But what can you do? There's now only a handful of hours to go before your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend/kids/dog wakes up to see that you've let them down. Do you pull the covers up over your head and pretend to be asleep until New Year's Day? That's one option, of course, but chances are you'll have to get up at some point, get caught and have to fess up to your lack of shopping.
A better option is to scroll through our handy guide of last-minute gift ideas until you find one that works for you. Who knows, you might be able to get out of your current predicament (mostly) unharmed by family and friends.
Some online retailers sell printable gift certificates. Most notably: iTunes. If the giftee has an iPod / MP3 player, you're golden. If not, well, then you DO realize you just dropped the ball on the PERFECT gift for that person, don't you? You can also email a gift certificate, but that's kind of weird on Christmas morning. ("Say, honey, don't you feel like logging on to your little-used Hotmail account right now?")
The Lottery Ticket
Yes, we ALL hate getting Lotto tickets for Christmas. "Thanks," we think, "this dollar you spent really shows how much you care." We roll our eyes, scratch them off, lose, and throw them out. But, if it's zero-hour, you can't afford to be picky! These little, $1 life-savers are available at almost every gas station, corner store, deli, bodega, and supermarket in the country. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to go anywhere that didn't sell them. Sure, they might not be good gifts, but they're available gifts. Now, to pull off giving them, you have to remember one thing: Constantly remind the giftee that each ticket is a potential million-dollar gift. That's what makes all the difference. With enough work, you might just be able to convince the recipient of this fact. Of course, on the flip-side, who's going to feel like a fool if the ticket you gave really does turn out to be a big-money winner?
They may not be as widely-available as lottery tickets, but many places have them in stock RIGHT NOW: Convenience stores, grocery stores, your neighbors lawn (be sure to shake off the snow and wash off the dirt). If this is for your out-of-town aunt, get same-day delivery from 1-800-flowers.com or Teleflora. Flowers are a great way to say, "Here! Take these! They'll die in a few days and you'll have to look after them and water them until then."
Actually, come to think of it, you'd better save buying flowers for AFTER Christmas when you can use them as an apology for totally screwing up this holiday season.
This one requires you at least have some wrapping paper (or the comics section from the Sunday paper.) Just find something around your house that looks relatively new and cover it in paper. This one will only fail if: A) the person you're re-gifting to was the original gifter, B) you're so far gone that you don't even have wrapping paper around the house OR you only read The New York Times (No comics section?! Not even on SUNDAY?!), or C) you're too selfish to part with anything you own. I guess you could always just slap a bow onto the item, if you don't have paper ... of course, if you don't have paper, what are the chances you have a bow?
The "I SWEAR I ordered it" Ploy
Do a Google image search for some high-res pics of great gifts that you WOULD have gotten them, had you not been such a slacker and print them out. On Christmas morning, give the recipient the photo and say, "I swear I ordered it online, but (insert name of online merchant here) didn't ship it in time!" It helps to pretend to get really angry and say things like, "I'm writing the Better Business Bureau!" Or, better, "I'm calling my senator right now!" (But, don't really call your senator, of course. He's at home opening presents — he probably has "people" to buy them for him.) This little play-acting should buy you a few more days past Christmas in which to actually purchase the items. (Yes, you'll actually have to buy them, so choose the pictures you print out wisely. Don't print out, like, a gold-plated yacht or something!)
You did it when you were five, now it's time to dust off this old chestnut to save your sorry skin. Grab some colored paper and some crayons and go to town. Might we suggest coupons for "One Hug" or "One Back Rub" or "One Night Where I DON'T Come Home Smelling of Booze?" A warning: Be selective about who you give these to. A "Good for one free back rub" coupon given to your girlfriend's sister might be a little awkward.
Find a charity and donate money, in the giftee's name. Print out a card that says as much and wrap it. Whether you actually donate, or just print out a fake card, is completely up to you.
Book a Vacation
This is, by far, the most expensive option — unless you really did print out a gold-plated yacht (see above) — for a last-minute gift, but, hey, you're the slacker who waited this long, now it's time to "pay the piper." Whip out the credit card, steel your nerves, and log onto someplace like Travelocity, Expedia, or Southwest and book a trip for you and your loved one to some place awesome. (Best bets: Paris, any tropical island. Worst bets: War-torn regions, Chernobyl, Staten Island.) The beauty of this gift is that you don't need anything to arrive in the mail! All you have to do is wrap up your giftee's swimsuit or a piece of luggage and put it under the tree. The confused (and slightly angry) look on their face, upon opening something they already own, will quickly be replaced by shrieks of joy once you explain the situation. Of course, once reality sinks in, it'll then be replaced with mild disappointment when you tell them that you booked the trip for six months in the future because that's when you could get a good deal on the tickets. Actually ... it would be best to leave out the "bargain" part of the explanation.
Of course, to save even more money, you could always just SAY you bought tickets and hope that your significant other will forget all about the trip in six months.
The Anti-Consumerism Ploy
Don't do anything. Nothing. Don't scrabble around. Don't fret. Just DO NOTHING. Then, on Christmas morning, say, "Oh? We're giving gifts? I don't really support turning this, the most sacred of holidays into some kind of rampant consumeristic spending-spree. Whatever happened to the TRUE meaning of Christmas?!" Upside: Not a dollar spent, on your part. Downside: Your friends and family will either request their gifts back, or slap you. Worst case scenario? Your friends and family never speak to you again. But, there's an upside to that, too, because you'll never again have to worry about buying gifts for anyone, because you'll have no friends. Best of luck to you, if you go with this method!
Just keep in mind: Now is not the time for pride — or price — to get in the way. Just be creative. Besides, if you've waited this long this year, we'll go ahead and assume that you've dropped the ball in previous years, too. So, any of the above suggestions will be seen by the recipients as a step-up from your past failures.
And, sure, the people who receive any of these gifts will be, ultimately, disappointed on Christmas Day, but try to remind them that "it's the thought that counts." With enough confidence, you might just come out of this holiday season smelling a little more like roses than you would have if you presented nothing at all on the big morning. Did we mention it's important to keep repeating, "It's the thought that counts! It's the thought that counts...?"
Well, we're off to buy some colored paper and some crayons. Have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays of all shapes and sizes!
Jeff Somogyi is the dealnews Media Editor. His "Back Rub Coupons" were mildly disturbing the first year he gave them to everyone in the office, but now, five years on, it's exceedingly creepy. To date, no one has redeemed one.