Holiday Gifts That Pay Dividends in the Long Run

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For all the reasons that need not be rehashed in this space, 2020 has been a year that we’ll always remember. But even still, the calendar marches on toward cooler weather and the celebration of the winter holidays. Regardless of whether you choose to spend this time with loved ones in person or virtually, the holiday season has customarily been a time where gifts are exchanged, and this year is unlikely to be an exception. That being said, perhaps there are some on your list who would benefit from a gift that is not only heartfelt in the moment, but actually helps them use their resources more efficiently in the future. After running a very scientific survey among members of the Community First Bank & HFG Trust team, and at the risk of sounding like a “BuzzHFG-d” article, below are some gift ideas that have helped us use our time and/or money more efficiently.

We have no financial ties to these items other than the fact that some of the manufacturers/retailers are held in our broadly-diversified portfolios (and remember, being properly diversified means not having too much of any one particular company or sector), and we present them to you for your own inspiration. These ideas can be purchased at a wide variety of retailers, so don’t worry if they happen to be sold out at one store. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

Instant Pot

As “Kleenex” is to “tissue,” so is the Instant Pot to electric pressure cookers. This versatile kitchen device uses a combination of heat, pressure, and steam to take your meals from individual ingredients to finished products without much of the hassle and prep work that comes with cooking. Even those who are talented enough to burn water have difficulty messing up with an Instant Pot, where a wide variety of recipes require nothing more than dumping the ingredients into the pot itself, screwing the lid on, choosing the correct setting, and waiting to hear the machine’s beep to indicate it is done cooking.

Perfect for reluctant chefs, those perpetually in a hurry, or anyone who wants to start eating better and work off the quaraintine-19, the lucky recipient will have no shortage of online recipes to choose from that will help them make all kinds of soups, stews, pastas, meats, palate-expanding dishes you saw once on Top Chef, and even desserts. Bonus points for using the Instant Pot to help meal prep a workweek’s worth of healthy and inexpensive lunches to have on hand.

Price: Approx. $80-$120 range, as they can come with different features depending on the model.

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Setting a budget and making smart, diversified investments can make a family member happy during the holidays, and also set up a successful future for your personal wealth.

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Smart Thermostat

While the Tri-Cities is fortunate to have electricity rates that are upwards of 30% lower than the national average, a penny saved is a penny earned (tax-free too!). The smart thermostat is the brainier successor to the digital thermostat, which has been around since the 80s. If your home is using a manual thermostat that remains at one fixed temperature unless you physically adjust the needle, you may want to consider upgrading to either a digital or smart thermostat. Each features the ability to set a schedule for heating and cooling, meaning you’re not warming or cooling the house all day in order for it to be at a specific temperature when you get home.

A step up from a digital thermostat is a smart thermostat, which features not only programmability, but the ability to learn your daily patterns and then adjust your energy usage to match when you are home and away. Coming to the Tri-Cities from the Phoenix area, I can say my favorite feature of the smart thermostat is that it can be controlled from one’s phone. My wife and I generally tried to be as reasonable as we could with our AC usage, lest the energy bill kill us in ways that the summer heat didn’t (thinking of you, entire-week-during-our-first-summer-where-overnight-lows-didn’t-drop-below-100-degrees…), but maybe life is truly too short to make the midnight walk to the thermostat to bump it by a degree or two as you try to get a good night’s rest. In all seriousness though, the Wi-Fi capabilities of smart thermostats can make sure your HVAC system isn’t working while you’re away on vacation, as well as start the process of bringing back humane temperatures before your arrival.

As for installation of these thermometers, the major players in this product segment have fairly intuitive instructions, but if working with electricity is above your comfort level, absolutely have a professional take care of things correctly. After the thermostat is installed, take a look at your utility provider’s website to see if they offer a smart thermostat rebate—not all municipalities do, but many will give you a $20-$100 credit towards your energy bill for upgrading.

Price:
Digital thermostat without Wi-Fi capability:  approx. $100
Smart thermostat with Wi-Fi capability: approx. $130 – $250

Tip: Many retailers are bundling the thermostat itself with other products, such as sensors that can be helpful in keeping your energy usage efficient.

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Home Security System

While I’m sure there are some folks out there who naturally enjoy surprises in their day-to-day-life, I imagine they would still prefer such events not occur at their home by way of strangers. A home security system is one way to make sure you keep tabs on who is coming and going, while giving would-be unscrupulous characters a second thought as to whether it is your house they want to try.

Home security systems have come a long way since the days of alarm systems loud enough to alert you, your neighbor down the street, and aircraft passengers cruising 40,000 feet overhead that you left the house too long after arming the system. These days, there are products and services for every budget out there, from professionally monitored multi-camera setups with integrated sound and movement detection, to the humble doorbell video camera that doesn’t judge you for the number of Amazon packages it saw come to your door last week. Different still is the fact that you can choose to have your setup monitored by an outside company that will contact authorities if trouble is sensed, or simply manage things yourself via notifications sent directly to your phone. Even if you choose to have things professionally managed, by and large, long-term contracts are now commitments of no more than a year or so, and many offer reasonable month-to-month plans if you want to test the water before diving in.

Price:
With such a wide variety between one component/entire system, DIY/professional installation, and professionally monitored/self-monitored, there’s naturally going to be a wide range.

Doorbell camera: $100-$150

Unmonitored, self-installed security system: $200-$300 (an additional $10-$40 for monitoring of said system)

Complete outdoor camera system: $300+

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Car Jump Starters

Surely this has never happened to you before, but let’s close our eyes and pretend anyway: You’re heading out of the house on your way to something relatively important, you hop in your car, put your foot on the brake and press the magic “start” button…and the engine sputters, sputters, sputters…but doesn’t turn over. “Please not now, I have somewhere to be,” you plead with the inanimate object, now more stationary than ever as you repeat initial launch procedures for a second time. Same result. Now what? Did I leave jumper cables in the back of this car, or my better half’s car?  Oh wait, I’m the last one out of the house, so regardless of whose car I left them in they aren’t going to do me any good. Try a neighbor? Call AAA? Stop the madness!

Well fortunately, jumper cables can be a thing of the past, as can remembering the steps to the samba known as “four clamps, four posts, how do I do this without turning my face into toast?” (For the record: both cars off, red cable to plus-sign post on dead battery, red cable to plus-sign post on working battery, black cable to negative-sign post of working car, black cable to bare metal of dead battery car.) A portable jump starter fortunately has only two clamps, one red and one black. As long as your car is turned off, it is actually quite difficult to mess up. And these devices, the size of a small paperback book, are actually quite effective as car battery defibrillators. No pushing and pulling cars to a distance just outside of the reach of your cables, no waiting around for your spouse/child/parent/AAA to arrive, and on your merry way you go knowing you cheated the battery gods this time. Truly a gift that you hope to never have to use, but one that you’ll remember when you hear that sound of your engine not wanting to get moving. Just make sure you charge it before putting it in your car.

Price: Naturally this is not a product you want to buy the cheapest model of, but $60-$80 is right around the going rate for one that has good reviews.

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Conclusion

From our family at Community First Bank and HFG Trust to yours, we wish you a very happy and safe holiday season. Gifts—either the giving or receiving of—should certainly not be the top priority over the course of the next month (this year, in particular). But if you’ve been in the need of some inspiration, hopefully this article has been of service to you. Take care and don’t hesitate to reach out if we can be of assistance to you as Your Financial Partner For Life.

Nick Parker, CFP

Wealth Planner, HFG Trust