Last minute shopper? You've got more options than Alex P. Keaton

In 1983, the classic sitcom Family Ties had an episode in which Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox) has a dream that he is Ebeneezer Scrooge. By the end of the show, of course, Alex has seen the error of his ways, and so on Christmas morning, he races out to buy his family some gifts. Unfortunately, only a convenience store is open, and so his gifts are kind of lacking.

"You gotta keep in mind, with these gifts, it's the thought that counts," warns Alex, just before he parcels out the presents. "The only place open this morning was a 7-Eleven."

And then he proceeds to dole everything out--beef jerky for Mallory, a six-pack of cough syrup for Jennifer, a cup of coffee for his dad ("Alex, how did you know?") and a TV Guide. "For you, Mom," says Alex. "It was the last one."

So keeping that in mind, I thought I'd give any late, last-minute shoppers a blueprint for getting good Christmas gifts, ones that go way beyond beef jerky and cough syrup.First of all, don't panic. Especially if you're reading this a week before Christmas. You still have time. "Make a list and check it twice," advises personal shopper turned image consultant Julia Hampton. "Research shows that people who shop at grocery stores with a list spend 30 to 40% less than those without a plan." Her point being that Christmas shopping is likely to also bring you financial ruin if you just rush in and grab anything.

You can still shop online, with free shipping -- even until December 23. The good folks at Brad's Deals informed me that and are offering free overnight shipping if you order as late as the 23rd (by 4 p.m. for and by 6 p.m. for Blue Nile). But you have to get a coupon for the free shipping, which you can do through In fact, if you go to, you'll be able to see just how close you can cut your online shopping and still get free or reduced shipping.

Haven't bought any Christmas cards? You could always send an e-card. As the days dwindle, you might want to think about it. A number of greeting card sites offer free greeting cards like 123Greetings, which has an amazing supply of not just Christmas cards, but Halloween, friendship cards, stay-in-touch cards and more. You can also incorporate everything from music to your own photographs and your kids' art drawings in these cards, so it's not like anyone's going to accuse you of taking 14 seconds to pick out a sterile online greeting.

You can shop even on Christmas morning.
Today, a quarter of a century later, that Family Ties scene where Alex can only find a 7-Eleven open on Christmas morning, it wouldn't be quite as believable. Mallory, the shopping maven, would have told Alex that while, sure, a lot of stores shut down for Christmas, there are a lot more retail options today: CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid, to name a few, are some 24-hour nationwide pharmacies, of which will be open throughout the holidays, and the gifts you can find in these pharmacies are often comparable to what you might find at a Best Buy or Target. So if you are reduced to doing all of your shopping on Christmas morning, you'll at least be able to do better than beef jerky and cough syrup.

And if you're only reading all of this because you loved Family Ties and miss seeing the series -- sigh, me, too -- you can catch them online at AOL's free video site, including the famed "Christmas Carol" episode.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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