Great Last-Minute Gifts

Finding a perfect gift can be easy and affordable, even when time is not on your side.

Haven't finished your holiday gift shopping yet? You're not alone. According to the National Retail Federation, last year, 12 million consumers hadn't even started popping into stores before December 19th -- so you may be ahead of the game. The question is how do you find something for everyone on your list at the last minute without overspending?

With a little thought and organization, it is possible. Here are some ideas to get you started:

General timesaving tips
Schedule shopping as if it was a meeting. Set aside time in your calendar to buy gifts and stick to your specified start and end time.
Don't waste time browsing. Make a list of friends' and relatives' hobbies or favorite stores and stay on target.
If you're a night owl or live in a remote area, shop online when it's convenient for you. Some online retailers even offer free gift wrapping and shipping. Remember to check holiday delivery cut-off dates to ensure your gifts arrive on time

Gifts for your spouse
Find hard-to-find items your spouse would die for (like a 1962 Mickey Mantle baseball card or vintage designer handbag) at an online auction. Search by category or item and start bidding!
Make a dream come true and rent a convertible for a week (schedule the actual week later). All it takes is a quick call to a fine car rental dealer. Have fun setting the tone by presenting your card with a wrapped toy convertible.
Call your travel agent and book a last-minute trip to Las Vegas or a romantic Caribbean cruise. Wrap the tickets (or email confirmation) around a bottle of sunscreen for added effect!
Pamper your partner with a certificate valid for a day at the spa, complete with pedicure, manicure, facial and therapeutic massage. Be sure to throw in free babysitting if you have young children.

Gifts for children
Burn a customized music CD or download your kids' favorite tunes and music videos right onto their MP3 players for them while they're sleeping. At about 99-cents a track, the price is right. Choose from several online music stores.
If you've got video gamers in the family, consider giving a membership to a reputable online gaming site (check for parental controls/family settings) so they can participate in online multiplayer games.
Wrap up a gift card for a toy or clothing store and position it as a mini-shopping spree. Give a dozen $10 gift cards instead of a single $120 card to make the spree seem larger. Remember to wrap the cards around the store's catalog so they can start "window shopping" right away!
Call your financial advisor and buy shares of a cool toy or technology company your kids love. It will give them a sense of ownership, plus it's a unique gift that will hopefully earn them some money. Frame a pretend stock certificate that they can hang on their bedroom wall.

Gifts for in-laws
Create a digital family photo album/slideshow by burning your digital photos onto a CD or DVD and printing a customized gift label. Give priceless works of art. Frame your children's artwork in an inexpensive frame, available from your local craft store. Make reservations at a nice restaurant and be sure to pay the bill in advance. Present the gift as a formal, written invitation. Give a gift that gives back to the community. Make a donation in your relatives' names to their favorite charity. Gifts for friends and colleagues

Dish things up a bit. Next time your neighbor hosts a holiday party, make your famous Black Forest cake and serve it on a ceramic cake plate for them to keep. Not only will they appreciate all the time that went into the baking, they'll love the bonus keepsake.

For the person who has everything but a million dollars, give them the chance to have that too. Buy a bunch of lottery tickets and present them with a horseshoe or rabbit's foot for luck!

You can't go wrong with a fine wine or champagne. If you keep a supply on stock for the holidays, you'll never be without a last-minute gift when the stores are closed and you're out of time to shop.

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