Updated on 12.03.15

Eight Gifts That Literally Keep on Giving

Instead of rotting away on a closet shelf, these alternative gift ideas will prove useful for months or even years to come.

When the vast majority of your family members already “have it all,” finding thoughtful and useful gifts for the holidays can seem almost impossible. And I don’t know about you, but I hate buying gifts for people when I know they won’t use them, enjoy them, or keep them for more than a few weeks.

Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative ideas to consider if you’re willing to think outside the box. Beyond Yankee candles, teddy bears, and winter hats, a world of rewarding gift experiences awaits.

Eight Gift Ideas That Literally Keep on Giving

If you’re looking for gifts that won’t die a slow death on a closet shelf, wind up in a trash can, or make their way into next year’s re-gifting pile, consider this list of gifts that keep on giving for months or years to come.

Gift a subscription to a ‘____ of the month’ club.

OK, while a subscription to the “Jelly of the Month Club” may not be for everyone, most people are obsessed enough with something for this to work. The heavy drinkers in your family (everybody has them) would probably enjoy receiving a case of their favorite adult beverage from around the world, for example. And, believe it or not, some of us actually do dream about devouring exotic jellies of all flavors.

Amazing Clubs offers details on a wide range of gourmet subscription services that deliver everything from bagels to lobster tails. There are even subscriptions for people who love cupcakes, barbecue sauce aficionados, and gourmet cheese enthusiasts.

Not only will your loved one appreciate the fact that you thought of them, but they’ll remember you each month when their special package arrives.

Of course, there are other subscriptions to consider outside the world of edibles. One such option, says J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy, is … drum roll, please … magazine subscriptions.

“I love getting magazines,” he says. “Every month it arrives at your door filled with pretty pictures and short stories perfect for those with A.D.D. It’s not only super-cheap, but it helps support the printed industry to give us a break from all that 24/7 screen time!”

Spend holiday money on a family trip or vacation.

Can’t think of anything your loved ones want or need? Take them on a trip instead.

That’s exactly what my in-laws are doing for the second year in a row this holiday season. Instead of buying for their adult kids, they’re taking all of us to the Wisconsin Dells and paying for our hotel stay and water park tickets.

Kate Dore of Cashville Skyline says her family is doing something similar; they’re going gift-free on Christmas Day with the goal of using that money for something fun down the line.

“We’ll allocate the money we would have spent on a family trip next year,” she says. “We’re spread out across the country and have realized spending time together is what matters most!”

Money Coach Chad Carson’s parents did something similar in the past, and as he tells it, the experience was life-changing. Not only did they splurge for a family vacation for Chad and his wife, but they want along as well.

“My parents bought me and my wife a trip to Alaska one time,” says Chad. “That experience has more positive memories than any material thing could have.”

Teach kids how to save with a piggy bank — or save for them.

We all know how important it is for kids to learn how to save, so why not urge them along with a special gift?

“How about piggy banks for kids?” asks Michelle Diamond of Every Little Cent. “Teaching about savings always gives back in the long run.”

If kids are too small for their own piggy, you could also jump-start their savings with the purchase of stocks or bonds. While they may not appreciate it when they’re young, they’ll probably jump for joy when they realize what you’ve done later on.

“I really like to buy shares of stock for children,” Mindy J. from BiggerPockets.com explains. “It gets the conversation started about owning a percentage of a company, and in the beginning, if you choose a company they really like, like McDonald’s or Disney, they get excited about learning more.”

Give someone the gift of a new skill.

Lee Huff of BaldThoughts.com says the perfect gift is one that actually helps the recipient in their career. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll feed his family for a lifetime, right?

“Give someone the opportunity to earn more money at their current job or a new one with skills learned through an online course,” says Lee, adding that one-off courses are available at sites like Lynda and Udemy.

Grayson Bell of DebtRoundUp.com gave an online course in coding a few years ago and watched his friend turn his new skill into a legitimate side hustle. “They used it to start a freelancing business and make money on the side,” said Grayson. “That knowledge keeps on giving back to him.”

