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9 Last-Minute Gift Ideas (That Don't Feel Last-Minute)

Impress your gift recipients with these thoughtful and creative ideas.

December 16, 2021

You made a list. You checked it twice. 

But, an acquaintance or coworker gave you an unexpected holiday gift, and it doesn’t feel so nice. 

To avoid the naughty list, or just plain appearing rude, you’re probably familiar with the frantic search for last-minute Christmas gifts for the people you forgot about this year. 

Whether that means regifting unopened socks or exchanging a gift card you found in a junk drawer, it can be tough to find affordable-yet-meaningful last-minute Christmas gifts. Compound that with limited stock and plentiful supply chain delays, and you can forget about the convenience of two-day shipping this year. 

For the 2021 holiday season, we’re focusing on gifts (generally under $20) you didn’t even realize you could score in the aisles of your local market, drug store, or nearby big-box retailer. 

To figure out last-minute gift ideas that don’t feel last-minute, read on. 

For the dessert lover

The beauty of this quick-yet-cute gift is its affordability and scalability. All you need are a few Mason jars (or you can reuse some clean glass jars from home) and the dry ingredients for anything from chocolate chip cookies to hot cocoa. Layer the ingredients in the jar, then top the gift off with a handwritten recipe. 

Depending on what’s already in your pantry, this may only cost a few dollars. Plus, a gift in a jar can be pieced together in a matter of mere minutes.

Need some inspiration? Check out these nifty gift in a jar ideas.

For the sentimental 

These last-minute gift ideas may already be in the palm of your hand! If your gift recipient loves sharing memories, check your phone or photo library for pictures of the two of you together. Starting for less than a dollar, you can get a high-quality print from a local photoshop or pharmacy and frame it. 

If you want something a little different, stores like CVS offer everything from photo books to photo puzzles, and they’re available to pick up the same day.

For a friend who loves to cook

Some amazing last-minute Christmas gifts are waiting right there in the aisle of your local grocer. Visit a specialty foods store and find a few unique spices your recipient might not typically use. This can be a great gift because it’s adjacent to a hobby they already love, but with a fresh twist. 

Not sure what spice would be nice? Consider picking up any of the following: 

  • Maldon salt

  • Seasoned sea salt

  • Saffron

  • Star anise

  • Herbes de Provence

  • Garam Masala

For the wine and cheese board enthusiast

A bottle of wine can be a nice gesture and a good last-minute gift idea, but with a little more effort, you can make it a special and personalized experience.

To “level-up” that standard bottle of wine, add a custom label with a punny title or inside joke. With the help of a template and a color printer, you can print a sentimental gift that makes a $10 bottle of wine feel one-of-a-kind. 

For the small business shopper

A gift card can sound like one of those impersonal last-minute gift ideas, but with a little bit of thought, it turns into a simple and affordable gesture. 

Instead of getting a gift card to an online retailer or big box store, stop by a coffee shop, restaurant, or boutique that’s close to your friend’s home (or the office if it’s a coworker). Even just $10 means a caffeinated treat or happy hour cocktail for your recipient to look forward to. 

With a little bit of research, shopping small and purchasing a gift card can score you some big points on the “nice” list. 

For the minimalist

If you’re having a hard time finding last-minute gift ideas for someone who doesn't like to shop much, to begin with, don’t push a purchase for the sake of having something physical to give them. 

Instead, consider making a small donation to their preferred charitable cause or nonprofit. 

For the spa lover

If you haven’t been down your local drugstore’s beauty aisle in a while, prepare to be impressed. You can find affordable-yet-luxe items like bath bombs, sheet masks and specialty bath salts that feel like they were purchased at a fancy boutique.

Wow your friends with these last-minute Christmas gifts by wrapping them in some upcycled brown paper gift wrap. The creative, handmade touch can make a drugstore purchase feel extra special.     

For the game night organizer

You’d be surprised by how much high-quality entertainment you can find at a local Target. For your friend or co-worker who loves a good board game, check out the toy aisle, where even big box stores stock independent games that give Monopoly and Clue a run for their money

For the friend who’s constantly hosting game night, consider picking a new game such as:

  • Settlers of Catan

  • Ticket to Ride

  • Codenames

  • SushiGo

  • Telestrations

  • What Do You Meme?

Bonus: just say “thank you”

If you’ve decided against gift giving this year, but get blindsided by an unexpected present, it’s okay to simply say “thank you.” Even if you communicated to your social circles that you aren’t interested in exchanging gifts this year, you can’t keep other people from giving you a present. 


A sincere thank you coupled with a handwritten holiday card might just do the trick. Remember, it’s the thought that counts when it comes to gift-giving, and if a last-minute gift feels rushed or unpersonalized, it might not be a great gift after all. 

Shopping around for last-minute Christmas gifts could lead to unexpected overspending and even credit card debt. If you’re trying to pay down debt while still enjoying the holiday season, consider Tally†. Tally is a credit card repayment app that consolidates your debt in one convenient place. 

​​†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.