5 Alternative Gift Ideas that Don’t Come from a Toy Store

 

holiday gift ideas
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Parents spent an average of $422 per child on holiday presents in 2016, according to a survey by T. Rowe Price. An estimated 56 percent of parents with children ages 8 to 14 use credit to purchase gifts, which are bound to include gadgets that’ll be old news by New Year’s but not paid off until months after that. 

Indeed, the holiday season — the most wonderful time of the year, as it’s known to some — may be far from wonderful for budgets as some parents try to fulfill every child’s every wish. 

A 2016 Experian holiday shopping survey found:  

  • 56 percent of people said they spend too much money during the holidays. 
  • 55 percent admitted that they feel stressed about their finances during the holidays. 
  • 43 percent said the extra expense makes the holidays hard to enjoy.  

Some parents overload their children with “stuff” that will quite possibly be obsolete or bested in popularity by the next big thing just in time for the next holiday season. No great mystery that the U.S. has 3.1 percent of the world’s children, but consumes 40 percent of the world’s toys. 

“We are a materialistic society, and often our rituals and celebrations reflect this,” says Dr. Mary Gresham, an Atlanta-based psychologist who specializes in financial and clinical psychology. “Many parents get caught up in this and start to believe that the right toy will bring happiness to their child.”  

Here are five gifts to give your little ones besides presents this year. Your overflowing closets and pockets may thank you for considering other gift options.  

The gift of a financial head start

You could get them a $50 toy that they’ll lose or break in a matter of weeks … or you could open an online investment account in your child’s name and teach them the beauty of investing.

And don’t worry if you’re not an expert.  

Brendan Mullooly, an investment adviser for an asset management firm in Wall Township, N.J., suggests that novice investors interested in making a financial gift to a young person should use a service like Stockpile, an online company that simplifies the process of gifting stocks to minors.  Check out our review here

“You can purchase gift cards of individual stocks and some index ETFs to give as a gift,” says Mullooly.

And Stockpile allows you to buy fractional shares, so the gift cards can be for small amounts.  Mullooly recommends setting up view-only access to these custodial accounts so your young investor can check on how the investments are doing.  

“This offers a great way to give a gift that’s interesting, has monetary value, and also offers an educational aspect,” he says. 

The gift of giving

For children, the holiday season can be a “gimme” time of year. But it’s also the time when we often hear that it’s better to give than receive.  

Jayne Pearl, a family business and financial parenting expert and co-author of “Kids, Wealth and Consequences: Ensuring a Responsible Financial Future for the Next Generation, says it’s not hard to nurture a child’s giving spirit. She suggests combating the “gimmes” with the “givvies.”

Put part of your holiday budget toward giving to the less fortunate, perhaps through a charitable organization. For example, you could give a gift in your child’s name to an organization such as Unicef or the American Red Cross, or to an area animal shelter or humane society.  

“Giving kids the tools and the consciousness to try to help people is extremely empowering,” Pearl says.  

Her recommendation is to sit down with your children and find out what bothers them about the world, help them figure out how they can help, and make this part of your holiday celebration. Use the holidays as a time to teach your kids that “we have values and our values are not just ‘stuff,’ ” Pearl says.

The gift of membership

You can’t go wrong with season passes to a favorite destination like a local museum, an amusement park or the zoo. You can use them over and over throughout the year, which could ultimately help your family spend less on entertainment. 

Also, check out memberships to national organizations, like the Baseball Hall of Fame for the sports enthusiast. 

Or get a pass that’s fun for the whole family, like the $80 America the Beautiful Annual Pass, which pays for itself in as few as five visits to national parks. The pass covers entry to over 2,000 parks for a full year, and nearly 100 percent of sale proceeds goes toward improving and enhancing federal recreation sites.
 

The gift of travel

Pool the money you would spend on toys and trinkets and knock a destination off your family bucket list. You could time the trip to coincide with the holiday season or breaks during the school year.  

Erica Steed, 37, allowed her children to choose something they wanted to experience together in Christmas 2016. 

Ellison, who was 10, wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. Elian, 7, wanted to see snow, which doesn’t often happen in Georgia. They took a family trip to New York for the holidays, and although it didn’t snow, “we had such a great time that it made up for it,” says Steed, who lives in Roswell, Ga.

