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 mall 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, 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 her a part-owner of the company, watch her eyes light up. (A seat on the board may have to wait until after she's old enough to drive.)

There are many ways to give the gift of stock to minors. (Here's a rundown of the basic ways to invest for your kids.) If presentation is key, presenting a child with 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. (Oneshare.com is one of the options here, but you'll still pay a hefty 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, they're 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 these? 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.

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Dayana Yochim writes about behavioral finance, couples and cash, saving, spending, investing, and shopping for Fool.com. She doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. IMAX is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Walt Disney is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a bear put spread on Abercrombie & Fitch. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.