Christmas: The 6 best last-minute gifts

Gifts are part of almost every winter holiday tradition. Everyone likes to give and receive gifts that are carefully chosen. Too often, we give and receive gifts which are inappropriate, useless or just poorly thought out. But, isn't it the thought that counts?

Why do we think we can push our way into the crowded stores when we haven't a clue what we are looking for? Perhaps we feel that the perfect gift is some kind of magic thing that just happens.

How can we, in the rush of the season, choose gifts that are helpful, meaningful and that don't break our budget?

1. Give the gift of you. The best gift is often the gift of your time. One year my mother-in-law took my sons on a Christmas vacation. It was more expensive than a lot of gifts, but it will also be remembered forever -- and no one has to put it away or clean it. You might choose tickets to a concert, a sporting event, movies or a play and then go together. You can also make a coupon book. Use your imagination. Coupons for babysitting are perfect in homes with young children. Coupons for hugs are welcome everywhere! Or, why not write a letter or poem to a special person to let them know just how special they are to you? You don't have to be Shakespeare to put words together that describe your feelings. Sometimes it's a simple note from the heart that is most precious.

2. Give the gift of food.

Food is another thoughtful gift that will be appreciated and won't contribute to the after-holiday clutter. Restaurant gift certificates are popular. Parents of young children often can't afford to pay for dinner, tickets to an event and babysitting. Covering the meal might get them out of the house. And, of course, you can cook for someone. One advantage of cooking ahead and freezing is that you always have a meal in the freezer that you could share with someone else. Or, include all the ingredients for a favorite dish, the recipe and any special utensils in a pan or baking dish. Baked goodies are always a popular gift.

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