Dear Santa, Please Bring Cash

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Show of hands: What kid doesn't like getting cash as a gift?

That's what I thought. So explain to me exactly why people would bother setting their alarm clocks so they can be in the Wal-Mart parking lot at 5 a.m. the morning after Thanksgiving, when the perfect holiday gift can be had at the drive-through ATM on your way home from work Wednesday night.

Cash cache
Maybe opening an envelope to ogle a check from Grandma doesn't exactly scream "Kodak moment." But when the candy-cane holiday high wears off, a thoughtful financial present will bring smiles for many holidays to come. And, more practically, let's be honest: Licking an envelope is a lot easier than wrapping an awkwardly shaped present that no one will remember two months from now.

If forking over a few crisp $20s to Junior feels a tad gauche, read on for a few ideas to dress up that gift of green and make it multiply.

Give stocks, not stuff
As Warren Buffett has said, now is the very best time to be an investor -- to be buying stocks. And with top-tier companies trading at ridiculously low multiples, consider this the mother of all clearance sales and a chance to help your loved ones -- particularly the little ones -- get in on the action.

All right … it's not an Xbox or an iPhone. But when you explain to a kid that buying a share of a stock makes him or her a part owner of the company, watch the eyes light up. (A seat on the board, however, may have to wait until after the kid's old enough to drive.)

There are many ways to give the gift of stock to minors (here's a rundown of the basics ways to invest for your kids). If presentation is key, then presenting a child a framed stock certificate can be a nice touch. However, you'll pay anywhere from $40 to $120 to get a paper certificate and another $30 to $120 to get it framed. ( is one of the cheapest options, but you'll still pay a pretty penny.) Instead, skip the fancy presentation (or handcraft your own), and invest the cash you'll save.

Kid-oriented investments are everywhere
As for what to buy with that gift of cash, why not get Junior's input on the decision? Point out how every moment of every day, he or she is presented with investment opportunities, from breakfast (General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) ) to lunch (McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) ) to bedtime (Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) ) to a weekend stroll at the mall (Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) ) and taking in a movie (IMAX (Nasdaq: IMAX  ) .

Can't decide between Disney, McDonald's, Target, or Wal-Mart? You can buy 'em all with iShares Dow Jones US Consumer Services Sector Index Fund (NYSE: IYC  ) . With stock in more than 250 companies, the kids will be pointing out businesses they own at every strip mall.  

It really is the thought that counts
Even if you can't afford to buy more than one share of stock, or if the investments you pick don't do so hot, consider that it's not just the thought that counts -- it's the message that you send. (And, really, do people still blame you for buying them a Betamax instead of VHS back in the day?)

There's nothing more touching than knowing someone has high hopes for your future and the wherewithal to present a gift designed to pay continual dividends throughout time. Plus, cash or cash equivalents save you the embarrassment of fumbling for a gift receipt when your last-minute panic gift falls flat.

(Promoting financial literacy is a major goal of The Motley Fool -- learn more about our Foolanthropy efforts in that arena, which are going on right now.)

This article was originally published on Nov. 7, 2006. It has been updated.

Dayana Yochim does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Wal-Mart is an Inside Value pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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