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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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Steering Family and Friends to Give Money as Gifts
Posted on January 19, 2012 by Dorothy Frank

Throughout the year, parents are faced with the challenge of finding the right gifts for kids for various celebrations. While some people might bristle at being told exactly what kids want and what to give as a gift, I love it. I’m a big fan of giving people what they want and need. In fact, my whole family is like that. One year we found a website called Christmaswishlist.net. So instead of all of us emailing lists back and forth and negotiating who’d buy what, we simply checked it off the registry.

Registries make sense to me. It’s disappointing to get all these gifts and still not get what you want or need. If it were up to me, we’d have a registry for all of our celebrations. Just imagine how your baby registry could grow with you and be updated to fit your current life needs. I can envision it going from listing bouncy seats and changing pads, to Lego sets, to a Wii, to a 10-speed bike, to a car, and to a college education. Then it could transform into a wedding registry, and eventually list a down-payment for a house!

For the most part, it’s more practical for us to ask each other what the kids want and buy it
for them. Many years ago, my brother put on My Christmas Wish List, an online registry,  that he wanted money for his daughter’s college education fund. We all laughed. Like I was going to pay for my niece’s education… I mean, who asks for money for college!

What’s so wrong with asking for money? Certainly the enormous expense of college should be reason enough to start breaking down the barriers on asking for money. While my niece might not get excited about getting a donation to her 529 account rather than an American Girl doll, it’s a gift that could really make a big difference in her life. And it is what my brother asked for.

Although the comfort level can vary from family to family and different cultures, it’s become more acceptable to ask for money as a gift. You wouldn’t think twice about letting people know that you or your child wanted a certain toy or other item. According to etiquette expert Peggy Post: “Monetary gifts are certainly acceptable these days. In fact, they’re a thoughtful way of giving the recipient the freedom to choose his or her own gift.”

Here are some ways to gradually ease yourself into asking friends and family for money for a child’s college savings account or other savings goal or charity:

Start by asking for something that you’re comfortable with, like a gift card. Gift cards are essentially money, but because they’re dedicated to a specific store, it feels more like asking for a gift. Now if you can wrap yourself around asking for a MasterCard gift card, you’re halfway there. Many 529 college savings plans offer gift certificates. So if you’ve mastered asking for a gift card, this should be no problem.

Ask for a group gift for a big ticket item. When my boys were in preschool, one of the kids asked for a Wii, so everyone contributed a specified dollar amount and the boy got the Wii. From that moment on, the group gift trend was established. For every birthday party after that, someone collected money and bought the requested gift. This worked on so many levels: fewer toys to stow in your overcrowded house, a happy kid who got the big gift he wanted, and easier for the busy overwhelmed moms to hand over the cash rather than make an unplanned for trip to Toys R Us (which can be costly if your kids have to accompany you). This is how my boys got their Wii, too.

Ask for donations to a charity of your choosing. Somehow it’s easier to ask for money when it’s going for the greater good rather than to you. I convinced my twin boys to have a donation birthday party this year and they raised a substantial amount for the Red Cross. However, it wasn’t inexpensive for us because we had to subsidize the presents for them. Make sure you pick a charity that will allow your donors to give money in honor of the child so that you get a notification of the donation so your children can see the impact.

Ask for contributions to a project you’re working on, especially if it will help you achieve a goal. My cousin recently sent a request to help her singing trio raise money to professionally record a demo CD that would help them get started in the music business. We were able to donate to her project on helpersunite.com.

Ok, so now you’re ready to ask for money. Ask friends and family to contribute to your child’s college savings account. You could start by providing a social gifting site where you’ve registered. That makes it seem detached and tech-savvy–maybe even hip and trendy–and less like you’re asking for cash. Obviously milestone occasions like Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, confirmations, and graduations lend themselves more readily to asking for college savings.