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Meaningful Gifts
Another iTunes card... Zhu Zhu pet... Hello Kitty necklace. Another gift destined to pile on top of other gifts?

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.
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Meaningful Gifts: A Trend That’s Here To Stay
Posted on January 20, 2012 by Natalie Gingerich Mackenzie

These days, more people are giving and steering their friends and family to give meaningful gifts. This can involve family members chipping in to purchase a big-ticket item, such as a laptop computer, that someone really wants or needs. Or it could be a donation to a charity that someone cares deeply about. With increasing frequency, engaged couples request that wedding guests donate to a chosen charity instead of giving them a cappuccino maker or other typical wedding gift.

One reason that meaningful gifting is taking off is people are tired of receiving frivolous gifts. Parents especially are becoming more weary of the excess toys and other useless gifts that their kids receive for birthdays and other celebrations. They pile up fast and eventually get tossed or given away. Donating to charity or chipping in for a big-ticket item that someone really wants is not only smart, it makes sense.

This type of gifting also is rising in popularity because it’s now easier than ever to give meaningful gifts thanks to online gift registries and many compelling, new gifting sites. Holiday gift guides from the New York Times and Real Simple featured many ways to give charitable gifts. One is globalgiving.org, where you can choose exactly what you want your money to do, such as buy a soccer ball or sponsor a soccer tournament in Kenya. You can also give gift certificates that allow the recipient to choose his or her own cause to support. The various charity and recently-launched social gifting sites (such as the Facebook app Givvy http://apps.facebook.com/givvyapp/) can be used for birthdays, milestones or any other kind of celebration — not just the holidays.

Meaningful gifts are more acceptable

Today, many of us are more focused on social responsibility, particularly caring about the environment and social injustice in various parts of the world. In this spirit, giving a meaningful or charitable gift has become more acceptable. In a survey on parentdish.com, 76% of parents said they thought charitable gifts were a great idea.

Fortunately, many grandparents don’t have to be convinced to give meaningful gifts. A whopping 63% of grandparents have given financial gifts in the last five years, while one in four have stepped up their giving as a result of the struggling economy, according to a MetLife study. And we’re not talking a $20 bill in a birthday card — the grand-givers averaged over $8,000, while a typical gift was around $3,000. A little help along the way is more important than a big inheritance down the road, said 78% of those surveyed. That’s based on a lifetime of experience netting two well-worn pieces of advice: start saving early, and don’t get into too much debt.

You might find that some people don’t want to be told what to give as a gift. If other parents resist getting on board with your meaningful gift idea, you can try to explain your desire to lessen the amount of useless toys that litter your home. According to experts, too many toys can lead to over stimulation, less interaction with the toys, and even a confused sense of self-worth. In fact, the stimulation of receiving gift after gift can cause chemical changes in the mind spurring the need for more and more stimulation — an addictive pattern that can contribute to ADD. The answer isn’t to eliminate gifts of toys, but rather to offer them more sparingly — like candy and sweets.

Make meaningful gifts fun and beneficial

Instead of the typical birthday party at a bowling alley or bounce house, some parents are hosting charity parties. It might take some coaxing (depending on the age of the child), but with a little creativity, parents can explain how the child’s charitable gift can change lives. Let the child pick the charity they want to help.

The key is to make it fun, without robbing them of that ripping-off-the-wrapping-paper excitement. When Ballooning Nest Eggs contributor Dorothy Frank recruited her 8-year-old twins to host a charitable birthday party, they happily obliged when promised they’d be giving up the piles of presents but would still get a few list-toppers (bikes, a Lego set, and a trip to a Yankees game) from Mom, Dad and their grandparents.

Gifts that invest in a child’s financial future — from contributions to a 529 plan to stocks that can grow with them toward big picture goals like travel, home-ownership, or launching a business someday — don’t have to be boring. Tell your own stories about how you reached one of your dream goals, like how you saved money for more than 10 years, using gifts of cash from relatives for birthdays, confirmation, and graduation to travel around Europe for a month after graduating college — and how much you treasure that experience. For older kids, help them choose a stock to buy that they can relate to—like Apple or Disney—and then follow news about the company and watch how it affects their investment. This can become a contest or game between siblings or friends.

It’s easy to be a smart giver. Before you buy yet another Barbie doll for a little girl or a fuzzy blanket for your friend’s baby shower, think about making the gift more meaningful by giving money, donating to a worthy charity, or chipping in to buy something the person really wants or needs to improve their life. That way, both you and recipient will be happy.