Tips and gift ideas for the holiday shopping season
Shop wisely and give smartly. If you follow those two tips, your holiday season will be enriched, your credit will be enhanced, and the recipients of your generosity will be enlightened.
First, though, a word of warning about the temptation to overspend. It's as great a danger to your fiscal health as overindulging in food and drink is to your physical health. But for overspenders, the hangover comes in mid-January when the credit card bills arrive.
So be like Santa Claus: Make a list and check it twice. Be sure your list includes dollar amounts denoting how much you'll spend for everyone on the list. Then stick to your limits -- and don't add names while you're out shopping, just because you see the "perfect" gift for someone.
The best discipline for Christmas shopping is to use your debit card, instead of your credit cards. Then if you don't have money in your account, the "charge" won't be accepted. That's a real discipline.
And now for some financial gift ideas -- gifts that keep on giving:
* Investment knowledge. Whether you're nine or 19 -- or any other age --ShareBuilder.com has the perfect holiday gift. It's the ShareBuilder Investor Starter Kit and it costs only $19.95. You get a neat package to place under the tree -- or as they put it, "the first- ever brokerage in a box." Inside you'll get a copy of the Wall Street Journal Guide to Understanding Personal Finance and a one- year subscription to Smart Money magazine. But the key ingredient is simple instructions to open a ShareBuilder investment account, plus a $25 gift certificate that can be deposited into the account to get you started.
ShareBuilder is the very successful online brokerage firm that allows individuals to make one-time or regular purchases of stock at a cost of only $4 per transaction -- and no minimum investment amount. So if you have a child or grandchild, this is the perfect introduction to the stock market. You can buy a few shares of stock in companies they recognize. And you can add to their investment "portfolio" at any time or on a regular monthly basis.
Order at www.ShareBuilder.com or call (866) 747-2537. Overnight shipping is available. Then Christmas day just head over to the computer and take the virtual tour that explains how the whole process works. Clearly this is a holiday gift that will keep growing over the years ahead.
* Financial organization. This is the easiest gift to give -- and one that will be treasured every day of the coming year. Just go out and buy a copy of Quicken Deluxe 2004 at your favorite electronics or computer store. This one small disc holds the key to an organized future. If your computer is connected to the Internet, this program will automatically contact your bank and establish online bill payment through its new "express setup" feature.
Yes, you can pay your bills online directly at your bank's Web site. Clicking your mouse to download your transactions into Quicken gives you an incredible power to organize your entire financial picture and sort your spending by category. And it avoids all those arguments about where all the money went!
At any moment you can be completely on top of your entire financial picture -- and make plans for a successful financial future. Quicken Deluxe 2004 is well worth the $49.95 it should cost you at most stores.
* Financial discipline. The time to learn financial discipline is when you're just starting out. And the VisaBUXX card is the perfect "starter credit card" for your young teenager. Actually, it's a debit card that works exactly like a credit card -- but with some great parental limitations.
The teen can charge at any place a Visa is accepted. He or she can even withdraw cash from an ATM. But there's a limit -- and that limit is the amount of cash the parent has deposited into an account. The account is "re-loadable" online directly from the parents' checking account. And even better, both teens and their parents can go online at any time to see where the money has been spent! Parents have control -- and kids learn self-control.
Go to VisaBUXX.com to find the issuing banks and order your card.
So, I repeat. Shop wisely and give smartly. If you're not sure how to make that distinction, here are two handy rules: If you'll be paying for the gift long after the recipient has opened it, you're not shopping wisely.
And if the gift is likely to be broken, outgrown, or ignored before next year's holiday season, you didn't shop smartly. That's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and McDonald's Corp. She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5's 4:30 p.m. newscast, and can be reached through her Web site, www.terrysavage.com