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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Stacy Rapacon, Online Editor
| December 2016
This holiday season, give the gift of greater spending power with something more fun and thoughtful than a stocking full of cash. Our annual list of personal gifts 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.
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, Office Depot and (interestingly) Toys R Us. You can choose from hundreds of stocks, or give a multi-company card that comes with a list of picks available to the recipient. ETF cards are another option.
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.
Your gift recipient might not ever get rich at the car wash, but helping him with routine car maintenance can sure help save money. Gift cards to the local car wash would not only foot that bill for him; keeping his auto fresh and clean can help maximize its life, too.
You could also put together a gift basket of car-cleaning supplies. Encouraging your loved one to do the dirty work himself can give him a chance to catch and fix any small issues and prevent any future costly repairs.
You're in the driver's seat—pick your gift amount. If you want to go the gift basket route, you can order a pre-assembled one that includes Turtle Wax, a sea sponge, beer (because why not?) and other items from GiftBasket.com for about $90.
Cable television can be costly. According to the Leichtman Research Group, which specializes in the broadband, media and entertainment industries, the average cost of pay-TV service averages about $103 a month. 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. Gift cards for the streaming service are available at participating retailers, including 7-11, Staples and Walgreens, nationwide. (Use Netflix's store locator to find a merchant near you.) You can also buy them online through Amazon.com, Target.com and Walmart.com. 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, $60 or $100. You're free to select the amount for electronic gift cards. (Subscriptions start at $7.99 a month.) For more details on Netflix and other streaming options, see our handy chart.
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, grinds and other paraphernalia. A kettle or grinder, for example, would pair well with a French press. A variety pack of K-cups might go with a pod coffeemaker.
Prices vary. The popular single-serving Keurig machines cost $100 to $250. But Consumer Reports rates DeLonghi machines the best among pod coffeemakers. The top-ranking Gusto Genio is available on Amazon.com for $85 and makes espresso as well as coffee. However, it only takes Nescafe pods.
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.
Online subscriptions, including app use, for Rosetta Stone are on sale as of mid December, ranging from $49 to $159, depending on your timeline. The CD or downloaded program costs $79 to $159, based on your language and target proficiency level. As of mid December, the Great Courses cost anywhere between $16 and $230, 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 mid December and ranged from $31 to $280, and men's suits ranged from $105 to $1,095. See 5 Ways to Dress for Success on a Budget for other business attire shopping tips.
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.
For example, Sur La Table is offering a sushi-making class in Lawrenceville, N.J., and many other locations around the country. It's two to two and a half hours long, and the menu includes sushi rice, California rolls, spicy tuna rolls and vegetable hand rolls. The retailer also offers online cooking classes.
Prices at Sur La Table vary, depending on the type of class and location. the sushi class costs $79 in Lawrenceville, N.J.
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 Honeywell RTH9590WF thermostat with remote access gets top marks among the 32 thermostats tested by Consumer Reports. But the price is also high, going for about $369 on Amazon. The $170 Venstar Color Touch Series T5800 scores very well. You can program it with different settings for each day of the week.
The 32 thermostats tested by Consumer Reports range from $85 to $550.
Home-cooked meals are quick to get cut from today's busy schedules, but dining out too frequently can fatten your budget fast. Enter the slow cooker. This practical gift can help the recipient easily prep meals for each week and save him on restaurant and take-out bills all year long.
America's Test Kitchen highly recommends KitchenAid's six-quart slow cooker for its easy use and tasty results. It costs about $70 on Amazon.
Other kitchen-appliance gift ideas that might encourage more eating in: a standing mixer, pizza stone, grill, pots and pans and other specialty items. Perhaps consider the recipient's food preferences to cook up just the right gift.
The eight slow cookers reviewed by America's Test Kitchen range from about $40 to $150.
A year's supply of paper towels may not be the fanciest 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 she's open to it. You already know and trust her 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.
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 Southern California costs $68 for one year. (And you get two movie tickets or a pound of See's Candies when you buy it.) In the mid-Atlantic region, plan prices range from $72 to $123.
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 Gift of College gift card, which can be used to fund any 529 plan.
You can give however much you'd like. If you go the gift-card route, you'll have to pay some fees, too. You can buy gift cards for $25 to $500 at Toys R Us or Babies R Us. Or buy them online for $25 to $200. (See Give the Gift of College for more details.)
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.
You can freshen up a loved one's living space while trimming their grocery costs by giving her a kitchen herb garden. Your gift recipient doesn't need a particularly green thumb in order to grow herbs. But you may want to consider the amount of sun exposure the garden's new home might get in order to pick the right herbs. For example, basil, rosemary and sage need six hours or more of full sun each day to thrive, according to Home and Garden America. Chives, coriander and mint are less demanding.
Again, prices vary. At GivingPlants.com, herb garden gifts range from $15 to $90.
This handy gift can encourage its recipient to get his hands dirty and keep maintenance costs down by learning to DIY. It can be especially useful for anyone in your life who just moved out on his own or bought a new home and recently reached a new level of adulting.
For beginners, some toolbox necessities include a screwdriver set, tape measure, claw hammer, flashlight, pliers and other items, according to This Old House.
You can build your own kit and control the costs. Ready-made sets start at about $20 at Lowe's and Home Depot.
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