When you factor in the cost of airline tickets and lodging in New York City for a family of four during the holidays, this gift option didn’t save the Steeds the money they would’ve spent on presents.

But by planning, creating a budget and sticking to it, the family spent the holidays doing something they could all enjoy and remember for a lifetime. And this, Steed says, amounted to money well spent.  

The gift of learning

You know your children better than anyone. And every one of them is unique, with his/her own set of interests, so give a gift that helps a child develop existing or new skills. 

Sign them up for classes that help them take their passion or hobby to the next level.  

Consider coding camp for your computer whiz or cooking classes for your foodie. You can find classes offered by educational institutions, community organizations, companies or individuals. 

You could also take a look at online classes like these from MasterClass, which can help your child hone a craft with a celebrity idol without leaving home. 

The post 5 Alternative Gift Ideas that Don’t Come from a Toy Store appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

7 Holiday Debt Traps that Can Sabotage Your Finances

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For some consumers, the cheer of the holiday season soon will be replaced with dread over debt.  

Holiday shoppers in 2016 took on an average of $1,003 worth of debt, up from $986 in 2015, and 11 percent said they would only be making the minimum payments, which can extend the payoff date by years.  

“Consumer debt is at the highest of all time,” says Howard Dvorkin, CPA and chairman of Debt.com.

Total household debt rose to a record $12.96 trillion for the third quarter of this year, according to data released in November by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Credit card debt, for example, rose by 3.1 percent, to $808 billion. 

Dvorkin expects that this holiday season will be expensive as consumers make more online purchases with credit cards and because of overall optimism about the economy. 

Retail holiday sales were expected to grow to $1.04 trillion-$1.05 trillion in 2017, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail forecast. Deloitte also projects that e-commerce sales during the holiday season will grow to $111 billion-$114 billion, an 18-21 percent increase from the 2016 holiday season, and 55 percent of survey respondents planned to shop online for gifts. 

“When people feel really good about things, they tend to spend more,” Dvorkin says.   

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says people have a tendency to overspend during the holidays, relying heavily on credit cards and not paying off the debt until later, sometimes even years later.   

McClary has also noticed that credit card delinquencies have been increasing slightly over the last two quarters. The Federal Reserve Bank notes in its report that “credit card balances increased and flows into delinquency have increased over the past year.”
 

While most Americans are aware and ready to spend a little extra during the holiday season, you can make it a little more merry by avoiding these common debt traps.  

Keeping up with the Joneses

Holiday purchasing pressure ranges from buying the hottest toys to giving (or buying for yourself) the latest tech gadget or the biggest TV on the block. People are tempted to get the latest and greatest, Dvorkin says. 

The average consumer spent roughly $967 on holiday shopping in 2016, up 3.4 percent from 2015, according to the National Retail Federation. Deloitte forecasts that the average consumer in 2017 will spend an average of $1,226, or nearly $2,226 among households earning $100,000 or more.

It all adds up, especially if you’re out to outdo a neighbor: The tree and all the trimmings; hostess gifts for parties; food for your own holiday meals and entertaining; your Clark Griswold-style light shows. Randy Williams, president of A Debt Coach, a counseling service in Kentucky, says the desire for personal reward can contribute to holiday debt. 

“You feel good when you do something for somebody,” he says. 

But then consumers may have the motto “One for you, one for me,” and purchase an item for themselves, which continues the spending cycle. 

Hot holiday toy crazes

Unfurling your child’s Christmas wish list can be at once fun and terrifying. Parents planned to spend, on average, $495 per child, according to 2016 holiday shopping data from the Rubicon Project. 

Lists could include hot holiday toys for 2017 like the $30-$45 Fingerlings (the little plastic monkeys that attach to fingers and move in response to sounds and touch) a $300 Nintendo Switch gaming console or even the $799 Lego Ultimate Collectors Series Millennium Falcon, the company’s biggest set with 7,541 pieces. 

When the toys start to run out, the prices can escalate. The Fingerlings, for example, typically retail at $14.99, but some were listed in November for twice as much on eBay. Since it can be harder for parents to say “no” to the frenzy when it’s a gift that’s going to bring a smile to a little one’s face, Williams says there’s extra incentive to plan well. 

Store credit card pitches

McClary warns not to get into store credit card offers. The instant savings of 10 percent off on the day of your purchase could come with a high cost, such as 29.99 percent APR later. 

