The GRS Holiday Gift Guide
Every year at about this time, I start getting questions by email and social media — and even in Real Life: “Do you have any personal-finance or money-related gift ideas?”
I know how tempting it can be to choose gifts that encourage smart financial choices. You look at the poor decisions your brother or sister have made, and you feel like you could help. If only they would read this one book that helped you so much!
I get it. I've felt the same way. After all, my financial turnaround is a direct result of reading two books that were gifted to me by friends: Your Money or Your Life and Dave Ramsey's The Total Money Makeover.
That said, money gifts like these can be dangerous. They have the very real potential to create hard feelings and resentment rather than achieve the goal you're after. Any time you offer unsolicited advice — especially in the form of a gift — you run the risk of making the recipient more resistant.
Now, having said that, there are times and situations where gifts with a financial theme make sense.
- Do you have a niece who's about to leave home and forge out on a life of her own? A money manual might indeed be a welcome gift.
- Are there kids in your life whose parents don't have personal finance figured out? A money-based board game could indeed impart lessons to the entire family.
- Has your father been talking lately about needing to take retirement seriously? Well, he probably could profit from a meeting with a financial advisor.
After fifteen years of thinking about this subject, I've come up with a short list of financial gift ideas that might help to foster smart money moves without creating resentment. Let's take a quick look at some potential personal-finance gifts that sometimes make sense — if the recipient is ready to hear the message.
Note that I've deliberately tried to steer clear of junk. There are tons of money-themed gifts out there that serve absolutely no purpose: money soap, money placemats, money t-shirts. These are all basically rubbish. The money gift ideas I've listed here are meant to be practical, to foster future wealth. They're not novelties.
Books About Money
When it comes to actual money manuals, my default recommendation remains Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. My friend Michael sent me a copy of this book when I was at the lowest point of my financial life. (But he only did so because he could tell I was ready to read it.)
Your Money or Your Life introduced many concepts that nowadays we take for granted in the world of personal finance. It covers budgeting, mindful spending, financial independence, simple living, and your true hourly wage. And it conveys the info using real-life stories from real-life people. (The book can get a little New Age-y in parts, so keep that in mind.)
That's my default recommendation. Based on the subject's circumstances, though, I might suggest a different title. Here are some examples:
- For young adults just starting out, I recommend I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. Sethi's book is filled with actionable advice applicable to kids just out of college (or high school). It covers topics such as salary negotiation, basic investing, and smart use of credit. This is an essential money manual for people in their early twenties — but it can be good for people in their thirties and forties too.
- For parents with young children, consider The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber. This book covers work, allowances, consumerism, charity, gratitude, and more. It's a terrific guide to instilling financial wisdom in our youth.
- For folks you suspect might be interested in investing and/or early retirement, I recommend The Simple Path to Wealth by J.L. Collins. This book is for people who have mastered the basics but who lack a clear vision for their future. It is not a good option for somebody who still struggles with the debt and/or budgeting, but it's terrific for those ready to build real wealth.
- Over the past year, I've become a fan of Wild Money by Luna Jaffe. This isn't a book for left-brained engineering types. It's aimed directly at right-brained artists who have been struggling to make sense of money. Before COVID hit, Kim and I were meeting monthly with Jaffe and working through her Wild Money methodology. Kim loved it. I did too. This book isn't for everyone, but it's perfect for some.
Just typing this list, I'm filled with trepidation. Giving gifts that attempt to teach an overt lesson is…well, risky. It's not the best approach. Instead, I think it's often better to come at things sideways. In the case of helping somebody get better with money, I might pass along a book that's more subtle, something tangentially related to the subject, something that helps the recipient build skills and habits that will lead to money.
Books Obliquely Related to Money
For instance, I'm a huge fan of all of the following — and none of them come across as “preachy” (especially if you include a personalized note that explains how the book changed your life).
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey has helped millions of people achieve happier, more productive lives. When I first read this, I thought it was pop psychology at its worst. How wrong I was. The older I get, the more I realize this book is filled with solid advice. Mr. Money Mustache and I have had a couple of conversations about how the ideas in this book are important to building a mental framework that leads to financial success.
