25 Last-Minute Christmas Gifts That Don’t Suck

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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.

When it’s Christmas Day and everything is closed, even Amazon Prime can’t save you. What’s a Penny Hoarder to do?

The Best Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Let’s be honest for a second — the more we progress into the 21st century, an increasing number of vendors are staying open 365 days a year.

But 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. 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 25 ideas to get you rolling.

1. Nice Soap

last minute gift ideas
Chris_Parfitt under Creative Commons

Soap isn’t insulting if it’s pretty!

A Dove bar might not cut it, but your local pharmacy or grocery is sure to have some higher-end, giftable goods.

2. 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!

3. At-Home Spa Day

last minute gift ideas
Patrik Nygren under Creative Commons

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

Let your giftee pamper herself!

4. Bottle of Wine

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.

5. Nice Olive Oil

last minute gift ideas
David McLeish under Creative Commons

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.

6. Gourmet Vinegars

last minute gift ideas
Esencia Andalusí under Creative Commons

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.

7. 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.

8. Spices

last minute gift ideas
Mr Hicks46 under Creative Commons

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.

9. Coffee or Tea


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.

10. Nuts

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

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

11. Chocolate

last minute gift ideas
Lee McCoy under Creative Commons

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!

12. 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.

13. Fresh Fruit

last minute gift ideas
Kamil Porembi?ski under Creative Commons

Step one: Grab strawberries.
Step two: Grab some melting chocolate.

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

14. 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.

15. Indoor Plant or Fresh Flowers

last minute gift ideas
Rob Bertholf under Creative Commons

Everyone loves bringing fresh flora indoors.

Grab a bouquet or a potted plant for your host — if she’s culinary, 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.

16. Candle

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!

17. A Book

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

18. Starbucks Gift Card

Once upon a time, I worked at Starbucks — and you can guess where I was on Christmas Eve.

It’d be wise to call your favorite location ahead of time, but you stand a good chance of being able to secure everyone’s favorite gift card — and a hot (red) cup of joe to gear up for a night of frolicking.

19. Other 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.

20. Christmas Ornament

last minute gift ideas
Andy Eick under Creative Commons

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.

21. 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!

22. Brita Filter

Give your giftee the gift of not having to buy bottled water.

You’re not just helping save the planet — you’re helping them save cash!

23. Creativity Boost

last minute gift ideas
Dave McLear under Creative Commons

You probably won’t be able to get knitting goods or a start-up claymation kit at the gas station.

But you can totally get crayons or colored pencils — and coloring isn’t just for kids anymore.

24. 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.

25. Deck of Cards

It’s not just a deck of cards, it’s endless possibilities and hours of family fun.

Include a few matches of Go Fish or poker during the evening’s festivities!

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 in 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.

Your Turn: What last-minute gifts have you grabbed at a pharmacy or grocery?

Disclosure: We appreciate you letting us include affiliate links in this post. It helps keep the beer fridge stocked in the Penny Hoarder break room.

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and a native Floridian. She’s passionate about learning, literature, chocolate and finding ways to live the good life as cost-effectively as possible. You can wave hi to @jamiecattanach on Twitter.