9 Holiday Gifts That Will Be Ridiculously Hard to Find in 2021

A person dressed as Santa Claus rides a red bicycle with a sack full of toys slung over his shoulder.
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You’ve probably heard that holiday shopping will be a nightmare even the Grinch himself couldn’t dream up. Supply-chain troubles, shipping bottlenecks, and worker shortages will make it harder to find big-ticket items.

Meanwhile, demand is up. Holiday shoppers expect to spend $785 on average this season, more than they planned on in both 2019 and 2020, according to market research company The NPD Group Inc.

If you haven’t started your shopping yet, don’t panic. As long as you’re flexible, you’ll surely be able to find plenty of gifts. But if you have your heart set on buying one of these nine items, it’s time to start your hunt ASAP.

9 Gifts That Will Be Ridiculously Hard to Find This Year

Here are nine gifts that are expected to be in short supply for the holidays. If someone you love has one of these items on their wish list, expect your options to be limited — and be prepared with a backup plan.

1. Gaming Consoles

The 2021 holiday season is shaping up to be a disappointing one for gamers. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X remain hard to find nearly a year after their initial release. Now, Nintendo just announced it’s cutting production of its Nintendo Switch by 20% for its 2021 fiscal year.

The global chip shortage is just one factor. Demand for gaming devices has surged since the beginning of the pandemic, as people sought ways to entertain themselves at home. Adding to the frustration is the fact that humans are increasingly competing with bots to buy in-demand consoles. Then the bot-purchased gaming systems pop up at unofficial retailers at an exorbitant markup.

Unfortunately, consoles will still be hard to find after the holidays. Shortages are expected to continue into fall 2022 or even 2023.

2. Bicycles

COVID-19 shuttered gyms last year and caused most people to shun public transportation. As a result, millions of non-cyclists rushed to buy new bicycles both for recreation and bike commuting. As demand has surged, the bicycle industry has struggled with factory closures in Asia, where most bicycles are produced, and shipping logjams.

MarketWatch reported in October that it now takes more than 70 days from the time a manufacturing order is placed until the bicycle arrives at a warehouse. Pre-pandemic, it took just 45 days. Many in the bicycle industry expect shortages to persist into 2022.

3. iPhone 13

Apple has fared better with supply-chain shortages than many of its rivals because of its huge buying power and long-term agreements with suppliers. But even the world’s most valuable company is feeling the pinch of the global chip shortage.

Apple is now expected to ship 10 million fewer of its new iPhone 13 than originally projected through the end of 2021. New iPads, MacBook Pros and the Apple Watch Series 7 are also expected to be in short supply.

As of this writing in early November, Apple’s website listed estimated delivery dates of less than a week for its cheaper standard iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. But for its pricier iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 ProMax, expected delivery dates extend into mid-December.

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4. Engagement Rings

COVID-19 brought diamond mining, trading and cutting to a halt in spring 2020. Yet demand for jewelry stayed surprisingly high. Demand will likely keep surging as a sense of normalcy returns and couples can safely plan vacations (where proposals often happen) and weddings again. Investors are also increasingly seeking out diamonds, putting more pressure on demand.

Retailers are now having a difficult time obtaining diamonds and precious metals. If you’re planning to pop the question during the holidays or you want to present someone with a stunning piece of jewelry, be sure to budget extra time and money. The New York Times reports that colored stones, like emeralds and rubies, could be especially expensive and difficult to find this season due to production issues at mines throughout the globe.

5. Cars

Car company commercials would have you think that it’s totally normal to wake up to the gift of a shiny new set of wheels on Christmas morning. We’re guessing that this is pretty rare, though. Which is good news because the 2021 holiday season will be an awful time to buy a car.

The global chip shortage and shipping woes have hit the auto industry hard. Meanwhile, the pandemic fueled demand for vehicles as people avoided public transportation.

As a result, the average price of a new car topped $45,000 in September for the first time in history, a 7.7% year-over-year increase, according to Kelley Blue Book. Even prices for traditionally affordable brands like Hyundai, Kia (up 15.4% year over year) and Mitsubishi (up 23.8% year over year) are surging. Meanwhile, the latest Consumer Price Index survey showed that used car prices rose 26.4% in the past 12 months.