- The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck is another massive bestseller that can lead to improved psychological and emotional stability. The first section on discipline is especially powerful. Peck says that we can achieve mental and spiritual health by using four tools to cope with the challenges we face: delayed gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balance. (When I pulled The Road Less Traveled from my bookshelf to write this blurb, I realized I'm in a place in my life where I ought to re-read it. That's what I'll do this afternoon.)
- Thinking in Bets: Making Smart Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts by Annie Duke. For a long time, I’ve argued that the best money books are often not about money at all. Thinking in Bets is an example of this. Duke says that there are exactly two things that determine how our lives turn out: The quality of our decisions and luck. She uses plenty of personal finance examples, but the book itself is about self-improvement. It’s not specifically about personal finance, yet the info here could have a profound impact on your financial future.
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. When I first found this book a year ago, I re-read it four times in a single week. It's that good. Duckworth's thesis is that while talent and skill do matter, grit — the combination of passion, patience, and perseverance — matters more. Grit has fewer practical action steps than the other books on this list, but it's a modern book in a modern style that might be more accessible to many people.
Another way to impart financial wisdom is through biographies. For example, I enjoyed The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, which is a thick and thorough look at the life of Warren Buffett. Schroeder shows how Buffett's path to wealth started from a young age, when he'd go door to door selling chewing gum and soda pop to people in his neighborhood. This money “became the first few snowflakes in a snowball of money to come,” she writes. Then she chronicles the next seventy years as he becomes one of the richest men on Earth.
In the olden days — say, a decade ago — I would have been quick to recommend magazine subscriptions. At the time, there were several great personal-finance magazines that you could gift to somebody without looking overbearing. Today, magazines are dead (or dying).
Still, the venerable Consumer Reports is around, and I think it's a great option. The monthly print edition is becoming less and less useful as it moves from text-rich, in-depth feature stories to shorter, breezier content. (Such a terrible editorial decision!) But it still has some value. Plus, a subscription comes with the annual buying guide, which I find useful.
For $60/year, you can gift the print+digital Consumer Reports combo. A digital-only subscription costs $40/year. A print-only subscription costs $30/year. Here's the Consumer Reports subscription page.
As an avid game player, I would love to be able to recommend some board games or computer games that foster personal-finance skills. In the past, I've played some good ones. My cousin and I used to play Acquire and Stocks & Bonds, two 1960s-era “bookshelf” games from 3M Games. These used to be available from thrift stores for five bucks each, but now they're rare collector's items that go for $100 to $200 online!
While researching this article, however, I realized there's currently a dearth of good money-related board games. That's too bad.
I guess the traditional money game recommendation would be Monopoly. Monopoly is a fine game (as long it's not corrupted by too many house rules), but I'm not sure it does a great job of teaching personal finance. Instead, I'd opt for Payday or — especially — The Game of Life. I've always thought that the Game of Life did a fine job teaching about the various costs (and windfalls) life has in store. If a parent were to play this with children and talk about the events, it could be pretty educational.
If you know of any good personal-finance board games (or video games), share them in the comments below.
While writing this section, I discovered Don's Game Closet, a very very 2007-esque web store that's a jackpot for board game geeks like me. If you like vintage board games, I highly recommend visiting this site. After I finish writing this story, I'm going to browse it.
Wallets, Purses, and Piggy Banks
Wallets, purses, and piggy banks are another source of money-related gift ideas.
In recent years, I've become a fan of minimalist wallets. I mean really minimalist. For the past decade, I've used wallets that only allow space for the basics: a driver license, insurance info, a couple of credit cards, and a bit of cash.
Right now, I use this minimalist wallet from Tom Bihn. There isn't anything fancy about it (not at all!). It's simply a small, lightweight wallet that carries the essentials.
I'll be honest, though. Despite the fact that I know it's an example of lifestyle inflation, I covet the metal wallets from Secrid.
The Cardprotector wallet (which holds 4-6 cards) is cool enough, but the Cardslide wallet looks even cooler. It's the Cardprotector plus two add-ons that give you an elastic moneyband and a sliding compartment for cards or banknotes or maybe a key.
(True story: When Kim and I were in Venice last year, we waited out a rainstorm by browsing the Secrid store in St. Mark's Square. If the storm had lasted any longer, I'd now own one of those wallets.)
