Liz Pulliam Weston: 7 gifts that can change lives

The Basics

7 gifts that can change lives

If you receive (or, in many cases, give) anything on this list -- whether on impulse or after years of contemplation -- be prepared for an amazing difference.

By Liz Pulliam Weston
MSN Money

Many gifts that will be exchanged this holiday season will be forgotten before the ornaments have been packed away for another year.

But there are some you can give that will have a lasting impact. Although there are no guarantees, any of the following can potentially change someone's life for the better.

1. An engagement ring

Getting married is a big deal, and not just because you have to learn to refer to your squeeze as "my husband" or "my wife."

Marriage can be good for your financial health.

People who get and stay married build up twice the wealth of those who remained single, according to one study. But be warned: Those who divorce wind up with far less wealth than comparable single folks.

The lesson is clear: Choose your spouse well.

Also, don't buy the diamond industry's propaganda that you have to spend a certain number of paychecks on the ring. Buy what you can afford, which means what you can pay for in cash. If you have to go into debt to buy a ring, you're paying too much.

The same goes for the wedding, by the way. Starting out your new life in debt is a bad precedent.

2. A pet

Pets can be good for our health and our psyches, improving blood pressure and reducing loneliness.

Pets offer particular benefits to children, increasing their ability to empathize and get along with others.

Pets also can be messy, expensive and time-consuming, so make sure you're ready for the commitment. You can get a good idea of the first-year costs of various animals from this chart from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Talk to owners of the type of pet you want in order to get an idea of the time commitment involved, and consider buying pet health insurance.

Then be prepared for your life to change.

Stephanie Harding-Rink of Battle Ground, Wash., got her first dog at age 10. It was the Christmas after her father, who refused to let her get a dog, left the family. She had the pooch for 12 years.

"It is amazing what a dog can do for you in the middle of a very emotional time," Harding-Rink said. "Especially when your voice is not heard, the dog will always be there to listen."

Paula Hodge Chadick of Puyallup, Wash., agreed.

"When I was going through a very difficult separation, my mom, who is not a dog lover, went to the pound and found my son and I a standard poodle," Chadick wrote. "Both her thoughtfulness and his unending affection brought us through a very difficult time."

3. An organ donation

Mike Rappaport of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had three daughters, a marketing business that employed 50 people -- and end-stage liver disease. A transplant in September 2009 saved his life.

"It sounds like a cliché, but I learned to appreciate every day," said Rappaport, 50, who is a single father of girls aged 12, 17 and 18. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to have problems. (Otherwise) I wouldn't be here to deal with the fact that my daughter wants to stay out until midnight."

Every single day, 19 people die waiting for organ transplants. Though you can't exactly put a bodily organ under someone's Christmas tree, you may be able to save or improve a life by:

  • Signing up as an organ donor with your state's donor registry.
  • Designating your decision when you apply for or renew your driver's license.
  • Talking to your family about your decision so that they can be prepared to follow your wishes.

Continued: An inspiring book

More from MSN Money

 1 | 2 | next >

Rate this Article

Click on one of the stars below to rate this article from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). LowHigh

Discuss personal finance with Liz on the Your Money message board.

Recent articles by Liz Pulliam Weston

More . . .
12/23/2010 11:14 PM

My feeling is that an engagement ring is a terrible 'gift'  whether it be for Christmas, a Birthday, Valentines Day, etc...  It's a celebration thats in a class all by itself and should be for Life.


As for a pet. like the engagement and/or marriage - it should be for Life


They should be taken very seriously.

12/20/2010 2:52 PM

"I wish people would read more than just the headers.

Liz clearly states that you should think hard before giving an engagement ring or a pet. "

But that's all some people read.  This year I must have seen 3 or 4 articles online about giving pets as Christmas gifts.   Many of these poor creatures end up being turned in again, further traumatizing them.  And I don't care how long and hard you think about it, giving a pet as a gift is never a good idea.  People should choose their own animal that they'll spend the next 10-20 years with.
12/18/2010 4:23 AM

In addition to some good suggestions, this article made me ponder whether I really need to buy that item I was looking at.....or, what can I do to help someone else this time of year?  Liz, and posters, thanks for giving me a time to stop and reflect. Light bulb

12/17/2010 11:32 PM
A gold eagle coin...or silver liberty coin can change a person's life by informing them of the decline of the paper dollar due to the massive printing by the Fed. Watch Ron Paul question Mr Bernanke in January where is all that taxpayers money he gave away. It will be fun if not very interesting.
12/17/2010 6:27 PM

I wish people would read more than just the headers.

Liz clearly states that you should think hard before giving an engagement ring or a pet.  These gifts obviously have life-long commitments attached to them.  


She gives a list of gifts that change lives.  Not every gift is right for every person. 


12/17/2010 5:43 PM

These are some pretty unwise suggestions, IMO, especially the wedding ring and the pet.  Signing up for organ donation can also lead to heartbreak if you may chicken out when the time comes.  Paying a stranger's power bill is a great idea, but that's not going to take care of anyone on your actual Christmas list . . .

