If you're like me, you have no desire to burden loved ones this upcoming holiday season with yet another ugly sweater, scented soap, or other well intentioned (if misguided) token of appreciation destined to collect dust until it's eventually re-gifted. Here's the good news: There are plenty of options out there for those who want to step away from the more traditional shopping carts—both real and virtual—and find a gift that not only shows you care, but continues to give well into the future.
Start a college savings fund, with conditions
Tell your kids and grandkids you'll match each dollar they contribute to it. For littler ones unlikely to contribute much, consider upping your match by four or five times. A matching program can teach older kids the value of delaying instant gratification in exchange for a more substantial reward while simultaneously helping secure their future.
If you want to formalize your college savings match and gain potential tax advantages, opening a 529 plan or Coverdell Education Savings Account (ESA) might be the right choice. Contributions to and withdrawals from these accounts may have tax advantages, so talk to your tax pro. If you prefer simplicity in giving, an outright cash gift of up to $14,000 in 2017 ($15,000 in 2018) is free of the federal gift tax. Such gifts have varying impacts on students' ability to access financial aid, so check the details before deciding to give any cash gift earmarked for education.
Teach your children about investing in the market
For the little ones, you might gift shares of stock in one or two companies that produce a favorite toy or television show. Discuss the purchase in language they can understand.
Once the kids are older—perhaps in middle school—talk with them about companies that host their favorite websites, make their favorite phone apps, or create popular video games, and then invest with "play money" in those companies to familiarize them with the concept of investing. Ask your children or grandchildren to monitor the performance of their stocks.
Give to charity
Donate money in the name of your loved ones to causes close to their heart and yours—and ask that they do the same. Older children can learn how to research and choose an appropriate charity and give a small donation, even if only for the holidays. (Just recently, my four-year-old grandson searched the toy store aisles to pick a gift for an anonymous, less fortunate child.) Don't forget food banks, either.
For years, my wife and I have "adopted" at least one struggling family for Christmas. When our daughters were teens they gave a few dollars to help out and shopped for items to give as well. Soon, we hope to recruit our grandsons to do the same. It's heartwarming to give to mothers who ask for little more than warm clothing for their kids. We get more back in satisfaction than we could ever give.
Give the gift of your time
Sit down with seniors for a holiday meal, deliver groceries to neighbors in need, or serve a meal at a community center, homeless shelter, or place of worship. When our daughter was in grade school, she "helped" me drive homeless men from the local Y to our church community space where my wife, oldest daughter, and other volunteers cooked and served Thanksgiving dinner. You would have thought our dinner guests won the lottery!
As our daughters grew up and started families of their own, we've drifted away from this tradition. Writing this article reminded me that sharing my time is a gift that costs nothing, but means the world to those who receive it.
Who needs another ugly sweater or scented soap? This year, consider giving a gift that continues to make an impression long after the holidays are over.
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