This article was published on 1 December 2009. Some information may be out of date.

Gifts that give on several levels

Perhaps the most important assignment in a university course I teach on financial literacy has little to do with finance. Worried that the course might send the message “the more money you have the better”, I ask the students to think about how money and happiness are related.

In an exercise that readers might like to try, each student lists at least ten people they know well, and then rates each one for wealth, with 1 being relatively poor and 5 being rich. There should be at least one 1 and one 5. They then similarly rate each person for happiness.

I ask them to work out the average happiness score for each wealth level, and bring that information to discussion groups, where we calculate the group averages. The results so far: there has been no correlation between wealth and happiness.

The students then think about the happiest people on their lists, and comment about what many of them seem to have in common. Frequently mentioned are good health, a positive attitude, supportive family and friends and so on.

Often the discussion turns to the happiness people feel when they give to others, whether financially, through volunteer work or in less organized ways. And research shows that, indeed, this is a common source of wellbeing.

All of which leads me to Christmas presents. Every year, many of us give our relatives and friends heaps of stuff they don’t want. But there’s an alternative, through which you can give your loved ones the pleasure of giving to others.

You choose from a charity’s catalogue the items to be given — in the names of your relatives and friends — to people in need. You might, for instance, pay $12 for your child to give a chicken to a family in a poor country. The charity will send you notification of this to give the child.

Charities that offer this include:


The government’s Capital Market Development Taskforce has been working for months on many issues, including how the whole investment process could be improved for the ordinary investor — from simple, clear disclosure about every investment through to easier redress for victims of ripoffs.

On Wednesday December 16 the taskforce will reveal its recommendations to the government at a breakfast in downtown Wellington, attended by Commerce Minister Simon Power. This will be followed by a lunch the same day in Auckland.

The taskforce, of which I’m a member, would like to invite ten members of the public to attend each function, as representatives of all the New Zealand investors who the taskforce hopes will benefit from its recommendations.

To be in the random draw to be there, send your name and address to [email protected], putting “Wellington breakfast” or “Auckland lunch” in the subject line, or mail it to “Wellington Breakfast” or “Auckland lunch”, Capital Market Development Taskforce, PO Box 1473, Wellington, to be received by December 8 2009. Winners will be notified directly, and listed in this column in two weeks.

No paywalls or ads — just generous people like you. All Kiwis deserve accurate, unbiased financial guidance. So let’s keep it free. Can you help? Every bit makes a difference.

Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. From 2011 to 2019 she was a founding director of the Financial Markets Authority. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary’s advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it.