12 Christmas Gift Ideas for Retirees

Last Updated Dec 13, 2010 5:50 PM EST

I've always had trouble buying Christmas gifts for people who've already had a full life of being naughty and nice. What can you give them that they haven't already bought for themselves? As people get older, toys and other amusements just don't have the same attraction as they do for a five-year old.

And now that I'm in that older age demographic myself, my challenges have doubled. I'm still pondering the right gifts to get my mother and other older friends and relatives, but now my kids are asking what my wife and I want for Christmas.

Always wanting to be of service, I consulted with smarter shoppers than me: my wife and her friends. Fortunately, I got so many ideas from them that I'm presenting two lists: the list here contains a variety of items that can help with the security and enjoyment of your retirement years. My next post will focus on favorite books that will help your retirement.

$100 and higher
1. A Kindle, iPad, or other electronic reading device. These have a multitude of advantages. For the elderly with arthritic hands, these readers are easier to handle than conventional books. If your gift recipients are sight challenged, you can show them how to adjust the font size. They can also buy books from the comfort of their own homes. And you can introduce them to a whole world of technology.

2. A coupon for a session with a professional retirement planner. This can be particularly valuable for someone who doesn't know how to get started planning for retirement. Make sure the planner is independent and doesn't sell investments or insurance. The Garrett Planning Network is one such financial planning network with a national list of planners who only consult by the hour.
    $50 to $100
    3. Budgeting software, such as that offered by Quicken. When you're working, one of the biggest obstacles to saving for retirement is freeing up money from your budget. And during retirement, you need to make every dollar count. Budgeting software can help with both of these goals. Hint: If your loved one is technically challenged, include a coupon for free help from you.
    4. A trip to a movie, concert, or play. Staying active and social is even more critical as we age. So help your favorite relative by taking them out on the town. This is a particularly thoughtful gift for people who don't get out much and value the gift of your time. (This is one of my mother's favorite gifts.)

    5. Dance lessons. These offer an opportunity for great exercise and great fun. Your recipient will also meet new people, and for married couples, it's a wonderful way to rekindle the romance. (Husbands: Get the hint! This works better than jewelry, and it's a lot cheaper. I can personally attest to the success of this gift.) Dancing is also rated highly as an activity to keep you mentally sharp in your later years.
    6. A gym membership, some walking shoes, or anything else that might get someone out of the house. Help your gift recipient kick-start an exercise habit with the gift of exercise gear. Regular exercise is critical to keeping healthy in your later years.
    7. Local, fresh produce. On the subject of kick-starting a healthy habit, why not help those you love eat more fruits and vegetables to improve their health? You can arrange for regular delivery of locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. It's win-win, as you'll help local farmers in the process.


      Under $50
      8. A gift membership to AARP. The monthly magazine and newsletter from this retirement organization contains a treasure trove of good information on finances, health, and lifestyle -- this alone is worth the $16 annual membership fee. In addition, there's a host of discounts available on a variety of items and links to many helpful services.

      9. A DVD of a favorite movie that might inspire an older audience. Sure recent winners have been The Bucket List and Up (a great gift from my daughter last Christmas). Or what about an old classic? Singing in the Rain, The Sound of Music, or Casablanca are all enjoyable and watchable over and over again.
        Priceless
        10. Fulfill a long-held dream. Have you ever heard your friend or relative say wistfully, "I've always wanted to ..." Why not help make their dream come true? Years ago, my son reintroduced me to aikido, a martial art that I had studied in college, as he often heard how I wanted to study it again. Now I've enjoyed aikido for 13 years and can't thank him enough for getting me to try it again.

        11. A donation in the name of your relative or friend to his or her favorite charity. For those people you know who really don't need or want anything, a donation to their favorite charity, made in their name, is a thoughtful gift.
        12. Coupons for visits or shopping trips. This works particularly well when they're from grandchildren for elderly grandparents who may not get out very much. The gift of time is truly priceless.
          I'm sure you have many more great ideas for the older person on your list. Please help our readers by sending in your favorite Christmas gift ideas in the comment section below -- both for gifts you've given and for gifts you've received.

          Make someone happy this Christmas!

          Image from Vernon family album
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            Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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