Another option that could actually work in your favor, too: cooking lessons.

“I bought my wife cooking lessons one year. I’m still benefiting from that gift with the great chef she has become,” says financial rock star Scott Alan Turner. “Saves on eating out, too.”

cooking class at boston center for adult education

Whether it’s cooking or coding, gifting a class can help someone learn skills that last a lifetime. Photo: Boston Center for Adult Education

Whisk kids away for a fun adventure.

The kids probably won’t remember what you bought them for Christmas in 10 years, but they’ll remember the time you spent with them. One of my aunts always gave us “adventure” gifts when we were growing up, and I remember some of those experiences to this day.

While sometimes the gift was a concert, other times it was a theme park or fun dinner out. Whatever it happened to be that year, it meant more than receiving yet another toy to sit on the shelf.

Todd Tresidder of Financial Mentor did something similar when his nieces and nephews were kids. “I was the crazy uncle who took my nieces and nephews on fun adventures for their gifts,” he says. “Two decades later and I still hear all the stories repeated at family gatherings. No toy ever achieved that longevity.”

Another idea in this same vein would be yearlong passes to an aquarium or theme park or symphony. “But those can be pricey,” says Abby Perry of IPickUpPennies.Net. “You’d probably want to split the cost with another gift-giver.”

Choose practical gifts they can really use.

If you’re tired of buying random kitsch that collects dust and takes up space, consider practical gifts people can actually use instead. Jackie Koski from Money Letters says her favorite gift of all time falls into this category.

Her new remote car starter, she says, was an absolute godsend from day one. “Every day I am able to start my SUV from my fourth-floor office and have defrosted windows and warm seats, I am grateful,” she says. “I live in a cold-weather climate and a gift like this just keeps on giving.”

Of course, the type of practical gift you splurge on depends on whom you are buying for — and what they will likely need most.

Jacob Wade of IHeartBudgets.net used to give his best friend a beautiful yet practical calendar every year. “My gift was used 365 (sometimes 366!) days per year,” he says.

Stash money away for college.

“Instead of giving gifts this year, take that money and invest it in a college savings account,” says financial planner Kirk Chisholm of Innovative Wealth. “Paying for education is a lifetime gift that keeps on giving.”

If you’re unsure what to buy the little ones in your life, this strategy is an absolute no-brainer. Financial and business writer Alaina Tweddale started doing this when her nieces were born, and has enjoyed the benefits since.

“It may not be the most exciting gift now, but I like to think they’ll appreciate it later, when they have fewer student loans to pay off,” she says.

I, too, have been doing this for my kids since they were babies, and the money is already starting to pile up. Further, my state (Indiana) offers a 20% tax credit on the first $5,000 we contribute each year, meaning we actually get money back at tax time. See if your state offers a tax advantage when it comes to college savings and look for ways to maximize it if you can.

Buy supplies for a winter garden.

According to J.D. Roth of MoneyBoss.com, the holiday season is the ideal time to start preparing for a winter garden. If someone you know loves gardening, the holidays are the perfect time to hook them up with items that are out-of-season and even potentially on sale.

Even better, the reach of a garden is one that will be enjoyed all year — from the planting stage to full bloom.

“Give your favorite gardener tomato seeds, planting trays, and a grow light,” says J.D. “She’ll be enjoying your thoughtfulness all summer long!”

Final Thoughts

If you’re tired of getting everyone on your list the same old thing, it might be time to try something new. So break out your thinking cap and make a list of not just things people you know enjoy — but experiences and special splurges, too.

From jelly-of-the-month-clubs to Money magazine subscriptions and cash for college, there are a ton of gift ideas that can keep giving far beyond the holiday season — and perhaps even until the next one. Some gifts — like college savings and stock options — even have benefits that could last a lifetime.

What is the best gift you have ever received? Are you giving anything on this list to your loved ones this year?

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