“People should resist the temptation,” he says.  

Williams says there’s a reason for the incentives, such as a discount on your purchase, because the company will make back whatever you initially saved. 

“Most people do not pay off their cards within the intro offer time,” he says. 

Instead, set aside cash for holiday spending and use it, instead of credit. If you’re sure you can “affordably borrow,” Williams suggests using an existing line of credit instead of falling for the attractive offers from retailers.  

“Special” offers

Deals seem to abound when shopping online or in stores, but if you aren’t careful, some can land you in more trouble than no deal at all. 

McClary advises to avoid promotions like deferred interest cards and convenience checks. Discounts during the holidays are usually found during other times of the year, too, when the budget is less tight.  

“It’s to the advantage of the consumer to be looking at sales during the year and look for opportunities to get the most out of their money,” he says. 

Trying to keep family traditions alive

Wanting to continue your grandparents’ or parents’ traditions may be sentimental but also pricey in today’s economy. Maybe they held extravagant dinner parties, paid for holiday trips and gave their children  a certain number of gifts every year. You want to follow suit, but can’t afford it. 

“(I’m a) firm believer that what gets us in trouble in the holidays is wanting to do what Mom and Dad did,” Williams says. “Things are more expensive now.” 

Shopping with family members post-Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, although a tradition, also may be a temptation because of impulse buys or if family members don’t hold you accountable to sticking to a budget. 

“It’s tradition but it’s also a day people can’t afford,” Williams says.  

Hosting hordes of holiday visitors

While milk and cookies are left out for Santa, entertaining guests, from neighbors and co-workers to out-of-town family and friends, can increase your food and utilities spending in December. 

According to a holiday retail survey by Deloitte, 24 percent of people plan to attend and/or host more parties and events during the holidays.  

“You spend money in all sorts of ways,” Dvorkin says. 

Indulgent spending

“Where the problem is, we don’t plan for Christmas, we just do Christmas,” says Williams. He says that means sometimes consumers plan, mentally, to go into debt.  

He advises to plan ahead for the next season, adding that he knows people who start checking items off their list in February during sales, or in June or July when fewer people are buying and prices are lower.  

The NRF predicts holiday sales, including gifts and food and beverage items, to reach nearly $682 billion, up from $655.8 billion in 2016. Without careful spending, a large amount of that could be a debt burden on consumers until the next season comes around.

“You don’t want this to be a compounding problem that continues to grow each year,” McClary says. 

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5 Places to Shop for Novelty Gifts You’ll Feel Good About Buying

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For lots of people, holiday shopping consists of frantically running through the crowded aisles at Target, Walmart, T.J.Maxx, Macy’s and Best Buy — or typing things like “gifts for Mom” into the Amazon search field. And while they spend a good deal of time and effort shopping (and stressing), the outcome is all too often a load of generic products from big-box stores and a generous helping of conspicuous consumers’ guilt.

Sound familiar?

If you’re looking to break that pattern, there are lots of places where you can find holiday gifts that will stand out among all the other “stuff.” Here, we rounded up some noteworthy retailers and brand websites you could explore for interesting, unusual gifts, based on the personality of the person you’re shopping for.

A plus: You can feel good about spending money in these places because someone else will benefit from your dime.

For the sassy and quirky

A screenshot of the BlueQ website.

BlueQ is the place to buy a gift for someone with a good sense of humor. The Pittsfield, Mass.-based novelty gift manufacturer was founded in 1988, and its self-described mission is simple: “We just want you to be happy.”

From colorful stocks to quirky reusable handbags, and tin boxes to oven mitts, almost every item sold at BlueQ features a sassy phrase combined with edgy, vintage imagery. Want a taste?

I’m not bossy; I’m the boss” on an oven mitt.

House rule: Be nice, or leave” on a magnet.

Busy making a f–king difference” on a sock.

Nutcase” on a pocket box.

Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn, then always be a unicorn” on a pack of gums.

Why we like it

Fun stuff doesn’t need to be costly. The price range for the goods is from $1.80 to $15.

The joy-bringing gift shop donates 1 percent of the sales of its socks to Doctors Without Borders and 1 percent of oven mitt and dish towel sales to hunger relief programs throughout the world. Another 1 percent, this from profit selling recycled purses and bags — made from 95 percent post-consumer goods — goes to support international environmental initiatives. BlueQ also employs people with disabilities to assemble its products.

