Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Tips

Trae Bodge
Shopping expert Trae Bodge

If you’ve pushed off buying holiday gifts, you’re not alone. Last-minute gift shopping has become a time-honored tradition: one study found that 76% of shoppers surveyed said they make purchases right up until late December.

But last-minute giving doesn’t have to be stressful. We spoke with shopping expert Trae Bodge who offered some choice insights and advice about last-minute gift shopping.  

Tip #1: Gift cash with a personal touch

“Sometimes, the best gift really is cash,” said Trae. Cash is the ultimate last-minute gift. It’s always appreciated—who doesn’t like receiving a little extra cash to treat oneself? —and you can do it minutes before you need to give a gift.

With both Venmo and PayPal, it’s easy to both send and receive money from friends or family if the recipient has an account. Both apps allow you to add a personal note, festive themes, stickers, gift wraps and animations to your payments, and this year, Venmo is teaming up with Mariah Carey to introduce a limited-edition, custom holiday gift wrap to help add a little sparkle to payments between friends and family. These options help add a personal and emotional touch to your payments, over sending bunch of twenties in a white envelope.

Tip #2: Make it feel personal

Last-minute gifts can sometimes feel… well, last-minute.

“You never want the recipient to think you only thought of them just now,” said Trae. To help make something you bought right before the party feel more thoughtful, Trae suggests using gift bags, nice wrapping paper, and bows to help feel presents feel more thoughtful.

“I always like to keep festive gift bags on hand at home,” said Trae. “If I see a good sale on them throughout the year, I’ll just pick up a bunch for these occasions.”

Tip #3: Rethink gift cards

Gift Giving

You might think gift cards can feel a bit ho-hum, but Trae is a fan. “I love giving gift cards, and according to the National Retail Federation, they’ve been one of the most requested gifts for more than a decade,” she says. You might not know your office Secret Santa recipient well enough to know what exactly to get them, but maybe you know they’re a movie buff. In that case, you could pick out a gift card to a movie theater chain or a premium streaming service.

At PayPal’s Digital Gift Store, last-minute shoppers can pick up digital gift cards from well-known retailers, beloved restaurants, and small businesses from across the U.S. The shop offers deals, too, that let shoppers pick up gift cards for less than their full value and allows shoppers to schedule their delivery ahead of time.

Tip #4: Shop in unexpected places

Trae Bodge
Shopping expert Trae Bodge

In the worst of cases, you might need to pick up a present enroute to a party or gathering.

“Don’t discount your neighborhood pharmacy,” said Trae. “Pharmacies these days offer lots of fabulous, cool gifts.” Many pharmacies offer jewelry, framed photo prints or albums, or depending on localities, even nice bottles of wine or spirits.  

“They’re often open Christmas Eve or Day, so if you’re really pushing it to the very last minute, there are some good opportunities there,” said Trae.

Tip #5: Last-minute doesn’t have to break the bank

Even when you’re running out of time, you can still find ways to save on your purchase. “It’s really important to be mindful of your budget and how much you can afford for the holidays,” said Trae. “A lot of us get swept up in the frenzy of shopping, but if you only have $10, $20, or $50 to spend, then that’s what you should spend.”

PayPal Honey is a browser extension that searches for coupons and cash back offers from hundreds of stores and applies the ones it finds at checkout, when shopping online. Even if you’ve run out of time to have an online purchase shipped, you can find retailers that allow you to pick it up in-store. That way, you can shop and save from the convenience of your home and pick up your present on the way to the party. Just don’t forget to bring along a gift bag for it!

All these tips aside, Trae emphasized what matters most is the sentiment behind any gift. “Even if you receive a gift that feels like an afterthought, or maybe it was regifted or purchased at the last minute, it’s important to feel grateful that the person took some time to think of you this holiday.”

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