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.
- Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst. Fresh from his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Alexander learns about money. Ages 4-8.
- Growing Money: A Complete Investing Guide for Kids by Gail Karlitz. Covers banks, bonds, stocks, and financial pages. Why haven't I read this yet? Ages 9-12. (Read my review.)
- The Totally Awesome Money Book for Kids by Arthur and Rose Bochner. Arthur wrote the original version of this book when he was 11. Now, at age 24, he's teamed up with his 14-year-old sister to revise it. Ages 9-12.
- What Color is Your Piggy Bank? Entrepreneurial Ideas for Self-Starting Kids by Adelia Cellini Linecker. Gets kids out of the house and earning money. Ages 9-12.
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.
- The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens: 8 Steps to Having More Money Than Your Parents Ever Dreamed Of by The Motley Fools. It's no secret that if a teenager can develop the discipline to save and invest, she can acquire some kick-ass wealth relatively early in life.
- Debt is Slavery by Michael Mihalik. I raved about this book last year. Of all the personal finance books I've read, I think this would have been most useful to me when I graduated from college. (Read my review.)
- The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by Suze Orman. This is a pretty comprehensive introduction to personal finance aimed specifically at young adults. There's almost too much information.
- Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. A classic, and one of the foundation books for the simplicity movement. Several GRS commenters read this in high school or college, and found it excellent. HollyP writes: “I read [YMoYL] in my 20s, and what I found most enlightening about it was the link between money and energy. It really helped me clarify my priorities.”
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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.)