Where to shop

You can order from BlueQ’s website, and many bookstores and gift shops carry BlueQ’s items. Find a store near you here.

For the creative and ethically conscious

A screenshot of the Uncommongoods website.

Uncommongoods is a marketplace for artists and crafters from across the world to sell independently designed, often fair-traded and hand-crafted products. To name a few:

Handwoven baskets from Rwanda

Cardboard iPad TV stands

Glass Zipper Bags

Why we like it

The company values sustainability as a business and a product distributor. Many the items sold on its website are made of recycled materials. Customers can choose a nonprofit organization that partners with Uncommongoods to give $1 with every order.

A team of buyers not only evaluates goods based on materials and function, but also cares where each design comes from, how it’s made and who made it, according to the shop’s website.

During the peak winter months, when Uncommongoods hires hundreds of seasonal workers, the company says it pays its lowest paid hourly worker 100 percent more than minimum wage.

To make your shopping experience easier, Uncommongoods has a search engine for gift suggestions for your loved ones, letting you filter different personalities and hobbies.

Where to shop

Uncommongoods is an online-only marketplace: https://www.uncommongoods.com/

For the indie foodie

A screenshot of the Mouth website.

Mouth is a paradise for your foodie friends and family. The company prides itself on producing interesting, indie, small-batch foods. You can buy your friends specialty eats from 40 states, and learn about the people who made the food you purchase here.

Why we like it

You won’t find convenience-store staples like Doritos or Hershey’s on Mouth. Most of the foods that Mouth sources are either handmade at local stores or workshops across the country, or come from brands started as homemade concoctions, according to its website. You would be supporting small, local businesses by purchasing treats that match your friends’ tastes. For ingredients that cannot be sourced domestically, such as coffee and chocolate, the company makes sure they are fair-traded and organic.

While Mouth is dedicated to selling treats that are made in an environmentally friendly, relatively healthier way, it by no means claims that everything on its website is good for you. But Mouth promises that its foods are not full of chemicals, preservatives or unhealthy fats.

Where to shop

You can browse snacks online at https://www.mouth.com/.

For the literary and intellectual

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Independent stores tend to have a rich history and offer diverse specialty books depending on the theme of the store and its location. Chicago’s Women and Children First, for instance, opened in a modest storefront in 1979 and is one of the country’s biggest feminist bookstores — it would be a great place to shop for someone passionate about supporting women. Sales from Indy Reads Books in Indianapolis support a nonprofit dedicated to improving adult literacy, and a book from there could be a meaningful gift for a philanthropic friend.

Why we like them

Apart from offering personalized services, specialized book selections and a platform for literary gatherings, many local bookshops are increasingly carrying gift items — pins, mugs, T-shirts, cards — consistent with the history or theme of the store.

If you have bookworms on your shopping list, pick a book from their favorite author or a souvenir from the shop they loyally frequent. This is a great way to support small businesses.

Where to find independent bookstores

You can use this guide to find a local independent bookstore near you.

For the artsy and modern

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Museum gift shops are stocked with fine-art-inspired collectibles — not just totes or posters. Gift shop items often embody the very best design principles in a form of functionality or art.

Depending on where you are and what types of art you like, you can find prints, office stationery, books, dining sets, home furniture, apparel and more from the country’s art museums or through their websites

Why we like them

The gift shop is usually a critical revenue generator for a nonprofit museum, according to the State Department Bureau of International Information Programs. So when you buy a Monet umbrella or an American Gothic magnet while visiting a museum, you’re showing your support. If you are a member of a particular museum, you can often get a discount. And the purchase is likely to be appreciated by your art-loving friends.

Where to shop

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Met Store has some of the best art book selections. It is now offering a 25 percent discount on select holiday ornaments, Christmas cards and calendars.

The Art Institute of Chicago: The Art Institute is America’s second-largest art museum after the Met in New York. It is best known for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art collections. The collectibles at the gift shop well represent the museum’s masterpieces.

Museum of Modern Art: The MoMA in New York has an outstanding history with design. In 1932, the museum established the world’s first curatorial department devoted to architecture and design. The MoMA Design Store features a vast range of modern and innovative design objects. It is currently offering 20 percent off on 100 gift items.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: The SFMOMA gift store offers an impressive selection of modern and contemporary art books. Apart from that, you can order gallery-quality reproductions of artworks that are often exclusive to the museum, through its website.