I think most of the gifts we give that will change people's lives are not wrapped in green and red.  They are gifts of time, love, advice, an ear, an open mind.  They are the gifts we give year-round.

People rarely remember what they got for Christmas, but they remember feeling loved.  Don't even try to fulfill someone's lifelong desires, or change their lives, or get the perfect gifts under the tree.  Too much pressure!  Give someone something that will make them smile, and be done with it.  Then you can have a Merry Christmas and start the new year with no new debt, too.Smile

12/17/2010 3:03 PM
Lost Dollar... I think you lost more than a dollar..
12/17/2010 3:00 PM
Obvioulsy the single parent that got the pet as a gift was very happy with the pet. What is one person's treasure is another person's burden.. for this it was the right fit. I don't think Liz is advocating to give a pet if you don't have anything else to give someone.. only after contemplation. The receiver of the gift can always voice up and say no.. I do like the idea of allowing the person to go pick one out..
12/13/2010 9:57 PM
Hilarious!!! Lost Dollar, I have to say you gave me a heck of a laugh and my husband!!! Who are happily married and actually discussed weather or not with the Divorce rate this was gonna work-- that was 12 years ago!!! Very, very funny!!!!
12/13/2010 4:20 PM

I have given my daughter-in-law 2 kittens as an early christmas gift. Understand that both of them were feral kittens in the warehouse where I work. I paid for the first vet visit and flea removal. This is a woman who has always had pets and had to give them all up because they moved in with us.  since we had cats her other pets would not have lived long.

We are happy to give a couple of wild kittens a home and she is beside herself in having pets again. I think it was a win,win,win situation all around

12/13/2010 3:10 PM
Personally, I'm happily married, but it looks like Mister "Lost Dollar" lost a few bucks and a few marbles on his marriage!
12/13/2010 2:18 PM

I disagree with #1 (giving an engagement Ring). Stop right there, and completely think what in the Hell you are doing?

Somethings to ponder:

-Is this the Woman I want to wake up every morning beside?

-Is this the last Woman I want to see before retiring to bed?

-If her Parents are alive, can I deal with these people on a daily basis? Can her Parents be Impartial or is their Daughter always Right?

-Is this Woman moody other than around her Period?

-Is this Relationship w/this Woman going to Change once she has received this Ring or received your Last Name?......Yep, you got that Right, things are going to Change and not always for the better when you start adding this Woman to your Personal Assets.


Best thing to do before giving a Ring to any Woman is put everything in Writing on things that will not happen or if they do look for Breach of Contract. Hey, either this is Love and she will abide or this was never meant to be by her not signing a Contract.  The Formal Contract can be how many times she will copulate a Month to how Holidays are spent to Chores around the House to acquiring Pets to Having Children. Copulation is important because you are not Marrying a Nun.


Here is a Riddle someone once gave me: The first year of Marriage, put a marble in the nightstand after Copulation. After the first year, remove a marble after Copulation, and you will never empty the Nightstand!


The number one reason for Divorce is Marriage. Stay Single, Stay Independent, Stay Strong, and Travel much. The Group "Yes" had it right "Owner of a Lonely Heart..Much better than the Owner of a Broken Heart". Stay Thirsty My Friends!

12/13/2010 1:42 PM
SHAMEFUL, Liz Pulliam Weston. Animals aren't gifts.
12/13/2010 12:48 PM
AnneMH...I couldn't agree more.  Pets are living, feeling creatures totally dependent on humans.  When you get a pet, you're making a 10-20 year commitment, so pets should be chosen by the person they will live with.  Best thing to do if you think someone wants a pet is to give a gift certificate (make one if you have to) for adoption from an animal shelter.  There are always plenty of fine animals turned in.  They are especially plentiful during the winter after the Christmas gifts are returned.
12/13/2010 12:43 PM
@AnneMH... I wholeheartedly agree with your post. Unless you absolutely KNOW the person is responsible enough AND actually wishes for a new pet, giving pets as gifts is a horrible, horrible idea.

When someone actually desires a new pet it is a wonderful gift. As a single father raising my son on my own, I expressed my desire for a cat for my son's 5th birthday. It was the most wonderful gift and "Link" became more than just a pet, he was family. Our first addition to our small family. Dearly loved, and dearly missed.

Merry Christmas everyone.

12/13/2010 9:35 AM
I really wish this article didn't promote giving pets as gifts. The holidays are a terrible time for animals, who find themselves shuffled around as anonymous discussion pieces, to be fawned over for a few weeks, and in many cases, dumped on the side of the road or dropped off at shelters when the owner finds out how much work the gift involves. Please think twice, even three or four times, before giving a pet as a gift! If it's something that you still want to do, give the person the necessary pet supplies or a gift certificate to a local shelter so that he or she can choose a pet when ready for the commitment.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of ConductPlease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
Additional comments(optional)
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?