Clever Ways to Give an IOU When Your Gift Isn't Ready on Time

If your present hasn't arrived, you can still surprise and delight its recipient.

While online shopping is super convenient, it’s also a tad risky around the holidays. If you didn’t order early enough, you might be still waiting for its arrival come gift exchange time. Which means…showing up empty-handed. You can blame the delay on Santa’s elves (easy scapegoats, being fictional!), but you still need to give your loved one something. Time to wrap up an IOU!

Admittedly, it's not ideal—opening a picture of a Playstation or a cozy sweater isn't going to be as exciting as opening the gift itself. But there are ways to build a little anticipation (and add a little fun to the proceedings).

The top tip: Don't make your IOU gift a bummer. No need to go into your shipping woes and how hard it was to track down the gift in the first place. Focus on the positive—that this amazing gift they're going to love will be on its way as soon as possible.

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Send a Mystery Email

If you're shipping the gift directly to a loved one, and the shipment won't be there in time, send a brief email explaining that it's running late. Give a clue about what's inside (without giving away the gift) to create a little mystery and boost the anticipation.

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Write a Good IOU Message

If you decide to make the IOU into a big gift reveal at an in-person event, do it with style. Use a site like Canva to create a fun image of the product and a heartfelt or humorous note saying how excited you are to share the gift with them.

Humor is also a good idea—such as making a joke about how the gift is taking the scenic route into town. Check out belated birthday cards for some inspiration.

And for kids who believe in Santa, read them a “note” from the man himself saying that the gift requires a little extra magic to produce, and will arrive as soon as it can. (Best not to put a specific date on it, in case the shipping turns out to be delayed even further.)

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Pair the IOU With an Extra Little Gift

Brainstorm for complementary gifts that go perfectly with your IOU—a game to use with the gaming system, a pound of coffee for the deluxe coffee maker, or a cute headband to wear with the sweater will be a nice anticipatory addition.

If your IOU gift doesn't have an appropriate ancillary gift, a small foodie treat like cookies, candy, tea, or their favorite snack foods will always be welcome.

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Wrap It in Something Special

Rather than just slipping it into an envelope or wrapping a box, opt to present the IOU in something they can reuse—a cute vase or mug, a tiny keepsake box, or a pretty kitchen towel or scarf.

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Have Fun With It

You don't have to stick with a straight wrapping job. Consider wrapping it in a big box stuffed with paper confetti or a teeny-tiny box that would never fit the actual gift. 

Just don't go too overboard; setting up an elaborate scavenger hunt with an IOU at the end may lead to a feeling of disappointment.

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