What are the best holiday gifts to help kids develop good money habits? Of course, cash is often a favorite, especially when stuffed into a card or stocking. But if you want a money gift that might help foster better fiscal thinking down the road, here are some suggestions.
Kids love building collections, and what sneakier way to teach them the value of saving than by associating collecting with cold, hard cash? Give your youngsters a one-year basic membership to the American Numismatic Association ($14). They can explore its website, Money.org, and join the "Coins for A's" program, which lets them earn coins for good grades. "Those Amazing Coins: A Kid's Guide to Collecting" by Kevin Flynn, R. Volpe, and Kelsey Flynn (about $9 in paperback from Amazon) and "The Instant Coin Collector" by Arlyn G. Sieber (about $13 in paperback from Barnes & Noble) are good primers. Find those books, coin albums, and other storage solutions at wizardcoinsupply.com.
Oneshare.com lets you buy a single share in a company that strikes your child's fancy, including Disney, DreamWorks Animation, and Nintendo. Your budding capitalist can then follow the stock's rise and fall, and potentially attend shareholder meetings and receive dividends. Prices are based on the share's market value; the transaction costs $39; you'll also pay more for framing. (We'd like one share of Berkshire Hathaway, please.)
Alternatively, invest through companies themselves. The Walt Disney Co.'s direct stock purchase plan, for instance, lets you buy stock directly from Disney for an initial minimum of $250, or monthly deductions of $50 from a qualified bank account. Other direct plans with kid appeal include Domino's Pizza, Harley-Davidson, Hershey's, Mattel, McDonald's, Nike, and Starbucks. (Go to the plan administrator Computershare for a complete list of companies.)
We found a variety of them by searching the Web, including the MagNif Accu-Wrapper motorized coin sorter (about $32 at Kmart, not including two C batteries) and the industrial-strength digital Uline Coin Sorter/Counter for $235. Don't forget to purchase extra paper tubes.
Looking for other wise gift ideas? Check out Consumer Reports Holiday Gift Ideas and Guide.
Motivate a teenager to put off trips to the mall by offering to match funds that she leaves alone in savings. Set up a regular savings account; she can deposit money she has saved or earned and you can deposit, say, 50 cents to the dollar, or dollar for dollar, depending on how long she leaves the money untouched.
Bank-issued cards (from American Express, MasterCard, and Visa, for instance) can be used anywhere. They can include hefty fees, but carry a bit less risk than store-issued gift cards; in the past, when stores went under, the cards became worthless. Cards specifically marketed as gift cards fall under federal consumer protection laws. Include the receipt with your gift, in case it goes missing. Four reloadable prepaid cards—Bluebird (American Express and Walmart), H&R Block Emerald Prepaid MasterCard, Chase Liquid Visa and American Express Serve—were tops among 26 cards we recently rated for prepaid cards used in addition to a bank account.
Dustin Hoffman's character in "The Graduate" was asked to consider a future in plastics. In today's uncertain economy, your young grad may need more guidance. A career counselor can give tests that match his interests and aptitude with appropriate careers; aid him with job hunting, networking, and interviewing; and help him explore grad-school options, among other services. Search for one through the National Career Development Association; look for someone who is a certified career counselor. Depending on where you live, the charge can be $40 an hour to more than $200.
This classic is subtitled "A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers." The author, Richard N. Bolles, includes many workbook exercises to help confused job-seekers determine what interests and motivates them, and how to get employers to take notice and hire them. And it gives plenty of practical advice on resumes, interviews, networking, and even starting your own business.
A version of this article appeared in Consumer Reports Money Adviser, our personal-finance newsletter.