Dealerships have razor-thin inventories right now. Available vehicles are often less popular models, yet they’re selling well above the sticker price. If someone you love is hoping to find a new set of car keys in their stocking, now is a great time to remind them that there’s always next year.

A little girl rides a pink toy car on Christmas Day.
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6. Toys

Demand for toys has been consistently high throughout the pandemic as parents sought to keep bored kids entertained from home. But for several months, manufacturers have been warning that toys could be hard to find this season. Materials like plastic and resin that are used to produce many toys are in short supply. Exorbitant shipping prices and a lack of warehouse space and truck drivers could add to shortages.

Retail forecasters are mixed on how bad the toy shortage will be. It will probably be tougher than usual to find 2021’s most popular toys. But as long as you’re not set on buying the season’s hottest toys, you should have ample options.

7. Sneakers

Expect your choices to be limited if you’re buying someone a new pair of kicks this holiday season. Rubber and plastic are key materials for sneakers, and both are in short supply right now.

The footwear industry is also dealing with the same issues virtually every manufacturer is grappling with, like port congestion, worker shortages and Asia factory closures. In fact, Nike’s chief financial officer said on a Sept. 23 earnings call that the company lost 10 weeks of production since mid-July in Vietnam, where much of its production takes place.

You probably won’t have trouble finding shoes this season, but the inventory you find may be older and less popular designs. Also be prepared to shell out more. According to Footwear News, shoe prices were up 6.5% in September compared to one year ago.

8. Surprise Bestsellers

We started reading more during the pandemic. Mostly, we devoured books on dead tree instead of downloading titles on our iPads and Kindles.

As demand for print books has soared, the raw materials used to make books have been in short supply. Wood pulp, a key ingredient for paper making, and ink are both scarce. Many printing presses in the U.S. have also shuttered over the years as the publishing industry predicted the demise of print books and the rise of ebooks.

You don’t need to worry about empty shelves at your local bookstore. If the book you’re planning to gift is a widely anticipated bestseller, you should have no trouble finding it. It’s the surprise hits that are causing booksellers anxiety, because they may not be able to get new copies in time for the holidays to accommodate demand.

A group of friends hold wine as they take a selfie together on Christmas.
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9. Wine

Wine will be in short supply this holiday season, but COVID-19 doesn’t get all of the blame. Droughts in California and other Western states have lowered the grape yield at many vineyards. But much of the vino winemakers do have is sitting around in oak barrels. That’s because glass bottles are in short supply thanks to the pandemic.

It’s unlikely that stores will run dry on wine this season. But if you have your heart set on buying a specific bottle as a gift or for your own celebrations, have some alternatives planned. Also, alcohol tends to be popular as a last-minute gift, so shopping early could help you avoid shortages.

What to Do if You Can’t Buy the Gift You Want

If someone in your life has their heart set on a hard-to-find gift, now is a good time to temper expectations. Remind your loved one that these are unusual times. Too many customers are chasing after too few goods, which means a lot of people will be disappointed. But also remind yourself that it’s not worth blowing your budget or going into debt just to give someone the perfect gift.

Here are a few solutions for beating supply chain troubles this holiday season:

  • Don’t hold out for a bargain. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that holiday deals are expected to be stingy this year. Decide how much you’re willing to pay, and stick to it. If you find a sought-after item that you’re determined to give, don’t wait around hoping for a last-minute deal.
  • Buy gently used. Look to thrift stores, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for items like bikes and toys.
  • Give them an IOU. If someone has their heart set on something that’s back ordered, you could make them a certificate showing that it’s on its way. Granted, that won’t be as exciting as unwrapping a brand-new gaming console. On the flip side, though, you can extend the holiday magic into 2022.
  • Give cash or gift cards. If you’re over trying to hunt for the hottest gifts, there’s nothing wrong with gifting cash or a gift card instead.
  • Quit delaying. With many people doing holiday shopping in September and October this year, it’s a bit late to say “Shop early.” But if you’re procrastinating, consider this your warning: The longer you wait, the more painful shopping will be in 2021.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].