20 Last-Minute Christmas Gifts You Can Pick Up on the Way to the Party

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The Christmas party is in two hours. 

You step out of the shower, wrap yourself in a towel, head over to the mirror and wipe a spot clean so you can see your face. 

You continue to get ready, and your mind wanders. 

You already picked up a bottle of wine to bring (and it was a good deal, too!); all the presents are wrapped. Just gotta get dressed, put everything in the car and —

Oh, no.

It hits you in the stomach like a super-sized helping of pumpkin pie: You forgot a present. 

Your mom texted you to remind you your great-uncle is coming, but with everything else on your overflowing holiday plate, you didn’t get to cross him off your list.

It’s Christmas Day and everything is closed. — even Amazon Prime can’t save you now. What’s a Penny Hoarder to do?

20 Last-Minute Gift Ideas

It’s possible you could get stuck in a situation where the only viable option is hitting the pharmacy or grocery store on the way to Grandma’s. But that doesn’t mean Uncle Mark’s stocking stuffer has to be a bottle of Advil. 

If you’re creative, you can find awesome Christmas gifts wherever you go. Just put a ribbon on it, and it’s an instant gift!

Don’t believe me? Here are 20 ideas to get you rolling.

1. At-Home Movie Night

Does your convenience store carry bargain DVDs? Microwave popcorn? 

Snag ‘em and grab a bow: You’ve given the gift of a night in!

2. At-Home Spa Day

Raid the beauty aisle for a few bottles of nail polish and a foot scrub, or try a luxurious face mask

Let your giftee pamper herself! 

3. Bottle of Wine

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If you live in a state where beer and wine are sold in drug stores and groceries, no worries!

You have an opportunity to give a classic gift — even at the eleventh hour. Here’s how to pick a decent bottle of budget wine.

4. Nice Olive Oil

You may be worried your giftee doesn’t need this household staple. 

But if you skip the generic stuff and pay a little more for a fancy imported bottle, you’ve got a great gift your recipient will actually use — guaranteed.

5. Gourmet Vinegars

Here’s what I had for dinner last night: skewered grape tomatoes and marinated mozzarella balls on a bed of arugula, all drizzled with a delicious balsamic glaze.

I dare you to try it and still think vinegar is a stingy gift.

6. Artisan Pasta

Skip the blue box. 

Scour the Italian aisle for tri-color tripolini and a high-end jar of sauce for good measure. You’ve given the gift of a nice meal.

7. Spices

Yeah, there’s nothing very exciting about garlic salt or onion powder.

But what about a jar of Spanish saffron or grains of paradise? 

Bonus: Find a great-looking recipe that uses the spice(s) you choose. Write it into a Christmas card to go along with your gift.

8. Coffee or Tea

Duh! 

These are staples in pre-packaged gift baskets. Pick a whole-bean variety from your grocery aisle so your giftee can get it ground fresh to his needs, or pick up a bag of fancy-ish loose-leaf tea.

9. Nuts

A nice package of pistachios or macadamia nuts can make a nice (healthy!) gift. 

They’re pricy enough that your recipient probably doesn’t keep them on hand — but inexpensive enough to be Penny Hoarder-friendly at the same time.

10. Chocolate

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OK, chocolate has shown up on every single gift post I’ve written, so I’m sorry if this sounds redundant. 

But, uh, chocolate is awesome

And it’s available at pharmacies and groceries everywhere. Skip the M&Ms and spring for the good stuff — you’ve got a gift that’s hard to beat! 

11. Fresh Baked Goods

If CVS or Walgreens is your only option, this likely won’t work for you. 

But if you can swing by the supermarket on the way to the soirée, consider grabbing a beautifully decorated cake from the case — or even just a nice loaf of bread.

12. Fresh Fruit

Step one: Grab strawberries.


Step two: Grab some melting chocolate. 

Step three: Prepare for your giftee to love you forever.

13. Custom Gift Basket With Any of the Above

Soda crackers, sharp cheese and red wine.

Dark chocolate and almonds, with a perfectly paired dark roast coffee to enjoy alongside. 

A bag of apples and a jar of caramel sauce.

The possibilities are endless — and the best part? All you really need to make anything a gift is a ribbon. Your grocer probably also sells them during the holidays. 

14. Indoor Plant or Fresh Flowers

Everyone loves bringing fresh flora indoors. 

Grab a bouquet or a potted plant for your host — if she’s a cook, maybe even a couple of potted herbs from the produce section! 

We promise we won’t tell her about your ulterior motive — to have fresh basil with the pasta she’s making.

15. Candle

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Candles are great, because they’re both visual and olfactory. 

Plus, all those nice holiday scents — like evergreen and peppermint — are likely to be on steep sale!

16. Book

You might want to skip the cheesy romance novels, but most convenience stores have at least a few recent bestsellers.

17. Gift Cards

Grocery stores sell gift cards to everything from restaurants to iTunes. 

Although we’d usually recommend you get a discounted gift card on a site like Raise, this is a decent last-minute option.

18. Christmas Ornament 

Help your host commemorate another awesome year and successful holiday. No one has to know it was a last-minute purchase!

Many pharmacies carry ornaments and decorations in their seasonal aisles — and this late in the game, they might also be on sale. 

19. Cookware 

There are actually some pretty cool cooking gadgets on the endcap you always pass at the grocery store. 

Your host might love a pretty new ceramic pie pan — or maybe a slow cooker!

20. Photos

Drop by the photo center to print a few favorite memories from a USB stick. Then spend some time sharing them around the table.

Need More Ideas? 

At the end of the day, even a thoughtful card is better than nothing. You just need to show you didn’t forget about the person in question (even though you totally did). 

Grab a Christmas card and write an IOU for a home-cooked meal, a night out or a few hours catching up over coffee — a gift way more thoughtful than any object you could wrap and put under a tree.

Jamie Cattanach is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.



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