Family Gift Ideas: the Ultimate Guide

November 25, 2021
gifts for good

We all enjoy treating the ones we love, and that’s why big holidays often revolve around shopping. Many families have developed huge expectations about who’s going to buy them what — but to be honest, sometimes all that buying seems a bit pointless.

After all, what family doesn’t already have too much “stuff”?

Over the past couple of years, there have been a couple of new up-and-coming trends designed to get rid of all of those meaningless presents and teach us to start gifting with purpose again. 

There are loads of sustainable and meaningful gift ideas out there — the trick is honing in on which one of those gifts will be perfect for the people you love.

This guide explains how you can come up with family gift ideas and why you should consider giving a financial gift to your loved ones. It also gives you sustainable and useful family gift ideas you may want to consider.

How Do You Come Up With Family Gift Ideas?

When the holidays roll around, a lot of us rush out to get gifts for close friends and members of our families. But sometimes, it can be incredibly tricky to come up with gift ideas and shop for people.

Fortunately, there are a couple of really dynamic gifting systems families have started using over the past couple of years to help minimize pointless clutter around the house — but also maximize meaning and usefulness.

The two most common gifting trends families have started using are the “four-gift rule” and the “five-gift rule.”

What is the four-gift rule?

If you’re struggling with family gift ideas, a great place to start brainstorming is by deploying the four-gift rule.

The four-gift rule is a fairly recent trend that’s gained a lot of traction over the past few years on social media — and parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles swear by this rule when gifting to children and other loved ones around the holidays.

How does the four-gift rule work? It’s pretty simple.

Instead of just going out to buy a dozen expensive toys you see at the store, the four-gift rule forces you to limit your gifting per person to just four. More important still, those gifts must be: one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.

Infographic showing four gift rule
(Image source)

In this context, the “want” is going to be your big-ticket item. It’s often going to include toys, electronics — that sort of thing.

The “need” is pretty self-explanatory: it’s something that a person might not be super excited about, but it’s an item they’ll get a lot of use out of. 

For example, you could set up a custodial account for a child or get them a piggy bank, backpack, glasses, desk lamp, or lunchbox.

This is a great opportunity to provide a child with a financial gift that will keep on giving long after the holidays have ended — but we’ll cover that some more in just a minute.

The “wear” gift is also straightforward. Take a look at your loved one’s individual style, and gift them a quality and sustainable garment that they’re going to get a lot of mileage out of.

Finally, there’s the “read” gift. This part of the rule enables you to gift a book that speaks to a person’s interest and reading level. There’s a book out there for everyone — and even if the person you’re gifting to isn’t super into reading, you might be able to help them tap into a new passion with the right book.

The idea behind the rule is simple: most of us have too much stuff, and an increasing number of parents don’t want to teach their kids to be materialistic and buy stuff just for the sake of buying stuff.

That’s why so many families are hopping on the bandwagon and embracing the four-gift rule.

What is the five-gift rule?

The five-gift rule is a more recent version of the four-gift rule. With this rule, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and others commit to gifting an individual five gifts instead of four.

The first part of the five-gift rule works the same as the four-gift rule. That means you should be aiming for the four personalized gifts we’ve already covered in the four-gift rule: something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

The fifth gift gives this rule a bit of extra pizzazz: something the child or family member can do.

According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, people get more joy out of being given experiences than they receive when you gift them random stuff.

Table showing impacts of experiences on happiness levels
(Image source)

Translation: instead of tossing a bunch of cheap toys at the kids you love on Christmas morning, aim to give them at least one experience that they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.

What sort of experience should you be gifting? 

That could be anything from a trip to Disneyland or a weekend camping trip to a treasure hunt. Some other ideas are a trip to get ice cream, a fishing trip, a movie night with popcorn, a hot air balloon ride, or a family game night.

If you choose either the four-gift rule or five-gift rule, the point is this: put some thought into it. 

Don’t just run into the toy shop, grab ten things, and toss them under the tree. Think hard about the interests and needs of the person you’re buying for. That will make the gift so much more special — and useful.

Family Gift Ideas

Ok: so, we’ve covered the four-gift rule and the five-gift rule. These strategies should help you come up with your parameters for giving presents. Next, let’s get more specific about family gift ideas. 

Financial gifts

If you’re following the four or five-gift rules, a financial gift definitely qualifies as something they need — but if you select the right financial gift, it can also turn into something that will benefit the child for a long time.

Anybody can shove $100 or a gift certificate in a birthday card and hope for the best. You hope the cash will be appreciated. You hope the child will spend it responsibly. You hope the money will enable them to do whatever it is they’d like to do.

Unfortunately, giving older kids cash doesn’t always turn out that way. It’s pretty easy to forget about the cash that’s fallen out of a greeting card, and it’s even easier to blow it all on a video game that’ll be forgotten in a couple of weeks.

That’s why you might want to shoot for a financial gift with a little bit more traction: a UGMA custodial account.