I was going to offer some advice on cool purses for women, but you know what? I know nothing about them, so I'll pass. However, if any Get Rich Slowly readers have any suggestions, I'll gladly add them here.
Purses and wallets hold your money on the go, but what about protecting your treasures at home? Every family should have a high-quality security safe to protect their most important records and documents. There's no need to spend a fortune on a good quality safe, but you do want to make sure it offers protection against fire and flooding.
In a recent Reader's Digest article, security experts recommended this “catastrophe-proof” .94-cubic-foot security safe. Similar products are available at this price point (which is roughly $200).
If you're not worried about fire or flooding, you could probably get away with a simple security safe, such as these Amazon Basics models:
For the kids in your life, you might consider the standard child-friendly security safe: the piggy bank. I'm partial to a traditional pink piggy bank, but while doing some Amazon shopping recently, I found two other options that seem cool.
I've saved the best gift ideas for last. If you truly want to help somebody improve their financial situation and you know they're receptive to it, books and games and wallets and silver coins aren't the best option. If it were me presenting a gift like this, I'd choose something much more practical.
When I polled the GRS community on Facebook and Twitter about their choices for personal-finance gifts, a couple folks mentioned subscriptions to You Need a Budget. YNAB, as it's more commonly known, is a well-regarded budgeting tool that adheres to a solid financial philosophy. I'm a fan. And YNAB allows you to purchase gift subscriptions. But a word of caution: There's no way I'd purchase this for somebody unless I was certain they were going to follow through with using it. (To increase the likelihood that the recipient would actually use YNAB, I might consider pairing it with the excellent You Need a Budget book.)
Other folks suggested pre-paying for a session with a real-life financial planner. This is an amazing idea, and well-worth considering if you have somebody in your life who might profit from it. Yes, it'll probably cost you a few hundred bucks. But paying for some sort of evaluation session with a fee-only planner could make a real difference in a loved one's life. If I were to do this, I'd start by using the search tool from the Garrett Planning Network.
But you know what?
If I wanted to present a gift that would help somebody improve her financial life, I think my top choice would be some sort of personal- or career-development course. Gifting a course related to your recipient's personal and/or professional interests is a great way to foster their enthusiasm for life while giving them skills they can use to further their career.
My girlfriend, for instance, is constantly taking classes. Sometimes these are related to her current career (she's a dental hygienist), but sometimes they're purely aspirational. Kim is currently taking a course an animal communication. (She thinks she might like to volunteer with an animal shelter in the future.) I've thought about offering to pay for a follow-up course once she's finished.
Here are some examples of what I mean:
- Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich offers a variety of courses and products that could help almost anyone master their money — and their life.
- Many people could profit from learning a second language. Group language classes are inexpensive and fun. One-on-one tutoring sessions cost more, but they're crazy effective. Either option would make a good gift.
- Community colleges offer a variety of classes that teach skills that we wish we'd learned when we were younger: woodworking, computer programming, art, and more. Offering to pay for a class of your recipient's choice could help them make the most of their free time.
- And, of course, you could always pay for a few music lessons. Many people want to learn to play the piano or the guitar or the French horn — but they don't know how to start. If you take the time to find a good instructor and arrange the first five or six lessons, that immediately removes the biggest barrier to learning.
Classes like these provide true value that will only compound with time. I think they're terrific gift ideas.
When I decided I wanted to put together a round-up of financial gift ideas, I knew I needed to get out of my own head and seek advice from the Get Rich Slowly community. So, I asked the Facebook group and our followers on Twitter for their suggestions.
I like this idea from @YeagerJim on Twitter:
What a great idea! If this would work with your kids, do it.
As a final note, I'm a big fan of these money tree 3D cards. They are expensive (13 bucks a pop!) but they're so fun (and so well-made). For real: I have several in my office waiting to be used in the future. The website says these are birthday cards, but there's nothing birthday-specific about them that I've noticed.
Okay, that's it from me. Those are my money-themed gift ideas. Now, let's turn it back to you. Have you given a financial-related gift before? Would you ever consider doing so? What gifts do you think are effective? Which ones should be avoided? Let us know in the comments below!