This holiday season, give the gift of greater spending power with something more fun and thoughtful than a stocking full of cash. Consider our annual list of personal gifts that will save the recipients money in the long run—either by eliminating some of their recurring expenses or boosting their earning power. Your friends and family will be sure to remember your sentiment all year long as the savings keep rolling in.
17 Gifts That Keep on Giving
If you'd like to help a child start investing, you can open a custodial account for him. Several brokerage firms offer such accounts with low minimums, no set-up or annual fees and little to no charges for buying and selling shares. For example, ShareBuilder has no account minimum, zero inactivity fees and charges just $6.95 per online trade. You just need the child's Social Security number to open the account, as well as an appointed custodian who will manage the assets until he reaches the age of majority (18 or 21 in most states).
You choose whatever amount you'd like to give to get the account started. Certain brokerages, however, may have a set minimum. For example, Charles Schwab requires at least $100 to open a custodial account.Investment Account
Nudo is an olive-tree adoption program: You pay to adopt one tree in an olive orchard, and the person who receives your gift will be shipped the fruits of that tree throughout the year. The recipient will get an adoption certificate and information about the grove where their tree grows in Le Marche, in central Italy. Each season, Nudo sends different oils from your recipient's tree. It's a year's supply of olive oil and a taste of Italy—without the airfare.
The year-long package costs $268, but you can adopt a tree for three months (and receive one shipment of oils) for $79.An Olive Tree
You can help your cable-dependent friends and family cut the cord with a web-to-TV streaming device, such as Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon's Fire TV stick. Such devices pull available shows, movies and sportscasts off your phone, tablet, computer or the cloud and onto your set. Depending on which gadgets you use, you may be able to push videos directly from your personal digital collection or various sites such as YouTube or television networks' pages to your TV for free. But you need paid subscriptions to stream content from services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go and MLB.TV (which might also make good gifts).
Roku boxes range from $49.99 to $99.99; Apple TV goes for $99; Chromecast sells for $35; Amazon's Fire TV costs $99 and the Fire TV stick is $39. For more details and other device options, see 8 Ways to Stream from the Web to Your TV.Cable TV Substitute
Give the gift of memory—for your beloved's computer, that is. Adding to his digital storage capacity can save him the cost of upgrading his hardware too much or too soon. It can also nudge him toward going paperless, which may help protect him from identity theft.
You can go beyond the standard-looking memory sticks and find some drives with extra flash, in terms of appearance. For example, on Etsy.com, you can find picks with personalized engravings or tchotchke-like designs or that double as jewelry.
Many community colleges offer gift cards that can be used for books, merchandise and—here's the potential for payback—credit hours. Additional classroom training can provide a solid boost to your gift recipient's career and income. At Mesa Community College, in Arizona, you can get gift cards in denominations of $50, $100 and $250. Courses cost $84 per credit hour for in-county students and $359 for out-of-county students living in Arizona (classes are typically three credit hours). Contact your local institution for a course catalog to include with your gift.
How much you spend is at your discretion and should be based on the college's cost per credit hour.Community-College Gift Certificate
Another idea for a gift of education? Computer software, such as Rosetta Stone or The Great Courses, can be a great way to learn without the hassle of a strict classroom schedule. If your loved one is looking to dust off her professional skills or brush up on her French before a trip to Paris, she's free to do so with these programs from the comfort of her own home screen. Rosetta Stone offers popular language lessons and The Great Courses teaches a variety of subjects including sciences and the fine arts.
An online subscription, including app use, for Rosetta Stone ranges from $99 to $274, depending on your timeline. The CD or downloaded program costs $179 to $249, based on your target proficiency level. The Great Courses cost anywhere between $16 and $520, depending on the subject and format.Educational Software
Well suited for recent grads and all the new-job seekers in your life, a sharp, professional outfit can help boost anyone's self-esteem, as well as their career prospects. Go with basic work wear essentials, such as dark suits, blazers and button-down shirts. If you're not sure of the recipient's size, consider a classic, one size fits all briefcase, bag or nice portfolio folder.
Prices for clothes and accessories vary widely. For example, at www.macys.com, women's skirt suits were on sale in mid November and ranged from $60 to $320 and men's suits ranged from $100 to $895. See 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget for other business attire shopping tips.Business Attire
An especially nice gift for the serial procrastinator on your shopping list, an Amazon Prime membership affords your recipient free two-day shipping on millions of items for the whole year. He can also enjoy ad-free access to more than a million songs, instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows and a free Kindle e-book loan each month.
A one-year membership is $99. The recipient gets an email with redemption instructions. Existing Prime members can trade the gift in for an Amazon.com gift card.Amazon Prime membership
Give your favorite coffee lover the caffeine she craves without the costly visits with her local barista. Depending on her tastes, you could get her a French press, a drip pot, a single server or an espresso maker. If your budget allows, you might also throw into her stocking an assortment of gadgets, beans, grinders and other paraphernalia. A kettle or grinder, for example, would pair well with a French press. A variety pack of coffee pods could accompany your gift of a pod coffeemaker.
