Top 20 Practical Gifts For Christmas

One of my pet peeves about Christmas is the rabid consumerism.  We buy presents for people often because we feel required to buy them a gift, but oftentimes don’t put a lot of thought into it and have no idea what to get people.  The Christmas season is filled with useless gifts that either get returned the next day or sit around cluttering up the house. I think if we must give gifts on Christmas, they should be utilitarian items.  Here is my Christmas guide for practical gifts; 4 lists of 5 practical gift items each, depending on who the target recipient is.

Top 5 Practical Gifts For Adults


Phillips LED1. LED Light Bulbs: This is perhaps the most economical gift you can give someone.  LED light bulbs have finally reached the point where the normal price is under $5 per bulb. At this price point it is now affordable to replace all the bulbs in a house.  Amazon has a 16 pack of 60W LED bulbs for only $20.  In addition to purchasing the light bulbs offer to install them for the recipient. I replaced all of the light bulbs in my house with LED bulbs and am savings around $20 per month.

2.  Amazon Prime: Free two day shipping without having to hit a minimum order amount, A respectable array of free streaming movies and music, and free book rentals from the kindle library. Amazon Prime is a great value and is the perfect last minute gift (instant shipping lol).

Eneloop Rechargeable Batteries3. Rechargeable Lithium Ion Batteries: These things provide more power than standard alkaline batteries and can be charged 2100 times.  Good for the environment and good for your wallet.  One of my favorite aspects of the Eneloop batteries is the spacers to allow the AA batteries to work in devices that take C and D batteries. The VAST majority of D cell rechargeable batteries are essentially AA batteries inside the skirting of a C or D, but for 3X the cost.  This is an inexpensive way to add versatility to the rechargeable battery set. I purchased a set 3 years ago and am thrilled with how well they work.


4. Know someone who is in to genealogy but can’t justify the costs of getting an Ancestry subscription?  This could the perfect gift.  An aspect of gift memberships that I like is that they don’t try to auto-renew.  This keeps the subscription from becoming like a gym membership that never gets used.  Ancestry has 6 month gift subscriptions starting at $99. If someone already has an Ancestry account, then a gift membership to the military records site Fold3 or would be an excellent idea.  As a category I think memberships and are a great idea. They can be purchased last minute and don’t take up any space.

Snow Brum5. Snow Brum: One of the American things I do that actually drives me crazy is I park my car outside, while I park a bunch of junk in my garage. This isn’t really a problem, except during the 5 months of the year it snows here.  Clearing off the car is a safety issue and far too many people drive around in the winter with just the area the wipers gets clear visible.  As they drive all the snow on top of the car starts falling off inhibiting vision.  Clearing off snow with a shovel is a pain and can scratch up the paint on the car.  Clearing it off with a brush is inefficient and there are spots you just can’t get. The Snow Brum quickly and easily cuts through piled up snow.  It takes only a couple minutes and it gets everything off.  It has a long extension making it easy to clear off tall vans and trucks.  I have been using a Snow Brum for about 5 years and love it.


Top 5 Practical Gifts For Teens:

Once kids are in the teen years there should be a focus on getting them set up for the future.

1. IRA contributions: For a young adult who has reached 18, you can assist them in setting up their own account on Betterment.  If the gift is for your children who are under 18 and they have done any work outside of household chores to earn money, you can set them up a custodial Roth IRA on (Betterment doesn’t have custodial accounts yet).   Once the account is established other relatives can pitch in for future gifts, so long as the gifts don’t total over his or her earned income or the federal max of $5,500 per year.

2. Tools:  Tools aren’t just for boys.  Girls need to have their own tools as well. Want to make sure your daughter, granddaughter, or niece will be able to fix things on her own? Get her a tool set AND teach her how to use them.  Gifts of tools not only set kids up for having what they need to fix things in the future, it also provides a catalyst for learning how to use them. Every teen should at a minimum have a good set of hand tools including a hammer, a tape measure, wrenches, ratchets, and screwdrivers.


