NEW YORK (AP) -- While others are blowing their holiday budgets, you can set an example and send a message by giving a gift with a focus on personal finance.
The economic downturn highlights the importance of understanding money matters, and there are items available for every age group that can help teach important concepts.
The important thing is to make sure gifts are presented in an appropriate manner. Kim E. Jones, a financial planner in Broomfield, Colo., said you should make sure the message you're giving is caring and not judgmental.
But there are plenty of choices that can hit the right note.
Starting kids off right
Even before children can count, they're learning about money. Gifts that help them learn how to handle it can help get them started on a financially healthy path.
One of Jones' favorite items is the Money Savvy Pig, a piggy bank with a twist. The translucent pigs come bright colors and have four slots, each leading to a different section of the pig labeled "Save," "Spend," "Donate" or "Invest." The four sections allow kids to set priorities and think about the different ways they can use their money.
Money Savvy Generation, www.msgen.com, also offers Moolah the money savvy cow and a football bank for sports fans. For $16.99, each comes with stickers to help kids keep track of their goals, as well as tips for each of the money choices.
Parents might also consider a book to read to their young kids. Shelley Solheim, director of Financial Education for Capital One Financial Corp., recommends "Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday," by Judith Viorst. It tells the story of a boy who receives a dollar from his grandparents, the things he dreams of buying, and how the money starts to slip away.
For elementary school children, classic board games like Pay Day, Life and Monopoly can make learning about finances more fun. Some come in junior editions or themed versions related to television programs or movies.
Targeting tweens & teens
It's never too early to start investing. While one share of stock won't fund a college education, it can be helpful to teach a child about the stock market.
You can buy single shares of stock as framed gifts at www.oneshare.com.
The colorful certificates, which will bear the recipient's name, are available for 163 publicly traded companies. Stock in The Walt Disney Co., the site's top seller, bears drawings of iconic characters including Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Winnie the Pooh.
Holiday orders will come in two shipments: You'll receive a startup kit, that includes a booklet explaining stocks and a gift card describing the share purchased; the stock certificate will arrive six to eight weeks later.
OneShare CEO Lance Lee said single shares provide a "great teachable moment" by creating an opportunity to discuss what stock is. Young children will enjoy claiming ownership in companies they know, such as McDonald's, Build-A-Bear Workshop or Mattel. There's also plenty of choices for older kids and adults, from Apple to Yahoo, and Boston Beer Co. to Tiffany & Co.
Buyers will pay a $39 fee, plus the stock price (based on the prior day's closing price). You can also add from a choice of mattes and frames, as well as an engraved panel with a special message for an extra $10 fee.
To help young people get started on saving, another option is a gift card for SmartyPig. The cards can be used to open a SmartyPig.com account or contribute to existing accounts. The idea is to use an account to save for a specific goal. What's different is that the social networking element of the Web site allows users to accept contributions from others. Another plus, account holders can obtain discounts with certain retailers when they've reached a savings goal
If all your teen wants is money, Solheim suggested making up a challenge using any type of gift card. For instance, accompany the card with a pledge to match savings if he or she budgets and spends the money wisely. "Any gift can be turned into a financial lesson with a little creativity," she observed.
Learning at any age
Socially conscious young adults may appreciate a donation made in their name to a favorite cause, or a charitable gift card that lets them pick a charity. Created a few years ago, there are now several charity gift card vendors, including The Network for Good, 'TisBest Philanthropy, Just Give and CharityChoice.
Like other gift cards, charity gift cards come with fees and expiration dates, so make sure you read the fine print. Other charitable options include organizations like Kiva, which arranges small loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries; and Heifer International, which enables donors to buy animals like goats and chickens for families in poor nations.
The Nuru deck of personal finance flash cards can be a great stocking stuffer for someone who isn't likely to read a book on the subject. The 30 cards touch upon investing, budgeting, loans, insurance, retirement and other issues -- all in easy-to-understand language. The decks sell for $9.95 on www.nuruplanet.com and other Web sites.
A bolder gift for a young adult would be a session with a financial planner. Jones noted even one visit can help someone get started planning their financial future.