Named after the law that created it (the “Uniform Gift to Minors Act”), a UGMA is an investment vehicle that allows an adult to save money and assets for a child — and it’s a really flexible and dynamic way to give a gift with an impact.

When you set up a custodial account, you’ll name a child beneficiary. Because the beneficiary is too young to make financial decisions, the adult who’s set up the account must serve as its custodian. That means they manage the account and make decisions about it on the child’s behalf. 

Illustration showing girl placing coins in piggy bank

But it’s important to note that everything in the account is the legal property of the child beneficiary. When that child reaches the “age of majority” in their state, the custodianship comes to an end. Management over the assets is then transferred over to the (now grown-up) child to do whatever they want with them.

The age of majority is different in each state, but it’s usually going to be either 18 or 21.

UGMA accounts are a flexible way to hold and protect financial contributions that family members and friends give as holiday gifts to the children they love. 

For example, using the EarlyBird app, you can gift cash to any child in just a few taps once their account is set up. 

You can even record a video message to go alongside your gift that the child can watch back later to understand and appreciate just how meaningful your gift truly was.

From there, you and the child beneficiary can watch that nest egg grow over time thanks to more contributions and the power of compound interest. 

When you set up an EarlyBird account, you can choose from one of several different investment portfolios that allow you to invest the child’s money and make it work harder for them.

The result: by the time the child comes of age, they’ll have enough assets to be able to do whatever is they’d like to do — whether it’s traveling the world, setting up a business, paying for college, or anything else.

You can gift up to $15,000 per person per year to a custodial account without having to pay any taxes on those individual gifts to the IRS. This is known as your “gift tax exclusion,” and it enables you to help set up a child’s financial future in a tax-efficient way.

But a custodial account isn’t just a financial gift. It can also be an experience.

By investing in a custodial account, you’ll be able to get the child involved in the management decisions you’ll make on their behalf. 

By teaching them about saving, stocks, and compound interest, you’ll boost their financial literacy skills. That can make for great bonding time and also teach important life lessons.

Useful and sustainable gifts

Setting up a custodial account is a fantastic family gift idea for any child — but it only covers one (or two) of your gifts within the four or five-gift rules. 

If you’re looking for ideas for the other three or four, here are a few sustainable and educational gifts you should definitely consider.

BenjaminTalks Benji Bank

The Benji Bank is a fun way to provide kids with an essential tool to help build their financial literacy.

The Benji Bank has three different compartments a child can use to sort money between three goals: “spend,” “save,” and “give.”

Image of the Benji Bank
(Image source)

This not only promotes the important financial literacy skill of saving but also teaches kids that it’s important to give back to causes they care about.

A Kids Company About

This one fills the “something to read” segment in those four and five-gift rules — but in some cases might also cover the “something they need” bracket, too.

Launched by a parent trying to explain racism to their kids, A Kids Company About has since grown to offer a huge range of incredibly thoughtful and sensitively written books explaining complex topics to kids.

Screenshot of available titles on A Kids Company About site
(Image source)

Whatever you want to talk about, A Kids Company About has it covered.

Topics covered include: 

  • Climate change 
  • Anxiety 
  • Empathy
  • Systematic racism 
  • Creativity 
  • Safety 
  • Gender 
  • Immigration 
  • Community 
  • Autism 
  • Feminism 
  • Leadership

And everything in between.

Lovevery

Lovevery is a retailer that creates unique play products designed by child development experts and distilled to their simplest, purest purpose: to be exactly what children need at each stage of development.

Lovevery offers a wide range of handcrafted wooden toys, furniture, and collections ideal for young children. They are designed to help kids develop certain core skills through play.

Screenshow from Lovevery site
(Image source)

Best of all, if sustainability is important to you, this is a company to watch. Lovevery has already committed to ensuring that 90% of its toys are created from recycled or renewable materials by 2025 — and by 2030, the company is on track to be totally carbon neutral.

KiwiCo

KiwiCo is another fantastic gift option that encourages kids to “do” something. Launched by an engineer and mom, KiwiCo specializes in the sale of expert-crafted activity crates that help kids learn and develop their science and engineering skills.

The crates cater to all ages — from toddlers all the way up to grown adults.

Image of Tinker Crate from KiwiCo
(Image source)

Crate projects include kits to build a ukulele, try out some cooking, build small machines, sew, build kites, and do loads of other activities.

The truth is that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are loads of meaningful and sustainable brands out there offering unique gifts. But these options are a great starting point to help you plan gifts around your loved ones’ needs, wants, and passions.

Conclusion

We live in a material world with way too much stuff — and although it’s ok to treat your loved ones every so often to the latest video game or a cool toy, you may want to reconsider these sorts of gifts.

Instead, you should consider family gifts that are sustainable and meaningful. There are loads of great options out there, and one of the best is to set up a nest egg for a child using a UGMA custodial account.

Ready to start gifting? Download the EarlyBird app today and give something meaningful to the people you love.

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