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Holiday gifts for a better financial future

A gift of appreciated stock or a 529 college savings plan contribution doesn't have the same wow factor as, say, a PlayStation 4 or a "Frozen" doll under the tree, but it may be a smarter bet.

"You're giving something that will have future value," said Carina Diamond, a certified financial planner and managing director of SS&G Wealth Management in Akron, Ohio. "If we look at our families, everyone already has a lot of 'stuff.'"

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In fact, when polled, most people say they'd prefer cold, hard cash. In a recent Charles Schwab survey, 53 percent of people said cash to help pay off their credit card debt would be their top gift choice. More than three-quarters of teenagers also picked cash as their most-wanted gift, according to Ebates.com. But there are better ways to give financial aid for the holidays than handing over a stack of bills, say experts.

Diamond said she often gifts shares of mutual funds to her nieces and nephews. Savings bonds or matching contributions to a young worker's Roth IRA can also help set them up for a better financial future. (Check out the video above for more gift ideas.)

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Even though you're not braving Black Friday crowds or comparing sales, it's still smart to plan ahead for financial presents. Some states allow tax deductions for gifts made to a 529 plan, but contributions can take time to process, said Diamond. Making the gift after you've alerted the recipient on Dec. 25 doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.