The best gift

As a child, Christmas was filled with surprises. Who would come to visit? What would Santa bring? Would Mom burn the turkey once again?

Some point along the way, my focus shifted from receiving (what do I get?) to giving. (What do I give to someone else?). Perhaps this change of view grew out of an understanding of "the reason for the season" or simply an appreciation that it just feels good to give.

Most parents hope they instill the right values in their children. As a dad, I wanted my two boys to grow up happy and fulfilled. Yet it was my boys who taught me that money could be used to make a difference in the larger world. I came to appreciate how philanthropy adds meaning to life.

My wife and I discussed the amount of the boys' allow-

ances. We had a general idea, but it was our sons who created an approach about how to use their nominal sums. They asked if they could have three accounts - one for fun, one for basics and one for giving away. Equal amounts would be allocated to each account with an understanding that the money designated for giving must be spent for charitable purposes to help others; they did not want to be able to keep it for themselves.

Over the years, we learned much about the needs in our community as our boys (and their parents!) sought out opportunities for giving. Sometimes we pooled our money to make a larger gift for a special need. If money wasn't needed, then it was the gift of time or simply a kind word or thoughtful gesture.

No matter how much wealth a family has, helping children (and parents) learn the value of giving is an important part of planning for the future. A certified financial planner colleague of mine said "families that stop and discuss their philanthropy with their children whether it's helping the local food bank or donating time in a myriad of ways - are far better off as a family." If you know you are going to give a certain amount to charity, perhaps you can decide as a family where you want the money to go. In this way, you create a learning opportunity for your children. You can share why you support a certain charity. In turn, you can learn about those charities, people or issues important to your children.

How soon?

I know from personal experience that little children are often natural givers. My son smiled from his highchair as he fed me by sharing his Cheerios (or was it strained prunes?) Some studies suggest that characteristics of empathy may begin at age 1 or 2, such as kissing a parent's hurt finger to make it feel better.

Most of what we learn as a young child, between the ages of 3 to 5 years old, is by listening and paying attention to adults. Still, it's never too late for adults to learn from children.

In our instant gratification culture, helping children (and adults) see with their own eyes that money can be used for more than spending is a wonderful first step to raising awareness.

My wish

2008 rapidly draws to a close. At some point, the economic pains of this year will begin to fade. Your "201k" will grow back to a "401k" and the words "subprime" and "bailout" will find new uses.

In the meantime, we have growing needs - people seeking food, clothing or shelter; cures for illness and the end to genocide. Your giving can heal the wounds caused by 2008 and create a better tomorrow.

My Christmas wish - "the best gift" - to you is summed up well in the words of Steve Goodier,

People who live well are experts at giving.

They give their money; they give their time.

They share their wisdom and their skills.

They quickly say yes when asked to help.

For them ... to give is to love and to love is to live.

It's a formula for a successful life. See you in 2009.

James D Hallett, investment advisor representative, offering advisory services through Hallett & Associates, P.S., a registered investment advisor. Registered representative, securities offered through Cambridge Investment Research, a broker/dealer (member FINRA/SiPC). Cambridge and Hallett & Associates, P.S. are not affiliated. This column is for informational purposes only and should not be used as the primary basis for an investment decision. Consult an advisor for your personal situation.

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