In my family, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation as the guy who’s not driven entirely by fun and amusement as my primary motivation. In fact, when it comes time my birthday each year, my wife years ago developed the habit of learning ahead of time what things I most needed, whether it was a pair of new shoes, a belt or wallet, updated clothing, a lawnmower purchased out of season (since my birthday is in the winter, yard stuff like that works well) or something else that’s highly practical and serves a specific purpose.
Especially since we share our spending accounts equally, I appreciate that my wife takes into consideration my ambition to be financially responsible when she decides how to spend some of OUR money on me.
Taking this practical approach to gift giving has allowed us to build up some significant savings and wealth, which in turn allow us to give bigger and better gifts for special occasions. Having spent our married life committed to practical, purposeful spending, we now find that there are occasions when we can move practicality down the priority list a bit and give gifts (cruises and other vacations, dinners and other treats, etc.) that are a bit more flashy, even exciting.
With that context, I’ve put together my list of some of the most practical Christmas gifts. You’ll notice that most of these gifts have the common thread of helping people become more financially responsible. That’s because this is Prosperopedia.com. For us, practicality is often interpreted as things that help people become financially better off than they would be without them.
The Pros of Giving Practical Christmas Gifts
In this age of excess, materialism and the persistent tendency of people to wantonly waste money on things that have little to no value, it’s refreshing to see people spend their money wisely. This includes situations (like Christmas) where the expectation exists of a gift being given as part of a family gift exchange, at a holiday work party, or as a thoughtful gesture to a friend or acquaintance. Too many times during the Christmas holiday people rely on impulse spending to get the standard set of often useless gifts for their loved ones and others. This approach simply wastes a lot of money when there really is an opportunity to make good use out of your resources.
For instance, in the neighborhood we’ve lived in for the past 8 Christmases, most of the close neighbors dropped off gifts comprised of candy or other sugary treats. Knowing that everyone was sugared out, and that people can (and should) only eat so many candy canes and drink so much mint hot chocolate, we decided to give out bottles of delicious, natural, healthy orange juice from Costco. Some of our neighbors commented that they appreciated being able to use the orange juice for breakfast throughout the week. We learned a lesson about giving things that have value that year.
Understanding that ultimately with gift giving, it’s the thought that counts, it’s not a bad idea to be just a bit more thoughtful when choosing what you’ll give this year.
Practical Gift Giving Disclaimer
When you give a practical Christmas gift to someone, it can be a great way to communicate your thoughtfulness to the recipient, letting her or him know that you’re aware of what’s happening in their life, and that you want to help them out rather than to just check them off your Christmas shopping list. However, some people (you know the type) tend to read too much into anything they receive that might be considered a rebuke of their way of doing things. Also, public opinion says that it’s not a good idea to give your wife a thigh master or a treadmill as a congratulations gift after she delivers a baby. There are lots of analogous situations where practicality might get you into trouble, but you probably know which ones those are, and you likely already know how to navigate those mine fields.
Here is my list of the most practical Christmas gifts you can get for someone. As I mentioned, order to give particular people some of the items in this gift list, you have to make sure that your relationship with that person is solid enough that the practicality of these will not offend them. However, given to the right people for the right reasons, these gifts are sure to have positive impact.
High Yield Savings Account or Other Investment
Almost 20 years ago, I gave my niece an education savings bond for her 5th birthday as a nod to her starting kindergarten. I asked her recently if she knew about it, and she told me she’d never heard about it before. The bond has likely more than doubled in value. The gift may not have seemed exciting as a five-year-old, but as an adult, it’s not bad to find out you have several hundred dollars you didn’t know you had.
Giving someone a high yield savings account (a regular savings account would be cool too, but not nearly as cool as one that actually pays you significant returns on the principal amount you have in the account) for Christmas involves setting up an account with one of the many online savings institutions and then adding the recipient to the account.
With this type of gift, there is some information from the recipient that would likely be necessary to establish a savings or other investment account in their name, but that can all be done after you’ve handed them a certificate or whatever else you’d like to use to present the actual gift to them.
A savings or investment gift for Christmas is an especially fitting one for parents to their children or grandparents to their grandchildren, symbolizing the enduring relationship between the two.
The Game of Life from Hasbro
Board games are great ways to bond with family and friends, but there is one that has stood out to me since I first played it as a kid. The Game of Life, made by Hasbro, teaches a lot about decision making, finances, and opportunity cost. Even if people are not playing it specifically to learn about making wise choices with their finances and other assets, The Game of Life naturally weaves in the idea that decisions you make now will heavily influence opportunities you’ll have or miss out on the next time a decision opportunity comes around.
If you’re not a fan of this particular game for some reason, there are a few other similar games that teach important life lessons about decision making, money, and being responsible.
Journaling is known to have lots of great benefits, including countering depression, anxiety, and stress. There are plenty of online journaling systems available, but I’d suggest that giving one that’s filled with paper and including a pen with your gift will help the receiver of the gift be able to use it without racking up more screen time, which is associated with (not surprisingly) depression, anxiety, and stress.
Buying an inexpensive journal and including a note to the recipient that personalizes the gift while motivating them to use it often provides a great way to deepen the relationship and inspire the recipient well beyond the Christmas season.
Budgeting App Subscription
Budgeting is one of the things our impulsive society (think Congress and most politicians) has largely forgotten about. Budgeting involves planning ahead, being disciplined, and aligning your spending habits with your life mission.
