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All Contents © 2016The Kiplinger Washington Editors
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.
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| December 2015
Stocks as stocking stuffers couldn't be easier with new gift cards from Stockpile. You pick a company to invest in and purchase a gift card for its stock either online or at participating retailers, such as Kmart, Lowe's, Office Depot and Safeway. You can choose from hundreds of stocks, including all the names in Standard & Poor's 500-stock index.
The gift card recipient must open a free Stockpile brokerage account online to redeem the card. She can choose to invest in the company you picked or select another. She can even trade your gift in for a standard retailer gift card instead. If she redeems the gift for stock by 3:00 p.m. (Eastern) on a regular trading day, she gets the shares at that day's closing price. After that time or on a day the market is closed, the trade will be executed at the closing price on the next day the market is open. Depending on the value of the card and the stock, she may wind up with fractional shares.
You choose whatever amount you'd like to give from $1 to $1,000 for electronic gift cards. Physical gift cards can be found in denominations of $25, $50 and $100. You must also pay a $2.99 fee, plus 3% of the face value of the card. But you don't have to pay sales tax.
Give a loved one a taste of Italy—without the airfare—and save them the cost of a year's worth of olive oil. Nudo is an olive-tree adoption program: You pay to adopt a tree in an olive orchard, and the person who receives your gift will be shipped oil from that tree. The recipient immediately gets a welcome pack, including an adoption certificate and information about how to get started and select a region and grove. Visit Nudo Adopt for information on the individual olive farmers, groves and products.
(Nudo also offers a tea garden adoption program that works similarly.)
Adoption gift packages start at about $59, plus shipping. With this option, Nudo sends to your gift recipient the welcome pack immediately and one shipment of three 500-milliliter olive oil tins in April. Costlier packages include two and four shipments of olive oil.
Cable television can be costly. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the average expanded cable service bill is more than $66 a month, or $792 a year. And if your gift recipient's cable package includes 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 subscription to Netflix. Buy gift cards for the streaming service at Amazon. The gift-card recipient can use it to create a new subscription or add the value of the card to his existing account.
Other streaming services to consider: Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, HBO Go and MLB.TV.
Physical Netflix gift cards are available for $30 or $60; for electronic cards with e-mail delivery, you select the amount between $25 and $100. (Subscriptions start at $7.99 a month.) For more details on Netflix and other streaming options, see our handy chart.
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.
Plus, 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 purchase flash drives with personalized engravings, cool designs or that double as jewelry.
Prices vary. The 8GB mini dslr camera necklace flash drive pictured is from the Etsy shop TuesdaysAndFridays and costs about $30.
The gift of wisdom can pay off for a lifetime. Fortunately, you can buy some online. Educational software, such as Rosetta Stone for languages or The Great Courses for a variety of subjects including sciences and the fine arts, can be a great gift for your favorite knowledge-seeker. Fun and functional, educational applications can help her brush up on her French before a trip to Paris or add some highly desirable skills to her resume (see Best Languages to Learn to Get Ahead in Your Career).
If your loved one would prefer learning in an actual classroom, consider getting her a gift card for a local community college. Many can be used for books and merchandise, as well as credit hours.
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.
How much you spend on a community college gift card is up to you and should be based on the college's cost per credit hour.
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. 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 pantsuits were on sale in late November and ranged from $80 to $280, and men's suits ranged from $60 to $1,095. See 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget for other business attire shopping tips.
An especially nice gift for the 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. If he'd rather not join Prime or is already a member, he can trade the gift in for an Amazon.com gift card.
A healthier diet is a great gift for anyone you hope to spend more time with. Given a juicer, your loved one can squeeze more nutritious fruits and vegetables into his daily routine. And good health can pay off in many ways, reducing care costs and insurance premiums, as well as improving your gift recipient's chances of being physically independent and mentally capable for longer.
Consumer Reports gave top ratings to juicers from Juiceman, Breville and Kuvings. All three are deemed easy to use; the first two are dishwasher safe.
Juicers reviewed by Consumer Reports range from $40 to $500. The site's most highly recommended choice, the Juiceman JM8000S, is available on Amazon for $60, as of late November.
Save your gift recipient some dining costs by encouraging him to cook at home. With a Blue Apron subscription, he gets weekly deliveries of original, seasonal recipes, along with all the ingredients necessary to make them. Plus, all fixings are farm-fresh from family-run businesses and come measured out into just the right quantities. They're sent in a refrigerated box, so it's okay if the delivery arrives when he's not home. Recipes can be personalized to accommodate any dietary restrictions. But if your recipient has a serious food allergy, go with a different gift—all the food is prepared in the same facility.
When you order, you can opt to either schedule an email to be sent to your recipient or print out a gift certificate. He then has to create a Blue Apron account and redeem the subscription within six months of your purchase. And he can select the recipes and food delivery days.
Be sure to check if Blue Apron delivers to your recipient. It's available for most of the country.
Gift packages start at about $60 for one week of three meals for two people, or $10 per meal. You also have two-week or four-week gift options and can go with the family size that serves four people.
A year's supply of paper towels isn't the prettiest gift, but it sure would be useful. Better yet, give somebody special a membership to a big-box store such as BJ's, Costco or Sam's Club. You'll give the recipient the opportunity to buy in bulk and save big money on groceries, electronics, household wares and office supplies year-round. (However, not everything at warehouse clubs 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.
Make room under the tree for your financial planner. A few hours of consultation would be the perfect gift to steer anyone down the right financial path, especially any beloved college kids home for winter break. 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. You already know and trust his services and won't have to worry about giving your loved ones a dud gift. 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 this kind of initial assessment for free.
Free your gift recipient from the temptation of spending a cash gift now. Instead, seed an online savings account with low fees, and encourage your lucky gift recipient to save for a big future purchase, such as a new house or car.
Give as much as you'd like. 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 0.75% in late November.
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 example, you can get up to 30% off at LensCrafters and up to 50% off prescription drugs.
Prices vary by location. A gift membership in Northern California costs between $56 and $119 for one year. In the mid-Atlantic region, plan prices range from $72 to $122.
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 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. (Visit www.leafsavings.com for more details on how the gift card works.)
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.
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