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9 Tips for Last-Minute Christmas Shopping

Alex Huntsberger
Alex Huntsberger is a personal finance writer who covered online lending, credit scores, and employment for OppU. His work has been cited by, Business Insider, and The Motley Fool.
Read time: 8 min
Updated on November 30, 2022
young woman holding shopping bags with 9 tips for last-minute christmas shopping
It's not too late!

You promised yourself: this year it would be different. This would be the year that you got all your Christmas shopping done early, the year you wouldn’t wait until the very last second to buy gifts for your family, friends and loved ones. Sure, putting off Christmas shopping was what you did last year. And the year before that. And the decade before that. But this year, no. This year, things were going to be different.


Now here you sit, on Christmas Eve-Eve-Eve, with a shopping list a mile long and a very un-Christmas-like sense of impending doom. But don’t worry, all hope is not lost. We have shopping tricks and tips, as well as some recommendations for great gifts that you can purchase at the very last second.

So take a deep breath, take a big gulp of caffeine, and let’s get to work!

1. Amazon Prime

If you already have Amazon Prime, congratulations! You might have a chance of ordering stuff and having it arrive in time for Christmas. Not only that, but you get free 2-day shipping and could possibly qualify for free one-day or same-day shipping.

Receiving your items shipped on-time isn’t a guarantee, though. So be careful. It depends on where you’re having the items shipped to. For instance in Chicago, there are already two local distribution centers (and plans for a third). For us, getting our packages on time is pretty easy. But if you’re located somewhere that isn’t near a distribution center, like in Jackson, MS, it’s going to take your stuff a little longer to get there.

For folks who don’t have Amazon Prime, here’s a little trick you can use: sign-up for a free, 30-day trial. You can take advantage of the free-shipping benefits and then cancel your subscription before the trial period is up.

2. Order Online, Pick Up In-Store.

This option is available through most major retailers, and it’s a great way to make your shopping more efficient. Just select the “pick up in-store” option on their website and then follow the instructions. Usually, they’ll have you go to their Guest/Customer Services area where you'll be able to pick up your item.

Don’t expect that you’ll be able to "pick-up" any item in-store, though. In many instances, a retailer will not have that option available for certain items. And sometimes, your local store might simply not have the item you want in stock. (This is one of the downsides of waiting until the last minute.)

If you can’t reserve the item online, go ahead and call the store to see if they have the item in stock. You might not be able to reserve it, but you can at least go to the store knowing that they have what you’re looking for. (Doesn’t guarantee that they’ll still have it by the time you get there, but that’s a risk you’ll have to take.) When shopping last-minute, time management is critical.

3. Shop During Non-Peak Hours

“Non-peak hours” is retail-speak for “really early or really late.” Basically, don’t go at times when everyone else is going. That way, you won’t have to deal with long lines, and you can hit more stores. It’s really that simple.

Ideally, you should be going early. Stores restock overnight, so you’re more likely to find the stuff on your list. Going late at night can mean that the store’s shelves have been entirely picked through by the time you get there. If the store looks to be out of something, make sure you ask the staff to check whether or not they have any remaining units in the back.

Here’s one area where major retailers have definitely got your back. A lot of them are extending their hours to accommodate last minute shoppers. Heck, this year Kohl’s is going to be open for 107 hours straight leading up to Christmas.

4. Compare Deals and Find Discounts

One of the big problems with last-minute shopping is that you can end up getting gouged with high prices. If it’s 11:55 pm on Christmas Eve and you’re desperately looking for that new Rogue One toy at Target, you don’t have much of a choice to search for a better price.

Luckily, it’s easier than ever now to compare prices between different retailers and locate promo codes that’ll knock your price tag down even further.

If you’re looking to compare prices, here are four fantastic website that you can use:

Likewise, if you want to find promo codes to help you save, you should check out these five sites:

There are also a lot of great price comparison apps out there. Just make sure if you use one that it’s not an app designed for comparing prices while you’re shopping at the store. (Most of these include some kind of “bar code scan” feature.) One you’re at the store, you want to be making your purchases and moving on.

Hopping from store to store looking for the absolute price is a great strategy for running out of time.