There are lots of budgeting apps out there available for free, including the one that I use (EveryDollar from Dave Ramsey). However, the free versions of these apps (including EveryDollar) have some limitations, such as having to enter your expenses, income, and other data manually. With a paid subscription, it’s easier for most people to get set up and going, which is usually the hardest part for anyone trying to become a budget-conscious consumer. Some budgeting apps can be paid for outright, without an ongoing subscription required. Although the annual EveryDollar subscription is only an affordable $99/year, if you’re really trying to help someone save money, it might be better to get something that doesn’t have continued cost associated with it.
Although they are must less efficient (I’m going the other direction here from my advice with a journal), you could also give a physical budgeting planner tool that’s not connected with anything digital. Some people still prefer this method of keeping track of income and expenses.
If you think that a budgeting tool is a good idea for the person you’re buying a gift for, and the one you found is free, you might consider using the money you would have used for the app and instead purchase and give a guide or program (see the recommendation below) for using the app.
Simple Exercise Device or Equipment
Passes to the gym often goes unused, at least after the first three weeks of January.
Instead, some kind of exercise device or equipment would be more practical for most people’s work schedules, where they spend countless hours hunched over a desk ruining their posture. The old grip strength trainer is always a safe option, allowing the user to take a quick break and get in some reps that will bump up his heart rate and burn a few calories. If you want to get more assertive, you could buy a treadmill desk. When I use one of those in the office, my productivity soars, and I feel great. For someone who has an office or works from home, a set of lightweight dumbbells (10 to 30 pounds each, depending upon the person) that can sit next to the desk will allow the gift recipient to do some arm curls, shoulder presses, or other exercises that can keep his or her body much more toned than if there wasn’t that option available.
Of course, the exercise device or equipment you give as a Christmas doesn’t necessarily have to be used in a work setting. There are lots of not-so-gimmicky exercise products out there that motivate people to exercise when they wouldn’t otherwise. Find one that matches the personality of the person you’re buying for, and help them add some fitness to their daily schedule.
Oil Change or Automotive Maintenance Gift Card
Fixing or maintaining a car is something most people don’t like to spend money on. Because of that, many of us put off getting our oil changed or taking care of other maintenance items on our vehicles.
Franchises like Jiffy Lube offer gift cards that can be purchased for people you might be buying a gift for locally or who don’t live so close to you.
This is one of those gifts you’ll likely give that could have the recipient going, “Huh?” But it could also be one that would be really appreciated when given to a person who appreciates practicality and who you don’t have a history of harassing about their vehicle’s lack of upkeep.
Intelligent Personal Assistant: Amazon Echo or Google Home
Before we got an Amazon Echo, I didn’t realize how much we’d use it and even need it. These new devices that act as intelligent personal assistants can be so handy. We use our Amazon Echo devices as intercoms for our kids in addition to having them play music, answer questions that vary in their importance and complexity, create shopping lists, listen to scriptures and podcasts, and even as a home phone when we need to call our kids.
Having seen the practical benefits of having one of these devices, I recommend them as one of the most practical Christmas gifts.
Estate Planning Package
While I was recently having lunch with our estate planning attorney, he described how difficult marketing is for that area of law, because fewer and fewer people plan ahead for the day when they will pass from this earth. That event (death) will certainly come for everyone whether the will and trust have been officially set up and whether there has been any estate planning done. As we all know, death doesn’t always wait until a person’s lived at least seven decades. This kind of gift would be good for an adult friend or family member of any age.
Thorough estate planning packages (the good ones) usually cost somewhere in the thousands of dollars range, but if you bought a simple will for someone who you know doesn’t have one, that could be the trigger that helps motivate other steps towards planning and thinking ahead, including saving money and investing for retirement.
This is one of those practical gifts that could come across the wrong way (like, “Please put me in your will. I promise I’ll make sure you don’t pass away too soon” creepy), but if it’s given to the right person based on a relationship of trust, this gift will likely end up highly valuable for the recipient.
A Toolbox With the Essential Tools
Having lost my entire toolbox and all the tools in it during a trip recently after leaving it sitting outside in a Walmart parking lot, this practical gift is one that I’d love to receive this Christmas. If you think through the essentials of running a household, particularly for the person you’re going to give this gift to, then put those things needed for minor repairs and day to day maintenance into a toolbox for Christmas, they’ll likely love the gift this year, the next, and for years to come.
An adequately supplied toolbox should cost you less than $200. If you have the budget for more, put some power tools in there.
A Financial Self-Help Book or Program
The course of my financial future was steered significantly in a positive way when I was introduced to a couple of books that helped me understand how money, work, investing, saving, and planning for the future work together. One of those books is The Richest Man in Babylon. The other is The Millionaire Next Door. I’m glad that people gave these books to me as gifts when I was in my early 20s. The decisions I’ve made since reading those books have made them worth thousands of times more than what they cost the givers.
Similar to how these two books changed the way I view money and set me on a course that has led to much more self-reliance than I would have had without having been given them. It’s likely that you have a friend or family member on your Christmas who could use that kind of guidance. Even if they don’t need financial motivation, there are other kinds of motivating, self-help books and programs that anyone could use to more fully develop their personality or increase their skillset.
Give Something Meaningful
None of these gifts will likely compete with the Nintendo Switch, your tenth waffle iron, or many of the other gifts that tend to be popular during the Christmas season. However, if you’re looking for something that has lasting impact, that will stick with the recipient longer and provide more value, I hope you found these suggestions useful.