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5 Ways to Give Back this Holiday Season

Father and daughter donating toys at Christmas charity drive

Why is it ‘better to give than to receive?’ Simply put, because it’s good for you. Studies have shown over and over that gift giving can have major psychological and sociological benefits.

An act of altruism, or acting in someone else’s interest, actually releases endorphins in your brain and helps prolong your life.

Another benefit of giving — for those of us trying to avoid racking up credit card debt this holiday season — is that it doesn’t have to cost a thing. This holiday season, you can give your time, resources, or talents to benefit others. 

We’ve put together 5 easy, convenient, and wallet-friendly ways to give the gift of service this holiday season.

Get the Whole Family Involved

The best part about giving is that it’s easy to get the whole family involved.

Start a giving game with your family members. For example, for each gift a child receives, the family must agree to donate a gift or toy to a special cause.

Another option: have every member write a note saying what they are grateful for about each family member. Then, get together and have each person read the notes about themselves. Add a discussion afterward to drive the lesson home.

Crowd gifting platform, iSow, is one way to teach your kids about finance and philanthropy this season. You can create accounts for your kid and teach them to set savings goals. When the holidays come around, family and friends can ‘gift’ money to these accounts and help your kid reach their goal.

iSow has partnered with KidsShoes.com this season for a #KidsHelpingKids Campaign. To participate, all your child would have to do is assign one of their goals to a kids-related cause. For each kid that signs up, KidsShoes.com gives the first donation up to $10,000.

Cook or Deliver a Meal

Enjoy your holiday feast with the knowledge that you’ve done something to help others go to sleep with a full stomach, too.

Consider donating your culinary talents or time to an organization that delivers or serves meals during the holidays. Call your local Salvation Army, Meals on Wheels, veterans or hospice organizations to sign up to help deliver meals or ask if they need help with other services.

Make sure to call at least a few weeks in advance as you might need to receive special training and these organizations may have a spike in volunteer requests during the holidays.

Make Holiday Cards for Those Away From Home

If you are lucky to spend the holiday with your family, consider sending a card, letter, or gift to those who aren’t as fortunate. Every year, thousands of well-wishers send holiday greetings to deployed military personnel, hospitalized patients, and those who work to keep our communities running while we celebrate, such as firemen and the police.

To write to military personnel, try contacting a letter-writing organization like Operation Gratitude, Soldier’s Angels, or Operation We Are Here to get the information you’d need.

Call your local hospital and ask to ask for permission to make get well cards, or send gifts for patients who are hospitalized over the holiday season. Get an idea of how many cards or gifts you’d need to make or collect to make sure everyone gets one. Round up some friends and family to help you get everything together.

Donate Money or Items to a Drive

Another easy and fun way to get friends and family in the giving spirit is to join or set up a donation drive that could benefit your community. The options are endless. A few ideas:

Arrange to collect canned food for an organization supporting the homeless or a local food pantry.

Have a yard sale to raise funds for a non-profit organization you care about.

Host a party where guests can bring a toy drive to donate to an organization that gives them to chronically ill children such as Andrew’s Toy Box. 

Set a goal on crowdfunding sites such as Crowdrise, Razoo, Causes, or Indiegogo and raise money from friends and family to donate to a charity or cause you are passionate about.

Collect new or lightly used children’s’ books from your coworkers to donate to a local elementary school’s library (they can be added to the library or sold for money to benefit the library).

Always make sure to call ahead and ask (1) if the organization, school, etc. accepts donations, and (2) what kinds of items the organization needs most. Calling beforehand helps ensure your donation will be helpful to them.

You can also participate in national gift drives such as Toys for Tots, the Children’s Hospital Foundation, or Christmas Toy Drive. These organizations have deadlines and rules to donate so be sure to visit their websites or contact them for that information. 

Give Songs & Smiles

Bring back to life an old-school tradition and go caroling. Practice a few songs with family or friends and share your talents with those in a local homeless shelter or elderly home. Again, call them first to make sure it’s okay. You could also consider making a few baked goods and stop by a police station or firehouse, or hospital to give them to holiday workers to enjoy as you sing.

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