Paul Linse—Corbis
By Jacob Davidson
December 22, 2014

It’s that time of year, everyone. There are three shopping days left before Christmas, and as of a few days ago, 73% of you hadn’t bought all of your gifts yet. Retailers are so used to procrastinators now that some are specifically preparing for an influx of last-minute buyers.

I’d ask why we all can’t just learn to plan ahead, but there’s no time for that kind of self-reflection. There’s no time for anything but shopping. But before you rush down to your favorite store or schedule a lot of overnight shipping on Amazon, remember this: The key to a good last-minute gift is the recipient can’t know you bought it in the last five minutes. With that in mind, here are three presents that are absolutely guaranteed to blow your cover, and what you should get instead.

Soap and Lotions

These are the words of holiday shopping failure.

It’s true that everyone needs soap. That’s why it’s a bad gift. Soap is probably the most generic present on the planet. By purchasing soap for your loved ones, friends, or even acquaintances, you are saying that you know that person showers now and then—or that they don’t shower enough. Neither is good.

What to get instead: Booze. It’s the one completely generic, readily available gift (even in airports) that no one will be disappointed to receive.

Starbucks Gift Card

I’m on the record as a big supporter of gift cards. Lot’s of people want them and they guarantee your recipient will get something they like. That’s more than you can say about almost any other present.

But Starbucks gift cards are an exception. They’re kind of like soap in the sense that, because everyone drinks coffee, this gift shows you don’t know much about the person you’re giving it to. And, in a way, it’s worse than soap because there is no product more readily available than something from Starbucks, making it clear you probably picked it up on Christmas morning.

But the problems are deeper than that. The great thing about gift cards is they allow you to splurge on something without feeling bad. Who cares if you don’t really need a Kindle? You’re playing with house money! What is anyone going to splurge on at Starbucks? A bigger latte? Wow, what a magical Christmas.

What to get instead: Amazon gift card. Whenever I recommend gift cards, people always ask, “Well why don’t you just get them actual money then?!” Because giving someone a wad of cash makes Christmas feel like a drug deal. An Amazon gift card is pretty much the same as cash, but more gifty.

Sports Apparel

There are two rules that govern the gift giving of clothing: Don’t get someone something they already have, and don’t get them something they might be embarrassed to wear. Getting your friend or loved one sports clothing violates both of these rules.

If someone is a big [insert sports team] fan, they undoubtedly have an [insert sports team] hat, shirt, or jersey. Maybe they don’t have all three, but you won’t know which part of their [insert sports team] wardrobe is lacking until you see the disappointed look on your friend’s face as they unwrap their third Twins cap.

Some attempt to avoid this outcome by buying non-standard sports gear: Some [insert sports team] sweatpants, or a super-cool [insert sports team] beanie! But unless they’re some kind of [insert sports team] fanatic, they probably don’t actually want a bunch of random items baring their team insignia and your gift will end up in the back of the closet.

What to get instead: Tickets to a game. That’s a can’t-miss present for any sports fan, and it shows you really value your relationship because you’re willing to spend a few hours together at the arena. Plus, experiences make people happier than things.

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