It can be challenging to find the perfect holiday gift, and we all have those people on our lists who are impossible to shop for.
Sometimes, giving money is simply the best option: It’s quick and easy, and you can guarantee your recipient will actually use it.
But how can you give cold hard cash without coming across as, well, cold? Here are some options to help you personalize your monetary giving and ensure the most thoughtful gift for each person on your list.
1. Gift card
You’ll rarely go wrong giving a gift card. If you know your recipient well, you can seek out their favorite store, brand or restaurant. And if they’re harder to shop for or you’re not very close, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a Visa or American Express prepaid cash card. Pair it with a heartfelt note to show how much you care about them and their interests.
If you are still wary of coming across a bit too impersonal, try using a gift card to give an experience. Prepay for a couple of movie dates or a trip to the spa where you can spend time together and enjoy a nice treat.
You may even score a bonus for yourself when you buy a gift card. Throughout December, many restaurants and retail stores offer a bonus card for you when you spend a minimum amount on a gift card for someone else. At Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse chain, for example, you’ll receive a $25 bonus card for every $150 you spend in gift cards.
2. CDs or savings account transfer
Using a certificate of deposit or savings account gift as a learning opportunity is especially helpful for younger children and teens, says Oscar Vives Ortiz, wealth strategist at PNC Wealth Management.
“I think from a learning perspective, a CD or savings is great,” he says. “You can teach someone to put aside money every so often.”
For an ongoing financial gift plan, start by teaching the value of saving money, move on to explain how interest works with a CD and then escalate to earning over time with savings bonds or other investments.
Not only are you putting away money that they can use in the future, you’re also teaching valuable habits that can help them earn more throughout their lives.
“If you want the account to grow as much as possible, then probably a gift of stock would make that better over the long term,” Ortiz says. Before you dive in, though, consider your recipient.
For adults, you can simply submit a transfer form with your financial institution to transfer your own shares into their account or transfer a mutual fund to someone with an account at the same institution. If you have individual stocks in mind, you can purchase shares with popular companies on websites like GiveAShare.
“If you wanted to give a stock to a minor, you would have to create what’s called an UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) account which is in essence a custodial account where the adult manages the money,” Ortiz says. When the child comes of majority age, then the money is theirs to use however they like.
Ortiz recommends considering whether a custodial account is the best option based for the individual child. In some cases, and depending on the size of your gift, a trust or 529 plan, where parents can retain more control, may be more effective.
4. 529 contribution
If you’re looking to invest in the future of a child in your life, consider contributing to a 529 plan, which can be used in the future to pay for education expenses like tuition, textbooks and even computers. Whether your friends recently had a baby and you want to help establish a college fund or your niece or nephew will soon be applying to colleges, 529 plans are great tax-advantaged investments.
“When you’re filling out the FAFSA forms for financial aid, 529 plans are typically not counted as a student asset,” Ortiz says, so it won’t be counted against financial aid awards. You can also transfer unused 529 funds to someone else, if the original beneficiary decides against pursuing higher education.
When all else fails, stick to the basics.
You can dress up cash gifts in a nice card or money holder for added flair. For the extra creative, there are limitless ideas online for inventive ways to give cash; you can find guides to DIY anything from cash frozen into giant ice cubes to cash-filled chocolate candy boxes.
If you want to keep things virtual, simply transfer your gift funds into their Venmo or Cash App account. You’ll definitely lose some points in presentation, but P2P payments are a great opportunity to put your emoji keyboard skills to the test. It’s also a much faster transfer process for long-distance giving than mailing a check.
For someone with international travel plans next year, consider gifting a bit of currency from the country they’re visiting. You can help them save on hefty exchange fees and ensure they’re prepared with some useable cash.
6. Charitable contribution
When you’re still left wondering what to get the person who truly has everything, a monetary donation to a charity or cause they support can be a great way to show you care.
Familiarize yourself with the cause that your recipient champions and make a donation in their name. When it’s time for the gift exchange, you can simply give a card with a message about the donation. Some charities provide these thank-you cards and may even specify where exactly your donation will go.