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Last-minute Christmas gift ideas

15 December 2020

If you find Christmas has arrived and there's a present you've forgotten but can't get to the shops then read our guide to last-minute Christmas gift ideas.

Christmas envelopes
There are always options for last-minute Christmas gifts

Even the best-prepared of us can discover on Christmas Eve or even Christmas day that there’s a present we’ve forgotten to buy.

Perhaps a friend or relative is unexpectedly coming to visit, or you’ve just discovered that the intended recipient already owns the gift you were intending to give.

Whatever the reason, there’s no need to panic: there are still some last-minute present options that you don’t have to go to the shops for or wait to be delivered.

Downloadable films, music and books

Increasingly, people are likely to buy a lot of their music, films and even books on the internet to be downloaded on to their phones, tablets, computers or e-readers.

This is great news for the last-minute Christmas shopper: it takes just a couple of minutes to choose a gift from a site such as iTunes, pay for it online and have it emailed to whoever you like.

When the recipient gets the email, it will contain a link or a code so they can download whatever it is you have sent them.

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How to buy downloadable gifts

To be able to give gifts in this way, you’ll need an account at a website that sells digital media.

Signing up to something like iTunes, run by Apple – the creator of the iPhone and iPad – doesn’t take too long and it is free. You will have to download the iTunes software to your computer if you don’t have an iPhone or iPad with it already installed, however.

Once you have an account and the right software, you just need to choose your gift: in the buying options listed when you click the downward arrow next to the “Buy” button, choose “Gift This Album”.

Then fill in the recipient’s email address, finish the transaction and you’re done.

It will make things easier if you buy your present from a retailer that the recipient already uses so they don’t have to go through a registration process.

Online gift vouchers

Amazon is another popular site for films, digital books and so on, but it does not allow gifting in the same way that iTunes does.

If you want to buy your present through Amazon, your only option is gift vouchers which can be emailed to the recipient as explained above. This may not be the ideal solution if you wanted to choose the gift, but it is possible to personalise the vouchers with your own photo, for example.

Most online retailers offer gift vouchers that can be emailed, so it shouldn't be too hard to find giftable vouchers.

Gaming vouchers

For a gaming grandson, daughter, niece or nephew you can buy credit to be spent on digital games. Buying credit will give you a code which you can either print out or write onto a card, which can be added to their account via their gaming system. Make sure you know what console the recipient has - credit is available for Playstation, XBox Live, Nintendo eShop (for Switch) and Steam for PC gaming, which are best gifted via another Steam account.

Gaming giftcards are also available in supermarkets so if you've popped into the shop for some last-minute cranberry sauce on Christmas Eve it's easy to pick one up.

Gifting event tickets

If you are stuck for a last-minute Christmas present but do not want to give a voucher or downloadable films, music or books then you could consider concert or event tickets. By their nature the ticket is often not available until closer to the time of the event, and many are now e-mailed out, although you do need to be careful that the ticket does not require that the person whose card was used in the transaction does not need to be present. A well-chosen event can be remembered by the recipient for years to come.

Events that can make great gifts (depending on the recipient's interests) include theatre tickets, art exhibition tickets, an afternoon tea, spa day or day out at a wildlife park.

The 'it's in the post' gift

Sometimes it's best to be honest and just admit you left it too late to get an item delivered. Perhaps there are even some advantages to this, especially if the item is bulky and you can arrange for it to be delivered to their home address instead of them having to carry it back with all their other gifts. You can even print a photo of the gift in question and put it into a decorative envelope with the promise the real item will be on the way soon, that way you get to see the look on their face and they still get something to open with a nice surprise inside.

Money, the universal gift card

If the recipient is young and still relying on pocket money then there's no shame in handing over some cold hard cash. For a child used to only having a few pounds at a time having £10 or £20 to spend can be a lot of fun, and if you'd prefer to be able to know what they bought you can always offer to take them on a shopping trip, if the parents agree to it.

The emergency stash present

Chances are you might have bought something and stashed it away at the back of the cupboard for a future emergency present, or perhaps you've been gifted something you haven't found a use for or got round to opening. You might even have bought something to treat yourself but not opened it yet, perhaps a fine wine, bottle of gin, tin of Christmas biscuits or upmarket moisturiser.

As long as the date is still long and it is unopened you can gift them and replenish your stash later. If you know you're likely to get caught short of a present it's worth keeping a small amount of emergency non-perishable gifts on stand-by. If you don't need them they can always be gifted as birthday or thank-you presents during the year or donated to charity raffles.

If you can't get to the shops but you do have some spare time you could also consider something homemade, such as homemade chocolate or biscuits. You could try our Christmas baking ideas for inspiration.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.