass of each. I’ve also been really into Haus lately, if you’re shopping for the wine or cocktail lover who’s tried it all and wants something new and refreshing.
These are just a few ideas. Think about what your recipient likes eating or drinking, and there’s probably an option for them. Do they love ice cream (who doesn’t?) Maybe a tasting selection from Jenni’s Ice Cream would make a great gift. Maybe your recipient would prefer chocolate? Or fruit? Wirecutter has an entire rundown of gift baskets and subscriptions that don’t suck right here, including some cheese recommendations I didn’t mention.
Think of these food and drink subscriptions or baskets like the upgraded, 21st-century version of old school wicker gift baskets. They take less time (in fact, you don’t have to assemble them at all), they’re guaranteed to be customized to your recipient’s preferences, and instead of a one-off experience, they get weeks or months of enjoyment out of them. You don’t even have to find a way to ship the things yourself.
Also, gift subscriptions don’t have to just be about food. I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest a gift subscription to The New York Times (thank you!) and regardless of where you live, I’m willing to bet there’s a local newspaper, magazine, public radio or television station, or another project that could use support. Giving someone the gift of a newspaper they can read freely each day or an in-name donation is definitely unique (and hey, public radio tote bags are pretty nice.)
Don’t think “gift,” think “experience”
Sometimes the best gifts aren’t necessarily physical items that can be used, but experiences to be enjoyed. You don’t have to give your recipient a whole vacation or something (but more power to you if you can afford that), but consider something like a visit to a local bookstore or music store, and treating your recipient to something nice. Then they get a tangible gift, and time with you — far better than just the item itself.
If your recipient doesn’t have one, consider taking them to get their library card. You get to support your local library, and both you and your recipient get books, e-books, music, movies, and more — not to mention the community activities and events that usually take place at your local library. Consider a trip to a museum you’ve always wanted to visit, or check the website of the ones you’ve been to before to see if there’s a special exhibition or event you’d like to attend. Consider a trip to a state or national park and spend a little time in the great outdoors, whether it’s on a hike through the woods, or just a well-packed picnic on a scenic overlook.
Maybe self-care is on the agenda for the coming year. A spa day makes a great gift, or maybe a few free fitness classes if — and only if — your recipient would truly like that. Don’t be the Peloton guy. We all saw how that turned out.
Speaking of classes, cooking classes are a great option for anyone, whether they already know how to cook or would love to learn. You could also treat your recipient to a different kind of fun, like an escape room or another group puzzle-solving adventure. For those who have a little stress they need to let out, see if there’s a rage room (a room where you pay for time and items to break, then go in and let it all out) in your area. Trust me, they’ll feel much better, no matter which one you choose.
A lot of those involve paying for an experience of course, but if you live in a place where the parks or museums are free, you don’t have to spend a lot of money. The key is to think more about the experience you want to give, and ideally, make sure you’re part of the equation if you think that’ll make the experience better. Think of it as an opportunity to create memories and do something truly special.
What to Buy is a new series in collaboration with Wirecutter, the New York Times Company that reviews products. Want buying advice from the experts, or need help picking out the right thing for the right job? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll look into it for you!