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Last Minute Gifts: Cheap but Thoughtful

By Edited Dec 22, 2015 6 11

Thoughtful Gift Ideas

Affordable Gifts

We all enjoy giving gifts as much as we enjoy receiving them. However, sometimes we're invited to an event at the last minute and don't know what to do, especially if we are working with a very tight budget.

You've just been invited to a holiday party, and realize you need a cheap hostess gift. Or, you've been invited to a birthday party this weekend, and you need to pick up a last minute gift. And, of course, don't forget the friends who eloped last weekend and have now invited you to celebrate with them. What can you do when you need cheap wedding gifts that are also thoughtful, without looking like a cheapskate?

Ideas for cheap gifts

Take a Bottle of Wine or Champagne

If you know that your friends drink alcohol, one choice for a cheap last minute wedding or housewarming gift would be a bottle of their favorite wine or champagne, along with a couple of champagne glasses, which are often available at the same liquor store where you purchase the champagne. Wine and champagne work well as a last minute hostess gift or birthday gift, too!

Pick Up a Set of Cute Glasses or Coffee Mugs from the Discount Store

Many discount stores sell attractive sets of glasses, coffee mugs, and similar items for the kitchen. These are practical gifts, because most people can always use more of these items, even if they currently have glasses and coffee mugs. Unless you know that your friends already have an exceptionally well-equipped kitchen, these items can be both inexpensive and greatly appreciated last minute gift ideas.

Order An Inexpensive Gift

If you have time to order them something online and just have it shipped directly to them, use this direct link to Amazon gifts for under $25.

  If the gift won't arrive in time, just hand them a greeting card when you see them with a note letting them know to watch for a special surprise in the coming week.  They'll be delighted, and Amazon has an almost infinite supply of gift cards and items for the home for under $25.

Get a Plant or Flower Arrangement from the Grocery Store

Numerous grocery stores have floral departments where you can pick up a lovely plant or flower arrangement … often for under $15.00. In addition, frequently they will also provide you with a small card that is appropriate for the situation … Get Well Soon, Happy Birthday, etc. Many people love to receive plants and flowers, and they are quick and easy gifts for you to give. You don't even have to buy a gift bag!

Buy a Pretty Plate or Baking Dish and Add a Dessert

You may have a set of rarely used dishes that you are willing to give away, one at a time. If not, you may be able to buy several China dishes at a garage sale, estate sale or thrift store, and keep them on hand. Add a loaf of homemade or store bought banana bread, some cupcakes, or cookies and you have an instant gift that your friend will enjoy immediately and continue to enjoy as they reuse the plate you gave them! I have friends who are always searching garage sales for pretty China serving plates that they use just for this purpose. It gives them a thrill to present these unique dishes to their friends! This is also a fun and cheap Mother's Day gift, and a way to show mom that you really have learned how to cook!

Buy a Lovely Candy Dish and Fill it with Candy

Walmart, Target and your local dollar store or thrift store are all easy places to pick up a small candy dish. Many drug stores also sell little decorative dishes. Add a bag of candy, put the entire gift in a cheap gift bag (which you can also get at the dollar store) and for less than $5.00 you have a charming, quick and easy gift.

Does your friend like chocolate? You may even be able to skip the candy dish, and just pick up a box of chocolates at your local drug store. Many of them sell sampler boxes of chocolates that are sure to please any chocolate lover!

Regift Something From Your Home

Do you have something that was given to you at an office party, or gift exchange … and you've never used it? It is perfectly acceptable to regift an item like that, as long as you are certain you are not giving it to the person who originally gave you the item.

In addition, some people keep on hand a supply of small items that they have purchased in advance. Then, when a surprise occasion comes up, they are able to simply wrap and present a little vase, candle, candy dish, or other decorative item on the spur of the moment. For cheap Christmas gift ideas, I often buy a box of fancy Christmas ornaments and pass them out individually as cheap hostess gifts during the holidays. These are especially nice to have on hand if a neighbor unexpectedly drops by with a gift for you! They cost me about $1 - $2 each, sometimes less.

Framed Photos

If you have a photo of the person you are giving the gift to, or someone important to them, such as their parent, child, or grandchild, drop by almost any store (from the corner drug store to Target or Macy's), slip the photo into the frame, and present it to them. Don't want to give up the original? Fed Ex Kinko's, Target and many other stores have machines that can make a copy for you. Framed photos make especially thoughtful and cheap Mother's Day gifts … and it's something mom will really love!

Money or Gift Certificates

Especially if you are giving a gift to a teenager, or to a young couple who is just starting out, or a retired senior who is living on a fixed budget, putting cash or gift cards into a lovely greeting card may be one of the most appreciated gifts you can give. Did you know that you can use this quick link to purchase a variety of gift cards from Amazon?

