Advice from the pros on last-minute, inexpensive gift ideas.
It happens to even the most experienced seasonal shoppers. The holidays bring many small gift obligations that can add up to a big investment of time and money.
Often, these last-minute additions can multiply the further into the season we go. Your Secret Santa gift for the office, a little something for the host of that neighborhood holiday party, gifts for your best clients—suddenly you’re back to shopping just when stores and your calendar are at their most crowded.
Don’t despair. We asked two budget gurus—Jill Gonzalez†, an analyst at Wallethub, and Kimberly Palmer‡, NerdWallet’s personal finance expert—for fun and simple gift ideas for the 11 types of people that most of us shop for every year.
Here’s what they had to say:
Make it personal by making it yourself, suggests Gonzalez. Homemade gifts like a holiday ornament or baked goods are both special and less pricey, agrees Palmer, who adds that teaming up with classmates’ parents to buy a gift card is another good bet. If you plan to give money or a gift card, be sure to check your school's rules first so you don't exceed the maximum allowed per teacher.
For Your Boss:Gonzalez points to subscriptions to a newspaper or magazine as useful and inexpensive options. Palmer prefers going gift-free for a boss, noting that “a card is more than sufficient.”
For Party Hosts:Think “sentimental value rather than monetary worth” if it’s someone you know well, suggests Gonzalez. Local buys like “a potted plant, something edible from a local gourmet grocer, or made by a local artisan” are always welcome, says Palmer.
For Bookworms:“A book,” says Gonzalez. But Palmer sees the obvious choice as too risky “because they may have read it already.” She prefers accessories like a decorative bookmark, a subscription to a literary magazine, or a gift certificate for a local bookstore.
For Creative Souls:Celebrate and support an artistic inclination with “a class to enhance their creativity” (Gonzalez) or “inspiring arts and crafts supplies” (Palmer).
For a Friend's Child:
Best to ask mom and dad in order to avoid duplications or buying an off-limits item, says Gonzalez. Palmer’s approach to the duplication dilemma? “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saving a little money by re-gifting in this category, if your own child has gotten things he or she already has.”
For Military Service Members/Veterans:
“For those who are actively serving, any gift that reminds them of home is a good idea, such as pictures of family, or some kind of homemade gift,” says Gonzalez, while Palmer suggests edible treats or personalized items—a customized Yeti mug or engraved compass—to commemorate their service. Donating to a charity that supports military service members or veterans is another great way to commemorate their service (See our guide to gifting charitable donations and more ideas for military friendly ways of managing holiday spending).
For Your Office Secret Santa:
Dress up their workspaces, suggests Gonzalez, who suggests “funny but practical desk accessories.” Palmer agrees “Nice pens, personalized sticky notes, things that you don't have in your office supply closet but are fun to have at your desk.”
Working relationships aren’t a place to take risks, so go with the traditional crowd-pleasers like a “gourmet gift basket or chocolates and wine” (Gonzalez) or other “edible gifts they can share around the office” (Palmer).
For a Caretaker/Babysitter:
Think experiential, says Gonzalez, who recommends “tickets to a show you know they’d like to see.” To Palmer, a cash tip coupled with something personal, like a card made by your child or a mug with their name on it is appropriate.
For Household Help:
Cash or a gift card in the amount of a week’s pay is the gold standard here, both Gonzalez and Palmer agree.
Finally, in the race to cover all your gift obligations, it’s a good idea to track your purchases.
“Buying can easily get out of control during this time,” says Palmer, who recommends keeping a running list. “Especially if you and your partner are both shopping, you can avoid double-buying if you both put what you bought and who it’s for in a shared Google doc. Documenting your purchases is a great way to make sure you stay on track and don’t overspend.”
Sometimes, all we need is a little inspiration to reach our holiday aspirations. For personal, creative and less expensive gifts, check out our holiday guide to creative gift-giving.