published Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Consumer Watch: Last-minute gift ideas


by Ellen Phillips

I’ve been collecting hints all year for last-minute gifts during the holiday season. It’s inevitable we’ll need something inexpensive (and handy) for the hostess at next week’s dinner party or the neighbor down the street who brings a platter full of sweets for our family’s enjoyment. Or what about Great Uncle George who decides this year to write you a generous check? Without knowing who may decide to become ole’ Santa from year to year, it’s a good idea to hide a few budget-friendly gifts to hand back to wannabe Saint Nicks or their Missus. With Christmas only three days away, savvy consumers may need to start their stocking (Get it? Stocking!) for the new year, although a few of today’s ideas can be implemented immediately.

1 Buy gifts in bulk. Whether going to Costco, Sam’s Club or a huge pre- or post-seasonal sale at a local department store, buying in bulk can save heaps of money for this holiday, events all during the year, or next year’s holiday season. For example, look for sets of individually wrapped pillar candles to use for several gifts. And anytime you find a box of nice tree ornaments on sale, snatch ‘em up; wrap each in a pretty gift bag to make an offering for a hostess or anyone else who does something nice for you.

2 Create custom gift baskets. These suckers can cost upwards of $100 or more if you buy them special order. A better — and far less expensive — idea is to make your own filled with the recipient’s favorite goodies. First, visit the dollar store and buy a plain basket. Pick up a selection of crackers, cheese, and jams and perhaps, a cute spreader and fill the basket. Cover the basket with colored cellophane, tie festive ribbons around the entire package, and voila: a gift that only looks upscale! (The basket’s contents can be customized for any recipient, female or male.)

3 Give an app. Assuming the giftee owns an iPad, an iPhone or an iPod and hasn’t switched over to Android, an app can be purchased for as little as 99 cents. Go to the App Store, find the one you want to give, click the drop down menu next to “Buy App” and select “Gift this App.”

4 Lottery ticket. Who doesn’t love those little scratch-off tickets? One of the most fun gifts my sister ever gave me was a stack of $1, $2, and $3 lottery tickets. $44 later was ALMOST as much fun as a winning Powerball ticket!

5 Home-baked goods. While I could go on and on with my list, Grandma’s delicious home baked delicacies may be the best gift of all. Cookies, cakes, fudge, and every other goodie from your family cookbook can be baked ahead of time and frozen. When the time comes, defrost, wrap a ribbon around the package and deliver to the delighted recipient.

And regardless of your culture, faith, or inclination, have a very Merry Christmas.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. She may be reached at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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