Teens always have very specific ideas about what they like, and young couples often have tremendous needs when they are first starting out. Some senior citizens who are living on fixed incomes will also appreciate a gift of cash much more than they will another knickknack or sweater vest!

Gift Magazine Subscriptions

Order a magazine for someone online, and then put the receipt in a greeting card. Young children love to get their own mail, and magazine subscriptions are a fun way to encourage them to read. Senior citizens may have given up some of the magazines they enjoy for financial reasons. If they have a particular hobby, a magazine that covers that topic may especially delight them. Either age group is likely to enjoy an appropriate new subscription.

Give a Card with an Invitation to Dinner … at Your House

If you don't have time to buy anything at all, grab a lovely card and write a personal note inviting them to dinner. Don't just write a generic "Let's get together for dinner sometime" note. Instead say something like, "I would love to have both of you to dinner at my home on January … If that date doesn't work for you, let's schedule another one as soon as possible. I look forward to playing hostess to the two of you." This is a gracious invitation which is sure to be appreciated!

Make a Charitable Donation in their Honor

Many people appreciate a donation to their favorite charity as a holiday gift. Have your friends, or someone in their family, suffered from a serious illness? Do they volunteer with a charitable organization? Are they interested in supporting the arts? Any of these experiences or interests will give you a clue to the type of charity that would be a good choice. The donation can be of any size. Send in the donation, designating the name and address of the person you are honoring. Often the charities will send them a note saying that a donation has been made in their name. Meanwhile, write a note in a card of your own saying that you have made a gift in their honor to this charity. A charitable donation can be a very touching and thoughtful gift.

Looking for more holiday or gift ideas? Here are some additional articles that may interest you:

Thoughtful Photo Gifts for Mothers Day 

American Made Gifts, Toys and More

Cheap and Thoughtful Gifts for Men

Sports Memorabilia Gifts for Men

Autographed Baseballs Available

Fun Games for Kids: Cheap

Buy a Keurig Coffee Brewing System

Send Them an Amazon Gift Card

Cards Available for as Little as $10

Amazon.com $25 Gift Card in a Greeting Card (Birthday Balloons Card Design)
Amazon Price: $25.00 Buy Now
(price as of Dec 22, 2015)
One gift that is almost always perfect is an Amazon Gift Card. They are available in a variety of denominations and designs. If you aren't sure what your friends would like, this is a great way to let them choose what they want!


Oct 20, 2010 9:48pm
This is a treasure trove of excellent ideas. I especially like the card with the invitation to dinner. There couldn't be a more thoughtful gift than a hostess sharing her cooking skills and time with friends.
Oct 21, 2010 12:03am
The candy dish filled with candies is a great idea!
Oct 22, 2010 9:22pm
Great ideas!Also like the invitation card. I love to get magazine subscriptions.Also love to get cheap cloth napkins as all my friends know I decorate my table seasonally.(It's the elem. school teacher thing...)you can get the napkins (4) for about $5.00Y
Oct 23, 2010 11:51pm
Money is actually the most practical gift, just not romantic.
Oct 24, 2010 4:11pm
Love this article! I've actually found really beautiful holiday dessert plates at garage sales and love your idea to make a dessert to go with them even though they're hard to part with:)
Oct 24, 2010 5:43pm
I love the idea of going to a yard sale or a thrift store to get a one-of-a-kind dish or bowl. I personally love vintage pieces and use my Nana's servingware often-even for everyday!
Oct 24, 2010 8:24pm
Thank you for your comments! I'm glad you use your Nana's dishes ... don't give them away! I had a neighbor who was always popping over with banana bread or brownies on a pretty plate from a garage sale. I passed them on as gifts to others! One of my favorite gifts to get and give!
Oct 26, 2010 10:15am
I do that...if I find a quality decorative item on clearance, I buy several, and presto, I have a supply of nice gifts at the ready. So, if it's freezing out, with snow on the ground, I don't have to worry about getting to the store, since I have my own little store. Wonderful article; thanks for sharing such clever gift ideas. Great job.
Jun 18, 2011 8:10am
Great ideas for last minute gifts, holiday gifts or birthday gifts, thank you.
Sep 3, 2012 1:08pm
Love Love Love the jigsaw puzzle idea. We make personalized photo jigsaw puzzles and give them as gifts. They are inexpensive, thoughtful, personalized and unique.
The Missing Piece Puzzle Company
Sep 24, 2014 4:22pm
These are gifts that can be given to someone for any occasion ... even "just because." I'm glad you like them!
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