Prices vary. The popular single-serving Keurig machines cost $100 to $120. But Consumer Reports rates DeLonghi machines the best among pod coffeemakers. The top-ranking Gusto Genio is available on Amazon.com for $104 and makes espresso as well as coffee.Coffee Maker
Cooking classes can be a great way to cut your recipient's restaurant costs. Check community calendars for seminars, or look to chains, such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur la Table. In Boulder, Colo., for example, Sur la Table offers a $69 class in December called "Perfect Pizza from Scratch." The class menu includes homemade pizza dough, Italian sausage with arugular-walnut pesto pizza, fontina, bacon and carmelized onion pizza and salami, roasted red pepper and tomato pizza. Students also get a 10% off in-store purchase coupon.
December and January classes at the Sur la Table in Boulder range from $39 to $100. Prices may vary elsewhere.Cooking Classes
It's hard to fit a year's supply of paper towels into a gift bag, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't make a useful gift. For presentation's sake, try wrapping that sentiment up in a big-box store membership. Belonging to such warehouse clubs as BJ's, Costco or Sam's Club, your gift recipient will save money on groceries, electronics, household wares and office supplies year-round. (Mind you, not everything at these shops is a good deal—see 11 Things Not to Buy at Warehouse Clubs.)
Basic annual memberships for BJ's, Costco and Sam's Club cost $50, $55 and $45, respectively.Warehouse Club Membership
Make room under the tree for your financial planner. A few hours of consultation can help steer anyone down the right financial path. Lauren Locker, a fee-only financial planner in Little Falls, N.J., offers gift certificates, usually for two or three hours of financial planning. Gift givers are only charged once the recipients have their sessions (if they never make an appointment, you pay nothing). The gift meeting covers a broad overview of the gift-ee's finances and helps him create a plan to achieve certain goals, such as buying a house or saving for retirement.
Your best bet to give a financial planner's services for the holidays is to ask your own planner if he's open to it. If you don't have a planner, you can find one at www.napfa.org. But be sure to vet her properly—see 8 Questions to Help Assess a Financial Adviser.
In the New York metro area, Locker says, hourly rates can range from $175 to $300 an hour. Prices may vary for different regions. Your planner may even do this kind of initial assessment for free.Appointment With a Financial Planner
Free your gift recipient from the temptation of spending a cash gift now. Instead, seed a low-fee online savings account, and encourage your lucky gift recipient to save for a big future purchase, such as a new house or car. At www.smartypig.com, you can get a gift card for $25, $50 or $100 or an electronic card for any value between $10 and $200. The recipient can apply your gift funds to a new or existing SmartyPig savings account, which is fee-free and yielded 1% in late November.
Give as much as you'd like.Savings Account
The auto-club membership offers countless savings in addition to a little extra peace of mind. On the road, members are entitled to free tire changes and free delivery of gasoline if they are on empty (paying only the price of the fuel). The AAA member card can be presented for discounts off the road, too—for deals such as up to 20% off Hertz car rentals and Best Western hotel stays, and 10% off three-day advance tickets with Amtrak.
Prices vary by location. A gift membership in Southern California is $68 for one year. In the mid-Atlantic region, plan prices range from $52 to $122.AAA Membership
For even your littlest loved one, there's no better present than an investment in her future. Get her started saving for college by opening a 529 account for her. Or if she already has college fund, you can simply make a contribution for the holidays. To ensure your generosity is earmarked for a college degree, you can make a direct payment to a 529 plan—you'll just need to know the account holder's name and address, as well as the account number. Or you can maintain the element of surprise by giving your future scholar a Leaf College Savings gift card, which can be used to fund any 529 plan.
You can give however much you'd like. If you go the Leaf gift-card route, you'll have to pay some fees, too. If you use a credit card, you can give any amount between $25 and $250, plus an activation fee of $2.95 to $11.95. If you pay by E-check, you can give up to $1,000 and only pay a fee of $2.95.College Fund Donation
John Briggs via Kiva.org
Give your loved ones the chance to regift for a good cause. Kiva is a non-profit organization that connects people around the world who are looking for financing with individuals who are willing to fund small loans. With a Kiva card, you can get your philanthropic or entrepreneurial friends started with the micro-financing opportunity of their choice for as little as $25. When the loan gets repaid, your gift recipient can use the funds over and over, lending to different projects via Kiva. Or he can opt to cash out into a PayPal account. Cards can be printed or sent via snail mail or e-mail.
You can buy a Kiva card at www.kiva.org in increments between $25 and $2,000.Microloan Funds
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