Quality Backpack3. Quality Backpack: I used a backpack a lot more in college than I did in high school, and even more now as an adult than as a college student.  For quite some time I burnt through a cheap backpack every year, the straps would break, or the sewing would come undone.  These things get tons of abuse getting shoved in lockers, thrown and kicked under lunch tables, and smashed into airplane overhead bins.  I was shocked to hear that one of my co-workers has been using the same bag for 10 YEARS and it still looks good! He had a Swiss Gear backpack, which originally cost him around $100 (compared to the $20 I had been spending on cheap bags). Once the free bag I got from work wears out I am going to get one of these.

4. Car Stuff:  Each state has different laws concerning drivers ed.  In Michigan kids can take Drivers Education starting at 14 and 9 months.  A great gift for a teen in your life would be to pay for their drivers ed classes.  Gas cards and gift cards to an Auto Parts store would also be an excellent gift.  The vast majority of teenagers that have cars will have inexpensive and older cars that are more likely to need repairs done on them.

Kindle5. Kindle: Books take up a lot of room and it is important for teens to be mobile.  I remember when my sister went to college she moved a total of about 8 times in 4 years.  Today’s kindle models have a battery life of over 6 weeks, can hold thousands of books, and can download new books in under 60 seconds.  There is a vast array of free kindle books, including classics that have entered the public domain.  Many public libraries also loan kindle books.



Top 5 Practical Gifts For Kids

Between grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents, and Santa, we see kids ending Christmas with 20+ toys! Insanity! I personally think hugs and/or swift kicks in the butt are the best (and most practical) presents for kids.  If you must get toys for children, get some of these fun toys that encourage thinking and development or at least outside play.

Snap Circuits1. Snap Circuits: Electronics Discovery Kit:  These kits are designed for ages 8 and up.  The snap on circuitry helps kids learn about electrical theory, following instructions, and problem solving while providing hours of entertainment.  My 7 year old got a set of these for his birthday and absolutely loves them.  I am sure we will be getting him one of the expanded sets for Christmas this year. Snap circuits offers several sets that will all work with each other, so the total number of projects is essentially infinite.

Quercetti2. Quercetti Techno Building toy: For kids 4 and up, essentially once you can trust them to not put toys in their mouths, this kit is great at introducing kids to simple hand tools. When my son was 5 he got a set of these and was able to instantly use them. The wrenches and screwdrivers are easy for little kids to handle and everything stores inside of the plastic box it comes with. The set comes with a total of 80 pieces and allows for building both flat and three dimensional objects.

snow shovel3. Snow Shovels:  I bought a couple short handled shovels for my kids last winter.  They are always asking to help with the driveway, and at ages 6 and 11 they can do a bit of good.  Having a snow shovel is the entry into being able to make some real money as a teenager.  Developing the skills of how to shovel a driveway and being able to handle the cold are important life skills.  My kids ended up using the shovels for building forts and as catapults as much as they used them for actual work.  It is important to make sure the volume area of the shovel isn’t too large.  Kids will get discouraged quick if they can’t lift the snow that they scoop up. I found that the small shovels sold as car shovels are much more robust than the shovels they market to kids.


crazy fort4. Crazy Forts!: All kids seem to enjoy building forts.  With crazy forts kids can build stable forts much larger than with toy bricks and kitchen chairs. The sets are expandable, so overtime you can build massive forts with these.  All of my kids from ages 2 to 12 love building forts. What I like best about crazy forts is that they store really well. Kids can make a giant structure from a set of toys that can fit easily on a closet shelf.


