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Give the Gift of Financial Savvy

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December's half over already, but if you're like me, you still probably have a lot of names left on your gift-giving list that you have no idea what to get. This year, instead of heading over to the mall to buy cheese logs for the entire family, I decided to try to find gifts that would keep on giving throughout the year -- and potentially beyond.

The gift that keeps on taking
Unfortunately, with many popular gifts, you might actually be putting your loved ones in a potential financial bind. Buy a friend an iPhone, for instance, and the $199 you pony up for the phone is nothing compared to the two-year commitment you're sticking your friend with, which will mean paying AT&T (NYSE: T  ) $1,440 or more over the course of your contract.

But some gifts are the opposite: your gift doesn't just immediately provide value, but it facilitates additional savings over the long haul. Here are three gifts that can help the person you give them to be more financially savvy.

For big spenders
If you know someone who likes to spend money, one inexpensive gift that can end up being worth a whole lot more than you pay for it is a membership to a big box warehouse store. Memberships at Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT  ) Sam's Club, Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) , or BJ's Wholesale (NYSE: BJ  ) will only cost you between $40 and $50, but it will open up a world of potential bargains that they otherwise wouldn't have access to.

Membership fees add up to a decent chunk of high-margin revenue for these companies; Costco brought in $1.7 billion in membership fees over the past 12 months, while BJ's brought in $180 million in its most recent fiscal year. But for a family, saving 10% on $500 in monthly purchases means a club membership pays for itself in a single month. That's a smart move for many people, and a virtual no-brainer for big spenders.

For wannabe savers
On the other hand, some people on your list might have aspirations toward saving for long-term goals but not have the slightest idea how to go about it. One solution is a GoalPack from a new financial management website called GoalMine.

GoalMine helps savers establish goals and makes it easy to save for them. With a range of investment options ranging from FDIC-insured savings accounts to stock and bond mutual funds, GoalMine has taken all the confusing jargon out of the saving equation, instead focusing on helping people figure out how much they need to save to reach their goals and establish a smart plan to help them do so.

One of GoalMine's most interesting features gives you the ability to share your financial goals via social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. Once your GoalMine account is set up, friends and family can buy GoalPacks in increments of as little as $25 that you can apply toward those goals. That's a gift nearly anyone can afford.

For young savers
The last thing you might think to do for your child is to open an investment account. But a Roth IRA can be the best gift young people could ever receive, giving them a head-start toward long-term financial security.

According to a Kiplinger report, brokers such as Charles Schwab (NYSE: SCHW  ) , TD Ameritrade (Nasdaq: AMTD  ) , Scottrade, and E*TRADE Financial (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) are willing to open brokerage accounts for minors. You can also try mutual fund companies such as Vanguard.

The sticking point is that in order to qualify for a Roth IRA, your child needs earned income. For those who work at a regular job, that's no concern, but it's less clear whether getting paid for household chores or at a parent's business is enough. But if you can start the power of compound returns working for your kids at an early age, it'll add up to a lot more over the years.

Start giving now
Obviously, gifts like these aren't exactly the most romantic thing your loved ones will ever receive. But over the long run, they might grow to be the most valuable gifts you could ever give.

Give yourself the gift of financial savvy this year. Click here to get what you need from the Fool's new special report, The 7 Secrets to Salvage Your Retirement Today.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger actually had a fairly tasty cheese log once. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Costco and Charles Schwab are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Costco and Wal-Mart. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy is anything but cheesy.


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Dan Caplinger
TMFGalagan

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on Fool.com. With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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