What if instead, you could inspire your friends and family to do something more meaningful for your youngsters' celebrations: to pitch in and grow their nest eggs, help them improve the world and spur them to explore the cooler sides of money.
10 Gifts to Inspire Financial Savvy — Without Sacrificing Fun
Inspiring kids to sharpen their financial smarts—from playing (or becoming) an entrepreneur to supporting a good cause—doesn’t have to feel like work. These gifts for kids of all ages will captivate their imagination and creativity even as they’re learning the skills that can help them build a secure future.
1. Emperor Penguin adoption kit ($50-$250; worldwildlife.org) (all ages)
Happy Feet fans will flip for these adorable stuffed penguins from the World Wildlife Fund. But adopting this Emperor Penguin gives your aspiring conservationist more than just a stuffed animal to cuddle. The adoption kits, which are available as baby chicks, adults, or a “family” with a chick and parent Emperor Penguin, also include a photo, adoption certificate, and information about the species—and why it’s at risk. Plus, 82% of the cost goes to the WWF’s work in the field helping to protect real penguins in the wild and preserve their habitats, which are threatened by climate change.
2. CardLab Customized Visa Gift Card (any amount + $5.95; giftcardlab.com) (age: 5+)
Well-intentioned as they may be, about 5% to 7% of gift cards go unused every year, adding up to a whopping $30 billion in wasted cold hard cash, according to research by Plastic Jungle. So instead of guessing where your favorite kid would like to spend some dough, design your own good-as-cash Visa card from giftcardlab.com. Not only can you choose the amount for this card, you can emblazon it with a photo of your choice. Even after the money has been spent, the card will make a fun play credit card.
3. Cash Bash Electronic Money Game ($44.99; toysrus.com) (age: 5-8)
Recognizing the values of different coins and adding them up becomes a thrill when the clock is ticking and the race is on. Two keypads let kids play head-to-head or in solo mode, and different gaming options allow higher difficulty for older kids, throwing curveballs like a limit to the number of moves you can make.
4. Money Bags Board Game ($18.99; amazon.com) (age: 7-9)
Think Candy Land cash-style: The winding path on this board game leads to money making opportunities like starting a lemonade stand (15 cents) or babysitting (50 cents). As a twist, before you can go to the bank, a spinner determines how you can collect your money (for example, you can’t use nickels this round so you have to figure out how to make change with other coins).
5. Stone Soup magazine ($37/year; stonesoup.com) (age: 8-13)
For the up-and-coming writer, artist, or literary critic on your list, this magazine is written by and for kids (with grown-up editing). Not only does that make for inspiring reading, but kids can also send in stories, poems, and illustrations. If they’re picked for publication, contributors get a certificate plus $40 for stories, poems, and book reviews; and $25 for illustrations. Not a bad payout for a pre-teen.
6. Craft Sale ($17.95; americangirl.com) (age: 8+)
For the entrepreneurial girl who’d rather do than shop, this book assembles the best craft projects from American Girl magazine with all she needs to get her own boutique up and running. The book comes with all the essentials for turning a profit from a budding business: bookkeeping materials, business cards, price tags and more. Just add creativity. Ready to take it to the next level? Pair Craft Sale with Smart Girls Guide to Money where she’ll get even more strategies for building a successful business.
7. Nintendo Fortune Street ($49.99; fortunestreet.nintendo.com) (age: 8+)
Move over Monopoly. In this updated twist on the old classic where you build wealth by buying up Park Avenue (no affiliation to the timeless Hasbro game), players move around 15 different “boards” strategizing to add new shops to build their real estate portfolios and earn gold to invest in virtual stock market portfolios. Kids can play with traditional Mario characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, or Dragon Quest characters, or make their own Mii players. But be careful: Go too crazy buying real estate and they might get forced to pawn the throne.
8. American Girl Kit Kittredge ($39.95 for a boxed set of all six books, or $6.95 each; americangirl.com) (age: 8+)
This historical fiction series tells the story of Kit, growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio during the Great Depression, who watches as her father loses his business and her family goes from being well-to-do to struggling to get by, almost losing their home at Christmastime. Through the books, Kit learns the value of getting by on what you have, helps her mother run a boarding house to make ends meet, and contemplates social issues like charity and welfare.
9. FIFA Soccer 12 and Madden NFL 12 ($59.95; amazon.com) (age: 12+)
Last year’s lockouts and union disputes in the NFL and NBA serve as a good reminder that sports are big business. For the athletes and sports fans on your gift list, the latest offerings from EA Sports shows kids that the action isn’t all on the field. From the manager’s box, players work with a budget as they buy and sell players, hire coaching staff and scout new players. The more they win, the more money there is to spend on developing players and improve the stadium.
10. OneShare My First Stock Certificate (stock prices vary; optional framing $34+; oneshare.com/MyFirstStock.aspx) (all ages)
Pair a Build-A-Bear teddy with a colorful stock certificate in the company for a gift that keeps on giving. OneShare offers single shares in a full range of kid-friendly companies including Mattel, Hasbro, and Disney. For a fee, you can frame and engrave the stock certificate. OneShare also throws in a start-up kit and illustrated kids’ e-book that introduces them to stock ownership at no extra cost.