Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM
Originally published: December 9, 2004
Will your holiday gift be remembered in the months ahead? Or will it be forgotten, out of style, worn out or discarded by next year? There’s still time to give a gift that will grow in value, and remain meaningful long after the holiday season ends. Here are a few ideas.
ShareBuilder. Give a gift that could build a life-long interest in the stock market, but avoid some of the costs. At ShareBuilder.com you can start a regular investment program, investing just a little bit every month in any of 4,000 stocks and exchange-traded funds, with no account or investment minimums. The basic plan allows you to buy any number of shares for just $4, although you can’t specify a price limit. There is also an online portfolio tracking service, so you can watch your account grow.
ShareBuilder is offering some terrific holiday gift packages. The InvestorStarter Kit costs $29.95 online at ShareBuilder. com. It contains a $25 cash certificate redeemable into a Sharebuilder account, and a one-year subscription to Money magazine. The $60 Financial Care Package is valued at more than $150, and includes all of the above plus a messenger bag that students can use as a book bag, a coffee mug and a gift certificate for iTunes.
Stock market mutual funds. This is one of my perennial favorite gifts for children or grandchildren. Go to www.USFUNDS.com or call 800-US-FUNDS to open an account in the “All-American Fund,” which invests in well-known, large company stocks, among many other funds offered.
Unlike most mutual fund companies, USFunds doesn’t require investors to have a lot of money to get started. If you sign up for its ABC -- Automatically Building Capital -- plan, you can open an account with as little as $100, if you agree to have a minimum of $30 a month taken automatically out of your checking account to add to your mutual fund account. You can always add more money to the account for birthdays or holidays.
Stock Trader’s Almanac. This is the place to order one of the most interesting and useful books for any stock market investor: www.StockTraders Almanac.com. For $34.95 you get a spiral bound book that is full of market statistics, historical tables and seasonal trends. If you want the real history of “the January effect” or the presidential election cycle, or the “Santa Claus rally,” this is where to look. Also: a wealth of trading tips.
VisaBuxx Debit Card. This is my favorite gift for teenagers: a debit card that looks like a credit card and has the added advantage of transparency. If you sign up for one of these Visa cards for your teenager or college student, you can re-load it with an allowance every month. The “credit limit” is the amount of your cash deposit, which earns a small amount of interest. The student can use it anywhere Visa is accepted, and even to withdraw cash at an ATM.
The unique and intriguing part of this service is that students and parents share a PIN, which gives access to an online site where all withdrawals are tracked and posted. So if your college student complains that the books and supplies used up all her money, you can check online to see if she also was spending at the campus grill! Go to www.VisaBuxx.com to sign up with participating banks.
SavingsBonds.gov. Don’t forget good, old-fashioned Series EE Savings bonds. The minimum purchase is $25 for a $50 face value bond. The current interest rate is very low (3.25 percent through April 2005). But every six months the rates are re-set to keep up with inflation. And there is no tax on the interest buildup until you cash them in -- and never any state income tax. The easiest way to purchase is to do it online at www.SavingsBonds.gov, but you must open a TreasuryDirect investment account.
Quicken or MicrosoftMoney. Here’s another perennial favorite: the gift of financial organization. These two computer programs will organize your spending, allow you to pay bills online with a click of your mouse, and even help save time and money at income tax time. The programs retail for less than $50 and can be purchased at any computer supply store.
Don’t be intimidated by the big boxes. Inside is one small disc that makes the programs easy to install. They set up connections with your bank in just minutes. The lazy week between Christmas and New Year’s is a perfect time to get started organizing your finances for the year ahead.
So now you have no excuses. Instead of buying ties or toys, sweaters or socks, give a gift that keeps on giving. In hindsight, you’ll be glad you did. And that’s The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser, and appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s newscasts. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.