Retron 55.  Retron 5: It’s just sad that our kids don’t know the joy of the original Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, or the Legend of Zelda.  These days you would be hard pressed to find any of these systems working in proper condition, enter the Retron 5.  This game machine has original controller ports for all 3 systems and can play all NES, SNES, Genesis, Sega Mega Drive, Famicom, Super Famicom, Game boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance; giving you the ability to play from a library of literally thousands of games. These classic games can often be picked up on ebay and at yard sales for a couple bucks each.  You might be wondering, “John, What the heck is practical about video games?”  Well,  after the purchase of the system additional games are extremely inexpensive, making each hour of entertainment much cheaper than if using a new system.  New games for a PS4 will run you $50, you might be able to pick up 20 games for the Retron 5 for that price.   Additionally the Retron 5 reduces clutter. If you were so inclined to have all of these systems, hooking up an NES, SNES, and Genesis will take up quite a bit of space on the entertainment center. If you don’t really care about the game boy games, you could get a Retron 3 instead which plays “just” the NES, SNES, and Genesis games for about half the price.


Top 5 Practical Gifts For Yourself:

Don’t Forget to get yourself a little something.  We all do it, during the Christmas season everything is on sale and with us buying so much stuff for others, there is certainly nothing wrong with getting something for yourself.

How To Grow1. The oldest item on your Amazon wish list:  I think we all have stuff on there that gets kicked to the back burner, it isn’t necessary, but we still want it.  Mine would be a book I added on March 1 2012 titled: How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine . It’s only a $15 book, and I could certainly use the knowledge (My 2017 tomato garden was very sad), but for some reason it’s gotten pushed to the back burner for 5 years.


2. Financial Planning Spreadsheets: Okay, so this is a shameless plug, but still, these spreadsheets are about as practical as you can get.  Life isn’t linear, but that’s what all the calculators online assume for retirement calculations and home payoffs.  Action Economics has three main spreadsheets available for download; A retirement planning spreadsheet, a house payment spreadsheet, and a tax planning spreadsheet.

The retirement planning spreadsheet I offer here allows you to enter different contribution amounts every year.  There are different sheets to keep your IRA, 401K, and HSA separate, and a final sheet that ties them all together and calculates out what your retirement income will be, based on your expected withdrawal rate.


Planning on getting a new mortgage or paying extra on the house?  The newly improved house payment spreadsheet allows you to compare several mortgage types and will plot out an amortization table.  The spreadsheet will allow you to enter varying amounts of extra principal payments and will calculate how many months those extra payments are taking off the mortgage AND how much mortgage interest they are saving.

Paying Extra on the house 2

The tax planning spreadsheet allows you to compare different tax situations side by side. In addition to allowing you to run different tax scenarios side by side it also will calculate the retirement savers tax credit and the child tax credit. I’ve used this spreadsheet for a few years and it has helped me drastically change my tax liability.

Check out our spreadsheet page for video overviews of what the spreadsheets can do.

SD Card3. SD Cards: I keep finding myself with a lack of SD cards. It seems every device needs one. I have 2 cameras, a game camera, 2 phones, a Wii, and one used for long term picture storage.   SD cards keep getting cheaper and from time to time it makes sense to upgrade them.  Upgrading ones used for long term data storage is also important because we really don’t know how long they will last.  I still have a 256MB SD card laying around!  Today you can get a 64 GB card for around $20.

4.  New Pillows: A good nights sleep is such a nice thing… I wouldn’t know though, I live with a 2 year old lol.  A good pillow can make or break your sleep, when was the last time you replaced your pillow? I can’t remember when I replaced mine, so that’s a bad sign.   Pillows should be replaced about every 6 months, so now may be the perfect time to grab a new one.

recreational passport5. State Park Pass:  This gift is perfect for everybody.  Grab a State Park Pass for your vehicle. In Michigan these run $11 for the year and can be picked up at the Secretary of State’s office or at any state park.  The Michigan State Parks system includes over 100 parks encompassing 285,000 acres and 879 miles of trails.  In Berrien County, MI we have Warren Dunes State Park, Warren Woods State Park, and Grand Mere State Park.  Combined these parks offer 3,250 acres of pristine land, including several miles of Lake Michigan shoreline hedged by giant sand dunes.

What do you think of this list? Do you have any more practical gift selections?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.

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