Every year at this time I give some suggestions for holiday presents that have real financial meaning for your children and grandchildren. This year, I'd like to start with a gift for parents - an excellent book that should serve as a guide to discussing money with your children from the earliest stages until their college years. New York Times financial columnist Ron Lieber has written The Opposite of Spoiled - Raising Kids Who are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.
Lieber's helpful tips about every money issue from allowance to the tooth fairy are just the basics. Beyond that, there is thoughtful guidance for parents about "how much is enough", instilling gratitude and grace, and creating the ability to actually talk about money issues before there is a family crisis about the cost of college or a parental job loss. This book is a money gift to families - and it should be tops on your list.
Now, on to some other clever ideas for all ages that can spark an interest in money.
529 College Savings Plan. One of my recent columns gave you details of how and why to open one of these tax-free plans to save for college. Just don't forget to give Grandma and Grandpa, or any other relatives and friends the information so they can write a check to contribute. For more information about 529 plans go to www.SavingforCollege.com.
Shares of Stock. You don't have to have a lot of money to give small gifts of stock - shares in the most popular companies or ETFs that will give a child a head start on investing and perhaps spark an interest that will last a lifetime. The easiest way to do that is a gift card from www.Stockpile.com. Charge the gift to your credit card, and the recipient will be able to choose the stock of his/her choice. And now there's a Stockpile app. (Do remember that at the age of majority --18 in many states -- the child takes control of the account. And assets in custodial accounts weigh heavily in the college financial aid formula. )
The Money Savvy Piggy Bank This translucent plastic piggy bank is divided into four chambers - labeled save, spend, donate, and invest. It's available in six colors (making it easy to gift several children in one family) and comes with its own activity book. The MoneySavvy Piggy Bank is available only online at www.MSGen.com and costs $19.99.
The creators of the Money Savvy Piggy bank have expanded their offerings. Check out their award winning book for teens: OMG - The Official Money Guide for Teens $12.95 (48 pages). And their latest is a project with their college graduate daughter Allison - OMG Official Money Guide for College Students. These booklets are short and sweet and guaranteed to catch the attention of teens and college students.
Great Kids Money Apps
• Coin Math This app teaches your children how to identify coins, figure out how much money you have, and how to buy things using coins. This is truly a practical lesson as well as an entertaining app. It's suitable for kindergarteners all the way through grade school, as the concepts advance. The time to start learning about money is now.
• iAllowance App. Stop nagging the kids about doing chores, and stop forgetting to pay allowances. This popular app makes an online game out of managing the family allowance. It's available from the App Store for $4.99. It helps you assign chores, and creates "rewards" in the form of money in a "savings account" or "stars" for completing tasks in a certain time frame.
Coin Collecting. If you're a parent or grandparent who's had enough technology, maybe it's time to circle back to some old-time favorites: coin collecting. (They will have no idea about stamps!) But the U.S Mint makes it easy to start a coin collection that doesn't have to be expensive. Avoid the gold and silver, and instead collect quarters from every state. It's a geography lesson, too. The U.S. Mint website gives suggestions, coin holders and access to kids' coin collecting clubs. Plus, you can add to the collection every year, solving the problem of future gift occasions!
Be thoughtful about your holiday gifts to children. It's not just about the money you spend, but the money lessons they earn. And that's The Savage Truth.