5. Keep Your Receipts

Look, if you’re shopping at the last-minute, you’ve pretty much given up the right to be super picky. This might mean compromising on something like color, extra features, even specific brands. Sometimes, you might just have to make the best purchase available, even if it’s not what your gift recipient specifically requested.

However, if the person you’re buying a gift for is the picky type, holding onto the gift receipt is a great way to make sure they can still get what they asked for. Gift receipts don’t include the price tag, and they can make exchanging the gift easy.

There is literally no reason to not hold onto your gift receipts. They’re a classic example of something that you’d rather have and not need. Because the reverse—needing them and not having them—is not a pickle you want to find yourself in.

6. Gift Boxes

If you’re a regular listener to podcasts (literally any podcast) then you’re probably familiar with "gift boxes". These are subscription services—some of them weekly, some monthly, other quarterly—where you get fun/awesome/delicious stuff delivered to your door.

Gift boxes have been increasing in popularity for years. At this point, there is pretty much a gift box for everyone. And because the subscription won’t start till 2017, they’re make for perfect last-minute Christmas gifts.

Here are some of our favorites:

Blue Apron: tasty recipes, easy instructions, and fresh ingredients delivered right to your door. Perfect for someone who wants to cook more but doesn’t have the time, energy or advanced know-how to make it happen.

Book(ish) Box: the perfect box for the literary-minded person in your life. Working with small businesses and occasional guest authors, this box delivers 3-5 items and a t-shirt each month that are inspired by a different theme.

BarkBox: Every month, they send you different kinds of bark. Just kidding! This is a gift box for dog lovers. Every month they send new toys, treats, and goodies to get those puppy tails a’ wagging.

LootCrate: No, this isn’t a crate filled with stolen goods. It’s a box with stuff aimed at gamers and fans of geek culture. Past crates have included items inspired by Labyrinth, The Incredible Hulk, BioShock, and The Fifth Element.

DollarShave Club: With a high-quality razors and men’s grooming products delivered on the cheap, this club might be a great way to gently hint to your friend that, no matter how much they try, that moustache they’re growing just ain’t gonna work out.

If you didn’t find any of those options particularly inspiring, we recommend you check out If there’s a gift box subscription out there that’s right for you (and for your gift recipient) Cratejoy is the place to find it.

7. Subscriptions

Instead of getting that TV or movie lover in your life a single movie or box set, why not give them access to hundreds of movies and tv shows? Some of the best streaming platforms for TV and movies include:

Amazon Prime Video
Sling Orange

Or what about a subscription for the book lover in your life? Some of the top subscription services for eBooks are:

Kindle Unlimited

For audiobooks, you should look at:

Scribd (again)

You could even get a subscription to a newspaper or magazine! Most newspaper subscriptions have a digital only or a digital + Sunday edition. And most magazines have content that is only available for subscribers.

8. Gift Cards

Okay, so this is a bit of a cop-out. Gift cards are the classic example of a gift someone gets you when they don’t have time to shop for you. When it comes to that special, personal touch, gift cards are most definitely lacking.

Here’s the thing about gift cards though: they let you buy things you actually want. People might poo-poo them in theory, but in practice … they’re pretty dang nice.

Most gift cards can be purchased at a discount too. Take a look at the deal finder and promo code sites listed earlier in this article; most of them will have gift card discounts that can help you stretch your holiday shopping budget just a little bit further.

A good place to find gift card discounts IRL is at your local gas station. No really! They use discounted cards as a way to encourage people to shop there. We bet you never thought that buying Christmas gifts at the gas station could turn out to be such a good idea!

9. Experiences

Many of the best things in our life aren’t actually things at all. They’re experiences. Think about buying your friend or loved one a package for a spa day, tickets to see their favorite band or sports team, or a gift certificate for their favorite restaurant. has a ton of deals for spas, restaurants, concerts, plays, sports events and other (sometimes weirder) types of experiences. And they’re not the only game in town either. Take some time to think about what kind of stuff your gift-recipient likes to do, and then take some more time to hunt down the perfect experience that you can buy for them.

Even though the clock is ticking down, we can assure you that the time you take to figure this out will be time well spent. Plus, once you’ve decided, making the purchase itself is just a few clicks away.

Good luck, last-minute shoppers! And remember: next year, it’ll be different.

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