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.
15 Gifts That Keep on Giving
Help a child start investing by opening 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 $7 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 minimum. For example, Charles Schwab requires at least $100, and Scottrade requires $500 to open a custodial account.Investment Account
An especially helpful gift 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. Also 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 late November and ranged from $52 to $210, and men's suits ranged from $120 to $680. See 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget for other business attire shopping tips.Business Attire
Help lighten the load of your favorite do-gooders this holiday season. Not only might your donation save them money they'd otherwise contribute on their own, you'll also show that you care about their values.
If you're not sure of their favorite charities, try CharityChoice — where you can choose the donation amount and let the recipient pick which of more than 250 organizations to give it to.
And remember to keep your receipt — this gift comes with a tax deduction for you as long as you itemize.
Choose your own charitable amount (and subtract your tax savings).Charitable Donation in Their Name
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 physical 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
By giving a membership to a big-box store such as BJ’s, Costco or Sam’s Club, you’ll save the recipient money on groceries, electronics, household wares and office supplies year-round. (Not everything at warehouse clubs are 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
This eco-friendly gift can be wallet-friendly, too. In areas such as Washington, D.C., where you get dinged a nickel by merchants for every disposable bag you're given, the gift of reusable bags can add some jingle to the recipient's piggy bank with every shopping trip year-round.
Nationwide, many retailers offer incentives, albeit small ones, for customers to haul their groceries in their own reusable bags. Whole Foods Market, for instance, offers at least five cents off per reusable bag presented at checkout (the exact discount varies by location). Target and Giant also take a nickel off your bill for each reusable bag you use.
At www.reuseit.com, you can find a variety of styles, ranging from a small thermal shopping bag for about $3 to a large, structured polyester grocery bag for around $45.Reusable Shopping Bags
Make room under the tree for your financial planner. Lauren Locker, a fee-only financial planner in Little Falls, N.J., says one of her clients gave her services to a granddaughter for college graduation. Eight years later, the gift keeps on giving, and the granddaughter is still Locker's client. Locker 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 to call your own, you can find one at www.napfa.org. But be sure to vet the planner 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 an initial assessment for free.Appointment With a Financial Planner
Give your friends and family warm wishes for the holiday season (and cool tidings for summer) with lower energy costs. A programmable thermostat can save your recipient about $180 on heating and cooling bills throughout the year by allowing him to preset temperatures and reduce energy usage when no one's home.
The $170 Venstar Color Touch Series T5800 earns top marks among the 30 thermostats tested by Consumer Reports. You can program it with different settings for each day of the week. The no-frills Lux TX9600TS, for about $70, which also offers seven-day programming, is a bargain option that's also rated highly by Consumer Reports.
The 30 thermostats tested by Consumer Reports range from $30 to $300.Programmable Thermostat
Many community colleges offer gift cards that can be used for books, merchandise and — here's the potential for payback — credit hours. If your loved one is looking to dust off her professional skills or to brush up on her French before a trip to Paris, a community-college course can be fun and functional.
Mesa Community College, in Arizona, for example, offers gift cards in denominations of $50, $100 and $250. Courses cost $81 per credit hour for in-county students and $334 for out-of-county students (classes are typically three credit hours). Contact your local institution for a course catalog to include with your gift.
Another idea for a gift of education? Computer software, such as a course from Rosetta Stone, can offer similar benefits.
How much you spend is at your discretion and should be based on the college's cost per credit hour.Community-College Gift Certificate
If New Year's Eve isn't the only time your friends enjoy a fizzy drink, a carbonator can help them save by allowing them to make their own. Appliances such as SodaStream's soda makers carbonate water with CO2 in less than one minute. Flavors and juices can be added to the carbonated water to replace soft drinks. CO2 canisters come in different sizes that last for about 60 or 130 liters of water. (Used 60-liter CO2 canisters can be traded in for full ones for $15 at Target.)
For those who prefer to imbibe still waters, consider a water purifier and bottler. The $20 Filtrete Water Station, for example, filters water into reusable bottles to preserve the convenience of bottled water. Filters, which cost $11 each on Amazon.com, only have to be replaced every three months or every 100 gallons.
The appliances from SodaStream range from $80 to $200. Each comes with reusable bottles and one or two CO2 canisters, depending on the model you choose.Beverage Carbonator
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 a 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 wrap up a GradSave college-savings gift card, which can be used to fund any savings plan, 529 account or state prepaid college plan.
It's up to you. GradSave gift cards can be purchased online in increments from $25 to $500.College Fund Donation
Cable television can be a costly addiction. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the average cable bill is $62 a month, or $744 a year. And if your buddy upgrades his package to include premium channels, recording options or other amenities, the cost can be a lot steeper.
You can help your cable-dependent friends and family save those costs and cut the cord with a web-to-TV streaming device, such as Roku, Apple TV or Google Chromecast. Such devices pull your favorite shows, movies and sportscasts offline and onto your set via streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go and MLB.TV (which require paid subscriptions).
Roku boxes range from $50 to $100; Apple TV goes for $99; and Chromecast sells for $35. For more details and other device options, see 8 Ways to Stream from the Web to Your TV.Cable TV Substitute
Feed your friends and family long after the holiday feast is over. This foodie-friendly gift subscribes the recipient to a serving of the season's harvest. For example, FruitShare offers three-, six- and nine-month gift subscriptions for the Fruit of Month Club. Each monthly delivery includes six to eight pounds, or 12 to 15 pieces, of fresh organic fruit from family-owned farms located throughout the country. If you'd rather stay local, you can search near you for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program at www.LocalHarvest.org.
FruitShare's three-, six- and nine-month Fruit of the Month Club gift subscriptions cost $115, $230 and $345, respectively. CSA subscriptions vary by location and package choice.Farm Share
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 by providing them the initial seed money for a microloan. Your gift recipient can search the site's listing of borrowers and select which project to lend your gifted funds to. Interest rates and repayment terms vary and loans may be paid monthly, irregularly or at the end of specified terms. Whenever she gets repaid, she can use the funds over and over, lending to different projects via Kiva. Or she can opt to cash out into a PayPal account. Kiva cards can be printed or sent via snail mail, e-mail or Facebook.
You can buy a Kiva card at www.kiva.org in increments between $25 and $2,000.Micro-Financing Opportunity
Personal-finance wisdom, actionable advice and clear explanations — these are a few of our favorite things. And, hey, we're proud of what we do. A year's subscription to Kiplinger's for your friends and family members will give them both money-saving and money-making strategies.
Order a gift subscription for just $12 a year (12 issues).Kiplinger's Personal Finance Magazine