Gifts for a richer life

Investing in those you love

There are many great gift guides out there that will dazzle you with the latest and greatest technical marvels or this season's must-have toys.

This isn't one of those lists.

Instead, we wanted our gift guide to reflect the mission of Interest.com, which is to find ways to help you build financial security.

With that theme in mind, we set out to find gifts, investments really, that will both delight and enrich — perhaps literally.

Our guide includes items that can help the lucky recipient spend and save wisely now and prepare for the future — whether college, parenthood or retirement is on the horizon.

Grab one of our seven gifts for a richer life, and have confidence you'll be giving your loved one a tool that can help them become a more savvy saver and consumer.

Company stock

Every princess wants to own her own castle. Buy Disney stock, and you can give her a piece of it.

A gift of stock is a great way to introduce someone to the concept of investing.

Hundreds of companies offer direct stock purchase programs, but few of them offer certificates and many have high minimum investments, which is why we like the site OneShare.com.

OneShare offers stock in more than 200 companies and provides you with a framed certificate.

If potential long-term growth is your goal, consider solid companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Exxon Mobil or Coca-Cola. These companies have a global presence, well-established brands and pay solid dividends.

OneShare charges for the stock based on share price at the time of sale, plus a fee for the certificate. There are also options for framing and engraving.

As of Nov. 18, one share of Disney with a matted and engraved certificate cost $119. Dress up the stock purchase with a symbol of what she now owns a small part of by including a movie or action figure in her gift.

Consumer watchdog subscriptions

As somebody once said, no one is rich enough to buy cheap junk. Help the folks on your gift list buy quality goods and services the first time with subscriptions to consumer watchdogs.

On the service side, Angie's List (www.angieslist) lets members search a web database or talk to customer service to hear other member opinions about roofers, plumbers, veterinarians, landscapers, dentists, hospitals and other service providers in their geographic area. The price varies by area, too; expect to pay between $20 and $30 a year, which includes a monthly magazine.

For the lowdown on goods, try an online subscription to Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org), which costs $30 annually, or $20 annually for people who already subscribe to the print magazine.

Consumer Reports is the independent, nonprofit organization that researches, buys and tests all kinds of consumer goods, from appliances to autos, electronics, recreation and home improvement products, food, and goods aimed at the health and family markets.

Either of these gifts can help recipients make their dollars count, all year long.

A piggy bank

The piggy bank is a gift that encourages a lifetime of good savings habits.

Here's a way for parents or grandparents to start teaching important savings strategies, like putting aside a certain percentage of an allowance or cash gift for a rainy day. And marvel as your kids grow excited from putting coins and bills through the slot and watching savings accumulate.

Plus, a full piggy bank leads to the next important step of opening a savings account.

A boon to gift givers: piggy banks now come in plenty of shapes and sizes if, say, a soccer ball is more the speed of your little saver than the traditional pig. There are even ones with digital counters.

And since piggy banks aren’t expensive, you can easily include some cash to get the savings started.

Tread carefully when gifting piggy banks to adults. Unless the intention is to help fund a specific item, like a vacation, it could be interpreted as a veiled insult about how someone handles their money.

A 529 college savings plan

Between 1978 and 2012, college tuition and fees increased by 1,120%, or nearly double the increase in medical expenses, according to Bloomberg. Help rescue future scholars from price inflation by opening a 529 college savings plan for a child in your life.

Nearly every U.S. state offers these plans, which are designed to help families save for higher education. Put up to $300,000 after-tax dollars into investments like mutual funds and pay no federal tax on the money that comes out, as long as the cash pays for the beneficiary's college or graduate school costs.

In between, plan assets are professionally managed. The plan's owner controls the funds, so Junior can't use the money to buy a sports car.

If Junior doesn't go to college or there's money left over, it's easy to name a different beneficiary: another child, a grandchild, or even an adult, whether that person earns a degree or not.

No one wants more education? Take the money out and pay taxes (plus a 10% penalty) on the money the account has earned.

Savings bonds

Savings bonds are a reliable gift that keeps on giving as interest accumulates. You can purchase a savings bond for as little as $25.

The only way you can obtain paper bonds these days is in the form of a tax refund. Since you'll have to plan far ahead for that, the only feasible option is an electronic bond, which you can purchase at TreasuryDirect.gov.

To gift bonds, you'll need to know the recipient's full name and Social Security or taxpayer ID number. To buy for a child younger than age 18, you'll have to do so with a minor linked account with a parent or guardian.

You can buy either Series EE or I Bonds. Both can earn interest for up to 30 years.

Series EE currently pay 0.10% interest through April 2014 while I Bonds pay 1.38%.

Twenty or 30 years from now, when they forgot they even had the bonds, they'll come as a welcome surprise again.

You can print a gift certificate to give to the recipient while they're waiting for the bonds.

A SmartyPig account

Your loved ones may be good at bringing home the bacon, but not at saving up for the things they want. Here's a way to help your parents save for their dream vacation or your brother put money aside for the new Xbox.

Indeed, encouraging someone to establish a SmartyPig account is a great way to get them in the habit of setting financial goals.

Here's how it works. First, purchase a SmartyPig gift card, which the recipient would use to fund a new savings account (www.smartypig.com). Then, he or she will need to establish a savings goal, which can range from $50 to $250,000.

SmartyPig links to an existing checking or savings account, and money will be transferred regularly to the online piggy bank. Funds in the SmartyPig account, managed by the regional bank BBVA Compass, earn 1.00% APY.

It also can be a social event. Friends and family can contribute, and SmartyPig can be linked to a Facebook or Twitter account, announcing savings progress and creating a sense of communal responsibility so they’ll be encouraged to hit their savings goal.

Clothes

Save someone's parents time, money and frustration by giving the gift of clothing to a child. Over the years, you can save a family hundreds of dollars.

But don't buy just any outfit.

First, look for clothing a size or two larger than the child wears today. That way, when little Drew, Ryan or Connor has grown out of all his pants or sweatshirts, mom or dad isn't saying, "He has nothing to wear!"

Yes, he does. Because you've bought them something to have on hand, which is where the saving time, money and frustration comes in.

Second, troll the online children's section of stores like Nordstrom year-round for clearances and deals to buy higher quality stuff  that will last longer — and hopefully long enough that these items can be handed down to a younger sibling or cousin.

This ensures you don't break your gift-buying budget, either.

Plus, if you're buying clothes, their parents can buy them fun stuff for the holidays.