Press "Enter" to skip to content

How to Save Money on Last Minute Christmas Gifts

An upfront admission, I usually wait until the last minute to purchase Christmas gifts. Given that I realize this, how do I keep gift purchase costs down and still ensure everyone is happy? It’s not by good planning so what do I do?

I Consistently Shop For Gifts At the Last Minute

I come by it honestly, waiting until the last minute to purchase Christmas gifts. I can remember as a child my father getting a parking ticket while at the mall on Christmas Eve. He was there purchasing gifts. The problem with this approach is in a mad rush to buy gifts at the 11th hour you might be tempted to pay top dollar. You have little to no time to plan for the best deal or do your research. So how do you keep your gift purchases within your budget?

Before we determine how we keep gift purchases in budget, let’s explore why. How important is it to control spending around the holidays? In 2016 there was a study on how long it took people to pay off their Christmas spending. At that time, a full 24% of millennial had not paid off their Christmas shopping a year later. The number was slightly better at 16% for Gen X. Those numbers are frightening and not a statistic anyone reading this would want to be included in.

Keeping Christmas gifts within budget despite being last minute

  • Give Gifts of Your Time
    One of the big things we do for holidays is give gifts of our time. We’ll plan to take someone out with our kids for an experience. For example, a trip to the Christmas train show with the grandkids, or a day trip to the beach. This works well with myself and my wife’s parents. Nothing says love like giving a grandparent a special trip with the kids. For adults, you might give time with them at their favorite charity, free babysitting, or  lunch and a round of miniature golf. All of these are things I’ve gifted, or been gifted in years past. These are usually items where the cost is determined by when they occur rather than when you make the decision to do them. That means they are the perfect last minute gift idea.
  • Make Something
    In addition we usually provide my in-laws and parents with artwork and pictures of the children. If we do think ahead we make something like a free Shutterfly book, but if you wait until the last minute you may have to settle for something more home made. Yes, this works for those with kids, but what about the rest of us? Well, even if you are giving to an adult you may be able to make something. For example, I requested from my sister and brother-in-law last year a logo for this blog. My wife always makes an assortment of cookies to gift. It won’t work for all situations, but you may be surprised what you come up with if you think about it.
  • Purchase Things Like Organizational Memberships
    We also do things like purchase memberships to local organizations for our friends and family. Purchasing a membership to the zoo for a certain 5 year old does not rely on shipping. As such with a few exceptions the deal doesn’t change based on date. Also, since shipping time does not matter there is no risk that the item will arrive in time. Other examples we have done in years past: museum memberships, magazine subscriptions, or even subscription boxes (Beer of the Month anyone?).
  • Donate on a Person’s Behalf
    Don’t do the Seinfeld thing and donate to the Human Fund. But, if you know a person is a big supporter of a specific charity do not hesitate to give on their behalf to that charity. The point of gift giving is to give something personal and well thought out.
  • Understand the last day for shipping for UPS
    If we do make artwork for the kids we may have to ship it to others if we are not going to see them in person.  Even if you give something else it is important to know if you can send it in a timely manner. If you’re  reading this on posting day it is not too late to send something and still make Christmas.
  • Understand what Online Store Deadlines Exist
    If you want to purchase a more traditional material good you will need to determine from where you can order. Places like Amazon usually publish their cutoff for Christmas Delivery. Amazon for example is December 22, giving you two more days from the time of this post. Knowing this gives you a list of retailers you can cross shop. While you may not be able to utilize pricing trends to get the best overall deal, you can still get the best deal for that moment with a little investigation and cross shopping.
  • Understand which Retailers do In-store Pickup
    Some retailers allow you to order online and do in-store pickup. This allows you to extend your purchase date even later while still allowing you to harness the power of the internet to get the best deal. Check the websites of sites like Target to see what is available and the cutoff. Along with the online shipping retailers add these to your list for cross shopping.

You’ll notice something about all these examples. In no case have I recommended going to your local mall to make a purchase. First off, the mall might be swamped. Getting a parking ticket like my father would definitely not help your budgeting goals. Even if you have no trouble parking it would be a poor place to get a last minute deal. The best way to get a good deal is to cross shop which typically you can do easiest online. Even if an in-store retailer has the best deal you are likely to find it published online. This will save you the time you otherwise don’t have since you waited to the last minute.

This leaves us with the last option if you still can’t find that perfect gift.

  • A No Gift Giving Pact
    Culturally there is always a drive to give gifts. But perhaps gifting does not make sense. Purchasing something just to give a gift, with no thought, benefits no one. If you find you can’t find anything meaningful for the other person then perhaps it’s a good time to discuss forgoing gifts from both sides. It may be too late, but it never hurts to broach the subject.

Do you wait to shop for Christmas Gifts until the last minute? How do you ensure you still stay in budget?



  1. Caroline
    Caroline December 20, 2017

    This year I am definitely last minute and it is stressing me out!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 21, 2017

      I finished my shopping this evening with my last online order. Stress removed.

  2. Troy @ Bull Markets
    Troy @ Bull Markets December 26, 2017

    I usually buy gifts way in advance. I would have bought most of my gifts by the beginning of December. It’s cheaper, and I can avoid the holiday rush (madness at the malls).

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 27, 2017

      If only I were consistently more on the ball. Early is better, just not something I ever seem to be able to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *