The Personal Finance Gift Guide

Last year, in answer to reader questions, I suggested some personal-finance books that make good gifts. Though the list was good, I wished that there were more to it than just books. To that end, I've kept my eyes open for other options for financially-themed presents.

The following list is rough. It will grow more robust and refined in time as I incorporate reader comments and suggestions. For now, it highlights some books, games, and tools that might make good gifts for certain people on your Christmas list.

Books for kids
In general, young children don't understand money and how it works. By engaging them in the actual physical presence of the stuff, it's possible to get them to grasp an otherwise abstract concept.

Books for young adults
I believe that this is the most crucial stage in a person's financial life. Begin accumulating debt, and there are years of struggle ahead. Begin saving and investing, and you can put yourself ahead of the game.

Books for adults
There are many great books about money. But how many of them make good gifts? These four offer sound advice and are easily accessible. (Be careful with the Ramsey book, however. Offering it as a gift could be interpreted as you saying, “You suck with money — read this.”)

  • All Your Worth: The Ultimate Lifetime Money Plan by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Tyagi. Though I didn't care for this book at first, I respect its philosophy more with each passing year. It's all about finding balance. (Read my review.)
  • The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. In debt? Living paycheck-to-paycheck? This one's for you. Ramsey's program is simple and sound, and includes lots of anecdotes to drive home his points. This book has a strong religious foundation, but you don't have to be religious to get useful info from it. (Read my review.)
  • The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Though I've never read this from cover-to-cover — there are nearly 1000 pages! — I often browse this monster to find new ideas for frugal living. If you know somebody who likes to find ways to save, this is a great gift.
  • The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel. Though there are other, more comprehensive investing books out there, I believe this one is best-suite as a gift. It's motivational, easy-to-read, and the advice is excellent. (Read my review.)

Magazines
When I did my round-up of personal-finance magazines in September, I noted that I'm a fan of the information available from the non-profit Consumers Union. I think that Consumer Reports is great, but so are its sister publications: ShopSmart and Money Adviser. Of the “Big Three” personal-finance mags, I think that either Kiplinger's or Money are good options.

Games
For children, there are several games that offer an introduction to personal finance. For example, Careers, Payday, and The Game of Life all offer elements of real-life money management. (I'm not convinced that Monopoly offers much in this regard.)

Older gamers have options, too. When compiling his list of the five greatest financial board games, Trent at The Simple Dollar lauded Modern Art, Acquire, and Puerto Rico. I own and enjoy all three.

Stocks
OneShare.com offers framed stock certificates for well-known American companies like Disney, McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and more. These are actual shares of stock, and can be ordered with or without frames and other fancy doo-dads. Cost varies depending on the add-ons you choose, but will always be at least the current market price for the individual stock plus a $39 processing fee. Expensive, yes, but if you're trying to teach a kid about investing, that $39 might be a bargain.

Bonds
Though I've never given or received a government bond, and I don't know much about them. I have a friend, however, who gives them to her nieces and nephews for their birthdays. The Treasury Direct program provides all you need to know about these investment instruments, including how to give savings bonds as gifts.

Software
Sure, you could give Microsoft Money or Quicken, but there are other options available, too. For example, I've heard great things about You Need a Budget, PC-only software that does one thing, but does it well: help you build and keep a budget. (Note that I'm suggesting software only for gifts. There are many free online tools you might try on your own, including Wesabe, Mint, PearBudget, and more.)

Tools
This year I became aware of a growing number of products designed to help the user better organizer her financial life. I'd actually like to find more of these, so if you have recommendations, please let me know.

  • Traditional pink pig piggybank. We adults have our high-yield savings accounts and our change jars. For kids, I think there's something charming about a traditional piggybank.
  • The Money-Savvy Pig. If you want a more modern piggybank, check out the Money-Savvy Pig, which allows kids to save for a variety of different goals all at once. High marks from every source I've seen.
  • Personal-finance flash-cards. Last summer, Nuru sent me a deck of their personal-finance flash-cards. They're great. They present a variety of essential personal-finance concepts in clear, everyday language. Look for a full review sometime in the next month. (Nuru also produces decks on other topics like understanding your car and exercising anywhere.)
  • The It's All right Here Life & Affairs Organizer. I believe that organization and preparedness are essential personal finance skills. This comprehensive loose-leaf binder includes sections for every conceivable piece of information about you and your family's circumstances. A little bulky, but still great.
  • Cash Cache. From the same folks who produce the Money Savvy Pig, the Cash Cache is a “beginning personal finance organizer”. This comes with a 36-page handbook and a series of templates (which you can preview in PDF form).

A word of caution
Though these suggestions offer great financial education opportunities, you need to be careful. Giving an adult a present as an object lesson can be a bad idea. Don't give preachy gifts. If you give your girlfriend a copy of Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes, the relationship may take a turn for the worse.

On the other hand, a personal-finance book or toy can be an excellent choice for the right person. It was because a friend gave me a copy of Your Money or Your Life that I finally turned my finances around. But the key was that I was ready to hear the message. If I had received the same book just five years earlier, it would have gathered dust upon a shelf.

What are your recommendations? I'm particularly curious if you can suggest additional personal-finance tools and toys. (I read and review many books, so I feel like i have a handle on what's available there.)

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Trevor
Trevor
11 years ago

Wow. Awesome list. I think people are careful with what they’re buying. Who would give their girlfriend a “Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes” right? The fact that it’s that book makes it even more funnier. I think Monopoly should earn it self a spot on the list. Monopoly you learn about limited demand(houses, properties) and about getting it first. It also shows that a lot of things in life, you face because of being their at that time. Like, how would you know the next step you take the floor won’t collapse? It’s just like Monopoly, how would… Read more »

shuchong
shuchong
11 years ago

I just wanted to say, Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday is probably the best “personal finance” book I’ve ever read. I remember loving it when I was about seven. The illustrations are awesome, the message is sound, and the book itself is just plain funny.

If I ever end up with kids, this book is going to be on their bookshelf.

Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown
11 years ago

When I turned eight, my aunt bought me a single stock in Coca-Cola. When she handed me that stock certificate and explained it to me, I was amazed and I treasured it. I still have it to this day. It’s priceless to me.

Dylan
Dylan
11 years ago
You can purchase gift certificates for time with an hourly financial planner. Rather than purchasing time from a specific planner, some professional organizations offer gift certificates that are honored by most, if not all, of their members. The recipient can choose their own planner.
Andrea
Andrea
11 years ago

I will be getting Debt is Slavery for my daughter as a gift. She doesn’t respect things she is given and always has “a reason” they broke or are lost but expects a replacement. I would say no or give the least expensive -if necessary- version but her dad gives in. She does work part time(still in college) but doesn’t really understand how much life costs(housing, food, insurance) beyond personal needs and wants(her clothing budget is minimal as she does thrift shop and is not into modern fashion trends). She knows her college is expensive but that we saved money… Read more »

Aya @ Thrive
Aya @ Thrive
11 years ago

A traditional piggy bank is the probably one of the most effective first steps to take in teaching kids about saving money. The best part is, they’ll be saving without even consciously thinking about it, and hopefully this behavior will become a habit and stick! The games are also a good idea; I’ve noticed there are video/computer games that teach similar values. Games are engaging and sticky – kids can learn about the basics in budgeting and finances without having to moan and groan through a textbook. And just an addition to your list of free online tools! Thrive (justthrive.com)… Read more »

Andy
Andy
11 years ago

Great list, JD! I’m going to have to check out “Growing Money” for my sons…

For gift ideas, I’d also suggest memberships in BetterInvesting or AAII. These non-profit organizations offer good journals (without the mainstream consumer/ad focus) and a wealth of other educational and support opportunities.

Bubblebrain
Bubblebrain
11 years ago

The book I’ve sent drifting around the office when people ask me finance questions is Andrew Tobias’s “the only investment guide you ever need.” My version is older (got it used of course) but still relevant. Haven’t seen the newer editions.

HollyP
HollyP
11 years ago

I’ve seen multi-section piggy banks that allow kids to break out funds for immediate needs, l/t savings and charity.

A new passbook savings account with a small deposit can also be a great gift. A few years ago my then-7-yo was all fired up to open her own passbook savings account, so she could see interest grow and deposits build up her balance.

Faculties
Faculties
11 years ago

J.D., you might look into bonds more closely — right now U.S. savings bonds (I-bonds) are paying 5.69% interest. You can’t redeem them for a year, and if you redeem them before five years, you lose 3 months’ interest. In that sense they’re like a specially high-paying CD, BUT you don’t pay state income tax on the profits (an especially good deal in a state like Oregon with a high state income tax), and no tax if they’re used for educational expenses. So they’re great presents for kids, and even great presents for adults. Bonus: you can buy them with… Read more »

KC
KC
11 years ago

One of my favorite personal finance books is “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need” by Andrew Tobias. Its a few years old, but his writing style is good and the book hits on a lot of areas – mainly the area of common sense. One example he uses is for frequent wine buyers. He mentions things like getting a discount for buying by the case instead of a bottle each week. If you save 10% you get a 10% return on your money. That’s just common sense that most people can relate to. He also has a funny story… Read more »

Jill
Jill
11 years ago

Im glad to see The Money Book for the YFB by Suze Orman on here. That book personally did it for me. It is specifically aimed at those who have or are just graduating from college and about to enter the job world. Even though I personally was not in the situation with lots of student debt, it was extremely helpful and actually explained everything so I could understand PF. It empowered me to make decisions about my money! And was a jumping board to my own further research. I actually gave the book as a gift (not for a… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

thanks for the link to the oneshare.com site. It’s not a real path to getting rich slowly (in fact I’m not going to think about how long it might take to earn back the cost), but I like the idea for a fun gift. And while I didn’t see a lot of really environmentally/socially progressive companies, there are some choices that appear on lists of good corporate citizens…

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

I think it’s funny that the books aimed at kids/teens look more interesting and useful! I’d love to get a copy of the tightwad gazette, I checked it out from the library but there is no way you can digest all that information in 2 weeks.

Bill M
Bill M
11 years ago

I like the “Total Money Makeover”, its a simple to understand book and the concept is flawless if you take it seriously.

Rice & Beans is not so bad.

Jay
Jay
11 years ago

When my daughter was obsessed by the Build-A-Bears I bought her one stock in the company from onestock.com. While I don’t know if she learned anything from it I had a great time reading the annual report, and voting her one share.

They also included a gift card to the store in every annual report. So our return on our investment has been about 9%! Of course that presupposes that we are willing to shop in the store.

Aman
Aman
11 years ago

Toys/books/games aside (which all COST you money)..parents need to be involved from the get go when it comes to teaching their kids how to save and invest for the future.

Parents need to get involved early and stick to their guns when teaching their children how to manage money. This is free, and not only will it strengthen the bond between parent and child, but will enable you to monitor your child’s progress…

http://www.bullsbattlebears.com

nattie
nattie
11 years ago

I wish I had parents that were thoughtful about teaching us finances (it was basically none of our business). I will be checking out one of the adult books for myself. Thanks for this great list!

Don
Don
11 years ago

Modern Art…what a great game! I played another recently that felt very similar: Container.

Moneyblogga
Moneyblogga
11 years ago

Larry Winget was the guy who got me thinking about my own precarious finances. I enjoyed his show Big Spender on A&E, his no BS style, and his book “You’re broke because you want to be”.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@Don (#19)
Awesome. Thank you. I hadn’t heard of Container before, but I’ve added it to my wish list now!

Dallin
Dallin
11 years ago

How in the world have I not seen mint.com ever? This is awesome. Thanks for the heads up. Love following the RSS.

TimK
TimK
11 years ago

@HollyP
A spend/save/share piggybank with a passbook is available a http://www.moonjar.com This is a great gift for children.

Pat
Pat
11 years ago

The Settlers of Catan board game teaches young adults and adults the rigors of free market capitalism. (Read: how to be cutthroat)

Liz
Liz
11 years ago

I love the Dave Ramsey books for kids. They convey lessons without being too preachy.

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

@TimK
First, I can’t do lunch today. Still too sick. Don’t know if you got my e-mail. Second, I’ll have to check out the Moonjar. I know that David Bach from Automatic Millionaire recommends it, but I’ve never seen it myself. Sounds cool.

@Liz
I didn’t know Dave Ramsey had books for kids. I’ll have to check those out, too!

KAD
KAD
11 years ago

J.D., I was Christmas shopping yesterday and saw a book I fully expect you to be reviewing in the near future (hint, hint!): *Enough* by none other than John Bogle. Less of a gift idea than a plea for a book review, I suppose, but I wanted to mention it while it was still on my mind…

Cheers,
KAD

Cheska
Cheska
11 years ago

I also like “Your Money or Your Life”, but many of my peers and recently-21-yo sister are not in that mindset; a lot of them want to pay off debt, but also still “live their life”. Some of these finance books that targets college students or fresh grads are too simplified, or too stuffed with irrelevant information that doesn’t help us deal with the “now”. I would recommend Tarnoobi’s “You’re So Money”. It’s relevant enough that one of my social-but-broke friends will pick it up and read it through.

Quicken also has a free online version. (http://quicken.intuit.com/online-banking-finances.jsp)

J.D.
J.D.
11 years ago

KAD (#27)
I’m half-way through the book right now. 🙂

If I hadn’t got sick this week, the review would have been posted today. As it is, you’ll probably have to wait until early January. (I’m going to take two weeks off to work on my book proposal, during which there will be guest posts.) I *may* get the book finished and the review written by next Tuesday, but I doubt it.

Craig
Craig
11 years ago

Do you recommend one finance book over the others for a good read?

Seth
Seth
11 years ago

It sure seems like there are not many books for teens. I like the list you provided, but if anyone else has any others please do share. I enjoy Dave Ramsey, but didn’t see an individual book I could buy – only FPU-type material for a class type setting. My sister is 16 and I’d like to get one for her for Christmas. My parents are awful at their own finances so I’m sure if she sees enough of that she will be in bad shape eventually. Right now she is doing great with $1000 in the bank from working… Read more »

Peg
Peg
11 years ago

I really like Jim Cramer’s book, Stay Mad for Life – Get Rich, Stay Rich, (Make Your Kids Even Richer). His other books are good for learning about investing, but this book takes you right from the start, covering all the basics – how (and why) to save, family finances, where to invest, and pitfalls to avoid. I especially liked Chapter 2, How to Stop Yourself From Being Poor.It’s a lot of common-sense stuff, written in an engaging, humorous manner. This would be a good gift for a teenager, or for anyone who is even thinking about retirement.

jen
jen
11 years ago

The best kids’ personal finance book I have found is “Rock, Brock, and the Savings Shock” by Sheila Bair. It explains compound interest in easy language for kids…actually, in rhyme. Very clever, and has made a huge impression on my 7 and 4 year olds (they’ve become strong savers). She also wrote “Isabel’s Car Wash,” which explains investing on a kid’s level. I’ve borrowed both of these from the library, but they’re both so good and explain these topics so well that I think I need to get them for the boys’ library.

Martacus
Martacus
11 years ago

That Complete Investing Guide For Kids reminds me of the bank run scene in Mary Poppins… 🙂 I definitely do agree that children should be taught money management skills at an early age, though. Perhaps a “gift set” of a book on finances, a money-savvy pig bank, and a stock or bond could help. The key, I think, is to make saving and investing fun for children–Lord knows they’ve got enough outside influences in their life telling them that spending is more fun. Don’t be like the old banker in the aforementioned movie, grasping greedily at every tuppence your child… Read more »

TimK
TimK
11 years ago

If you have a tweener daughter, a great book is “A Smart Girl’s Guide to Money: How to Make It, Save It, And Spend It”. It’s part of the American Girl Library series. The book has stimulated some great discussions on wants vs needs and avoiding peer pressure to SPEND NOW. My daughter now understands why the milk is in the back of the grocery store 🙂

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

Amen about not giving preachy gifts. I gave my mom a nice notebook once, hoping to encourage her to write more. But because it was a gift that had an “attachment” to it, I think that turned her off and botched the deal.

Reid
Reid
11 years ago

I highly recommend reading “it’s not about the money” by Brent Kessel. It is a relatively new book that aims to connect personal finance with personal fulfillment, from an Eastern Philosophical approach.

Linda
Linda
11 years ago

Another great resource for young childern is the “Money Manager Kit” from Blue Lake Children’s Publishing (www.tessyandtab.com/money). It teaches kids the basics about managing money and comes with a Moonjar bank with three parts so they learn how to save, spend and share. Parents share their Money Manager Kit stories here http://bluelakepublishing.typepad.com/tessyandtabfanclub/.

Justin
Justin
11 years ago

I can’t agree with your recommendation of Suze Orman’s The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke. Granted, I read it after reading Dave Ramsey, whose advice could not be a more polar opposite. But even so, Orman’s advice is terrible. She explains things well (though I’d say not as well as you or any number of free online sources), but the advice Orman gives is terrible. She says that if you don’t make enough to live on, you can just use credit cards to make up the difference, as if increasing your high-interest debt is a great strategy… Read more »

JR
JR
11 years ago

I personally love the game at http://www.roninsoft.com/wsraider.htm

Designed by a CPA the game does a dangerously good job of simulating the world stock market and teaching one how various stock/bond issues work including interest rates, price of oil, options and taxes.

anne
anne
11 years ago

Not long ago, I came across an adorable and sensible book for new parents that plants the seeds of financial literacy very early.

I have always wanted to give it as a baby gift – but haven’t yet. Seems like it could also work for the holidays!

“The Munny Journal” http://www.munnyjourney.com/

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