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Smart presents for your friends and family: Holiday 2015 Edition

December 15, 2015

By Alliant Credit Union Blog Team

Since Alliant is all about making smart financial decisions (like paying no checking account fees!), we thought we’d bring you some of our favorite “smart” presents. What makes a gift smart?  Definitions vary, but for many of us, it’s a present that’s clever, convenient, innovative -- and still not going to break the bank. 

As one of our writers says, “No matter how cool my dad would think that gutter-cleaning robot is, or how much my sister would love a chair that massages your entire body, I’m not spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on gifts. Period.”

Check out our Money Mentor writers’ favorite smart gifts below: 

Contigo AUTOSEAL Kangaroo Water Bottle with Pocket — $12.99 at Target

One of the most annoying things about the gym (besides, you know, being at the gym) is trying to find a locker for your stuff. All those people, the waiting in line … it’s enough to make you turn around and go home. This bottle is a super-smart gift for anyone who’s active, because it has a “secret” compartment that holds your keys, ID, money, credit card & gym pass, among other things. So it’s easy to take all of your essentials to the gym, on a bike ride or when you jog/walk around the neighborhood.

The best part? It’s uber-affordable, so you can give it as a stocking stuffer, a Secret Santa gift or pair it with a bigger-ticket item for a close friend or family member.

Grill Alert Bluetooth Connected Thermometer — $49.99 at Brookstone (on sale)

There’s nothing better than doing a little grilling in the summer — or, if you’re like my mother, in the winter, bundled up in a down coat. As any grill pro will tell you, opening up the grill  to check if your food is done is a no-no, but so too is eating undercooked food. That’s where the Bluetooth thermometer comes in. You can select the desired doneness (rare, medium, etc.) for meats like steak and veal, and it knows the ideal temps for things like fish and chicken. Simply put the thermometer into the meat and mount the device to your grill, and it will send an alert to your phone when your food is cooked just right! And at around $50, you can give this neat device to your favorite cook without breaking the bank.

         – Allison

The Tile App — $25.00 (+ free shipping for a limited time), Tile App website

Those who know me know that secretly, I am a bit of a mess. While I have a great memory for people, places and deadlines – I have a horrible memory when it comes to where I’ve put my keys. News about the Tile app concept was life-changing. So, what is it? It’s a smart keychain that connects to your smartphone. Just pop open the app, press “find” and your keychain will start beeping, enabling you to quickly find it and get the heck out of your house. The newest version of Tile also lets you reverse engineer it, letting you find your phone from your keychain as well. Get it for your favorite forget-me-not.  

Try the World Gourmet Food Box — $39 (one month’s subscription), Try the World website

As someone who’s lived abroad in multiple countries and loves travelling to try new cuisines, this travel-themed subscription box is an affordable way for me to scratch my travel bug itch. My box comes every two months and focuses on a single country (like: Spain, Argentina, France, etc.). The food products are varied, but all are delicious. A little cooking/baking guide also comes with the food to give you tips on how to best use each item. It’d be a nice surprise for anyone you know who’s itching to get out of town.

         – Alissa

A Pley subscription for Lego lovers — $19.99-$24.99 per month (depends on subscription length)

If you have a Lego lover like me on your gift list, a subscription to is a smart gift idea. Pley is a subscription service for toy rental that operates just like Netflix did in its pre-streaming days. You pay a monthly fee and set up a “pleylist” of the Lego kits you want to borrow. Pley sends you a kit, which you put together and take apart to your heart’s content. When you’re done playing with the kit, you return it to Pley in the prepaid return mailer they provide with each shipment. They then send your next selection. 

Pley is perfect for families with limited space for storing toys and for older Lego aficionados who like advanced, complex kits, but don’t have room to store or display them. The Lego sets they offer include some of the bigger, more expensive ones like Lego Architecture’s Falling Water, Lego Creator’s Pet Shop, the Lord of the Rings Helms Deep fortress and the Star Wars Death Star.* The cost of purchasing just one of these big kits would pay for many months of a Pley subscription. Pley’s subscription cost is $24.99 monthly, but you can also get lower-cost three-month ($22.99/month) and six-month ($19.99/month) bundles. And as an added benefit, Pley sanitizes the kits between shipments, so you don’t have to worry about your loved one being exposed to someone else’s germs!
*Note: According to online reviews, you should be prepared to wait a while before you get to play with a high-demand kit like the Death Star.

For parents who have everything — cost varies 

I don’t know about you, but my siblings and I struggle almost every year to find gifts for our parents. After all, they have all of the household appliances, cooking equipment, tools and outdoor equipment that they need, and nobody wants to give Mom or Grandma an impersonal gift card every year. But a few years ago, my sister made a smart, thoughtful homemade gift for our grandma’s 100th birthday, and it was such a hit that we did the same thing for our parents’ Christmas gift that year. It’s a collection of cards on which each child and grandchild has written down a favorite family memory. Your card might describe a childhood family vacation, something funny that happened that you remember fondly, your favorite meal growing up, a holiday or birthday tradition, etc. 

The whole family can contribute, and it can be done in a simple and economical way or in a fancier, expensive style, depending on the family budget and how much time you have. For our grandma’s 100th, my sister went the elaborate route, with a typeset memory on the front of each card and a family photo related to that memory on the back. She then laminated the cards, because we knew that they would be viewed by the entire extended family, including her great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who were then sticky-fingered toddlers. For our parents, we went the simpler route. I cut up a bunch of sheets of card stock into small cards on which I had printed a family photo, and the adults wrote a memory on the back of each card. The grandchildren hand decorated a little bucket to hold the cards. They also shared their favorite things about visiting grandpa and grandma’s farm, which their parents recorded on cards for them. We had a great time on Christmas Eve reading the cards, telling stories to the grandkids and laughing hysterically. And my parents now have a repository of awesome family memories that they can reread whenever the mood strikes. It is my Mom’s all-time favorite Christmas gift, and it sits in a place of honor on her bookshelf. 

         – Pam