Give someone you love — or yourself — a financial valentine this week. Americans are expected to spend $21 billion this year expressing their love in this season of hearts and flowers. But you can do better. Roses and chocolate are fine, but the truly loving gift is to help someone move ahead in their life — whether it’s a student or a senior or a sad animal.
—The gift of confidence. You never know you’re good at something until someone tells you so! Think about the skills you take for granted. Are you praised for your baking skills or your high school batting technique? Someone could benefit from your help, perhaps a niece or nephew, or the after-school activities club or senior center. Look around and reach out to share your gift.
—The gift of vision. I recently spoke at an inner-city school, and the topic was intended to be the stock market and investing. But it took me only a few minutes to switch gears. I quickly realized that most of these kids didn’t have a vision for having their own money from work. As a result, they had no concept of savings or investing. Some of the financial skills that our own children see as part of their daily lives — using an ATM, moaning about the market decline, paying the bills — were a foreign language to them. Junior Achievement does a great job of exposing financial topics to school age children. Contact them and volunteer.
—The gift of your presence. So many seniors are alone, truly alone, despite living in senior congregate living places. They have no one to help them with banking, no one to take their healthcare power of attorney, no one to be their advocate in a healthcare setting. So, if you’re spending Valentine’s Day home alone and bemoaning (or cheering) your singleness, reach out to the senior living alone down the hall.
—The gift of getting started. In my holiday season column, I often mention the gift of stock. That’s so easily done these days, without spending huge sums of money and without any hassle. Simply go to Stockpile.com and download or email a gift card for as little as $25. The recipient can use it to pick from a wide choice of stocks. This could be a small first step toward a lifetime hobby of investing — and a shared relationship (since a parent must be custodian when the account is opened.
—The gift of education. Here’s another pitch for opening a 529 college savings account (SavingforCollege.com) and setting the stage for future contributions that will last longer than candy!
—The gift of compassion for animals. While it’s never recommended to give a pet as a gift, cuddly though a puppy may be, you could express your love by making a donation to an animal rescue or shelter. No one sends them hearts and flowers!
—The gift of family security. Have you made a will — or updated it recently? Too many people avoid this task, not wanting to think about their mortality. But here’s a sure bet: None of us is getting out of here alive! The true heart-gift is to contact an estate planning attorney. Search for one near you at NAEPC.org or NAELA.org.
And, in the same category of peace of mind, make sure you have enough life insurance to care for your family in your absence.
Still stuck on flowery cards and heart-shaped boxes of candy for this day of love? Then buy a few extra cards and send them anonymously to someone — young or old — who has no one who will remember them.
It’s always the big holidays that get our attention. But it’s the small times that give us opportunities to give the gifts that matter. Always remember that the best gift of all is not the one you receive, but the one you give.