How to Give More than Stuff for the Holidays

Gift-giving and financial planning

Think about the best holiday gift you ever received. For some of us, that memory is pretty murky, but chances are you’ll come up with a toy you played with until it fell apart, or the bike you rode until the wheels fell off. Think about the “frame” that memory is in: was the gift exactly what you told your parents you wanted? Was it a grandpa’s rifle, a bike just after you learned to ride, the set of keys to your first car?

Usually, if you look at the surrounding memories associated with that gift, you’ll find it’s embedded in a story, and that story becomes part of your family history and value system – part of who you are. It’s not about the gifts in the end – those physical objects which have most likely been lost or donated since. It’s about memories of family connection and relationships.

Any financial planning discussion, at any depth, will get into your values system – what’s most important to you and how will finances support that story? Sometimes called “true wealth,” this concept refers to the purpose and shape of your financial life beyond simply making and keeping money. If you look back over the years, you’ll hopefully see accumulation, but you’ll also see yourself saving for a grandchild’s education or investing in a dream business – values that drive your financial life.

Gifts often become “junk” faster than you can earn back what you spent on them. This year, let’s look at a few ways you could give that express your values and deepen those relationships that are most important to you.

Give Them an Experience

The current economic trend is toward a “story” and away from the brightly wrapped stuff – the new “hot toy” for the holidays is experience. In recent years, the experience economy has grown four times as fast as the goods economy. With 72% of millennials saying they would rather part with cash for experiences over that new car or killer watch, entrepreneurs are cashing in, meaning you have plenty of options for nontraditional gift-giving this year.

Experience outfitters like Eventbrite are helping throw local events like pop-up diners and calligraphy classes. Blueboard sells “experience packages” involving everything from farm-to-table cooking classes to private parkour instruction. There are even off-beat ideas like  DayBreaker  – an early morning rave to start your workday with dancing and energy drinks.

Your millennial and Gen Z kids and grandkids can capture the experience and generate FOMO (“fear of missing out”), which is the megaphone of the experience economy. The pictures and videos they take on their phones of mountain views, exotic dishes and smiling faces will give them greater joy over a longer time and can be re-shared (and in a way re-experienced) with their social media community.

Experience Giving Together

Another strong impulse during the holidays is to give back, whether at the level of large charitable donations or just the bellringer out in front of the grocery store. Charitable giving as a family is another way to align your gift-giving and your values and model positive values for younger generations.

Donor-advised funds are a powerful tax-advantaged tool for giving. You can create the fund, get the tax deduction and then choose where to make the donation as a family. Imaginative ideas like giving a goat to a family through WorldVision or sending soldiers a care package through Support Our Troops can help create lasting memories as well.

Boots-on-the-ground service projects with your family can also be meaningful and memorable. Especially if you have an on-going charitable relationship with an organization, see how you could serve a meal or stock a food pantry together. Especially for young kids, the direct experience of giving to others brings new dimension to the holiday.

Give Them Money (Not What You Think)

We may not immediately categorize money and emotion together, but the connection is undeniable and can be embraced to positive ends. Many of us have memories of that first twenty-dollar bill (more or less) that our grandparents gave us to start up our first savings account. A financial gift can be a meaningful part of your family story.

There are more straightforward gifts, such as a 529 Plan to help your kids or grandkids prepare for college, or you could give them seed-money for their first checking account. Values of responsibility, the importance of education and preparing for the future are all present here.

More complex financial gifts are also an option, especially in the digital age. The investing app Acorn makes investing a simple, everyday experience by letting you put extra change in an investing account. Gift cards are available for $25 to start your young investor on their journey. Stockpile offers similar gift cards to start an ETF, even available to young investors if their parent starts a custodial account.

Dig Deeper than Your Wallet

Gifts like these – that reach beyond just the latest gadgets and trinkets – are about connection over consumerism. Your values run deeper than the latest new thing, and the emotional returns on stuff are notoriously diminishing.

Just think of the time you’ve already spent and will spend around the turkey table this year. Will you be talking about the year you got a jacket that went out of style in a month, or the time you all piled in the car and drove out to see the Northern Lights? Gifts that come from deeper than your wallet have longer impact and add to your family’s story.

A conversation with an advisor, whether during the holidays or any other time, can help you create a financial plan that reflects who you are – your values, your journey. We know that your financial life is about more than just balance sheets and ledgers. Get in touch with us today.

Set up an appointment

Get in Touch

In just minutes we can get to know your situation, then connect you with an advisor committed to helping you pursue true wealth.

Contact Us

Stay Connected

Business professional using his tablet to check his financial numbers

401(k) Calculator

Determine how your retirement account compares to what you may need in retirement.

Get Started