No, this is not another article urging you to set up and stick to a budget this holiday season. Instead, it offers some gift ideas for those who are still holiday shopping, followed by an analogy between gift giving and personal financial planning.
1. Q&A A Day: 5-Year Journal: This pleasing-to-hold small book offers a surprising twist on regular journals. There is one page for each of the 365 days of the year. Each page has one question and a few lines to record your answer for each of five years. Questions range from "What is your mission?" to "What's the craziest thing you've done for love?" to "What was the last fruit you ate?”, plus "When was the last time you spoke with your parents?", "What motivated you today?", "Bad news. Sugar-coated or straight-up?" and "What was the last goofy thing you did?" It's quirky and thought-provoking, and in my experience always brings a smile and a contemplative look when a person first picks it up.
2. SodaStream Drink Maker: This is the next-up kitchen gadget for health/diet advocates and environmentalists – not to mention those who are just plain tired of hauling soda cans first home from the store and then into the recycling bin. It uses environmentally-friendly, refillable and exchangeable CO2 cartridges to allow you to make your own carbonated beverages at home, with the flavoring of your choice ranging from a light fruit overlay (think Le Croix) to root beer to diet cola and beyond, all with the sugar content under your control. There is an environmental as well as personal benefit of trimming the use of soda cans. For example, currently the transportation of carbonated drinks in the world reportedly utilizes 100 million barrels of oil every year. But mainly this gadget is just plain cool and fun to use, whether you are a young professional hosting dinner parties or a grandparent hanging out with your elementary school aged grandchildren.
3. New York Times 36 Hours: 150 Weekends in the USA & Canada: There's now no excuse for declining a weekend getaway opportunity because you don't have time to do the proper research to make it worthwhile. This appealing travel guide details the best way to spend 36 hours in each of 150 different cities, as originally reported in a series of travel articles in the New York Times, each now updated and consolidated into one volume. Just arrange transportation, check the book’s suggestions for housing options, and then follow the guide for an intriguing mix of sightseeing, eating, and nature appreciation. I can imagine this book as a gift for someone with whom you want to travel – and also perhaps for an older person who is no longer interested in traveling but is eager to stay abreast of what's new and exciting. Just flipping through the colorful pages gives one a sense of how big and interesting North America is. (There is also a volume for travel abroad.)
4. Money Habitudes: This is a potential stocking-stuffer or Secret Santa gift. It is a deck of cards designed to make talking about and thinking about money issues fun, easy, and effective for individuals and couples. The cards, widely used in financial adviser offices, facilitate an easy and safe way to draw out personal habits and attitudes about money that impact daily life and personal finance decision-making. Playing Money Habitudes is a great conversation-starter, opening up discussion about why and how we each save, spend, earn, invest, go into debt, and give away money.
5. More than Human, a book by Lewis Blackwell: I am not usually a fan of coffee table books but this one is extraordinary and highly recommended. There are 142 sensationally beautiful and very unusual photographs of all different kinds of animals from all over the globe. The range is from jelly fish to gorillas plus bats, chicken, beetles, and show dogs, many in natural poses but others altered from “photography as documentary” to “photography as art”. The written commentary is scant and eclectic, mainly pointing out that animals can look anthropomorphic but appearances can be deceiving, and that the animal kingdom is glorious in its variety, its intelligent design, and interrelatedness. I can see this book enjoyed inter-generationally and also in solo reflection. It invites wonder and engagement and an increased sense of how very much is at work on earth.
6. A High Tech Pedometer: Walking has terrific mental and physical health benefits – and it's fun. Pedometers measure how far you walk each day. Medical studies report that people walk farther when they have a goal, hence the popularity of the specific goal of walking "10,000 steps a day". Physicians advise working up to this goal by steadily increasing how far you walk by 500 steps per day. How can this be a fun gift? Well, the new pedometers are going high tech and so might be appealing to the tech lovers on your gift list. I can also imagine that a parent at home with kids or an older person with a new interest in fitness and independence might enjoy the sense of control and personal achievement that a pedometer can provide, especially if there is a tech savvy 12-year old in their inner circle who would enjoy getting their pedometer settings set up and organized.
What do these gift ideas have to do with personal finance? I find that the same kind of thinking that goes into thinking up gift ideas goes into developing financial recommendations.
The focus is first of all personal, and in particular rests on a curious and non-judgmental understanding of the recipient's current circumstances, hopes and dreams, and possibilities. In the perfect world, the gift – or advice – is also timely, pertinent but perhaps unexpected, horizon-expanding, and affirming. It involves small steps not transformative action for the recipient, and often incorporates an invitation to take a risk and explore, to pursue a dream or to get control in some new way. And it suits so well, and is so clearly doable, that it brings a smile.
With best wishes to you this holiday season, both in the giving of gifts and in thinking about your personal finances.