From stocks in the Christmas stocking to courses and coins, Barbara Drury looks at presents that will foster prosperity and grow in value. All the signs are there. The tinsel is up at the local shopping centre, the supermarket has been selling fruit mince pies for months, the letterbox is stuffed with gift catalogues and kindergarten children are penning their first letter to Santa.It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas. But in a year when rich countries are battling debt and poor countries are battling dictators, floods and famine, the annual orgy of food, wine and gift giving poses more than the usual conundrum.How to find gifts of lasting value for family and friends that won't be returned on Boxing Day?Or, worse still, end up as landfill?Money has donned its paper party hat and consulted the Christmas-cracker oracle (as well as some investment experts) to divine a list of gifts that will keep on giving long after the Christmas tree is packed up for another year.With the sharemarket stumbling backwards and forwards like the office drunk at the annual Christmas knees-up, who in their right mind would give shares to someone they cared about, right? Wrong.If you are buying shares for children, or any long-term investor, they may have a time horizon of 10 or 20 years. "While markets are visibly risky now, for the long term it is more advantageous to buy now than it has been for years," the editor of the Sound Money, Sound Investments newsletter, Greg Canavan, says.INVESTMENT IDEASParents and grandparents often want to help children financially and teach them the principles of long-term investing. A parcel of quality shares, or units in a managed fund, is a gift that pays dividends for a lifetime.Not only can the investment be used in future for a house deposit, university education or travel, the investment knowledge it provides is invaluable.There are risks in this strategy, though, especially if you only plan to make a one-off gift of shares.The managing director of Professional Wealth, Doug Turek, says buying units in an exchange-traded fund (ETF) would offer more diversification than a parcel of BHP shares."Dad gave me shares and it took 20 years for them to get above their purchase price," he says.An ETF over a broad market index, such as the S&P/ASX 300, gives exposure to the top 300 Australian companies and can be bought and sold on the ASX like an ordinary share.Canavan agrees that for a single purchase, it may be better to buy shares in a broad market fund, where a professional fund manager looks after a diversified share portfolio for you."LICs [listed investment companies] such as Argo and AFIC [Australian Foundation Investment Company] are well managed and pay good dividends. They are an option for people who don't want to keep an eye on stocks themselves," he says.Independent share analyst and author Roger Montgomery says people buying shares for the long term, even for someone else, should aim to buy a diversified group of quality businesses."If you intend buying shares for children for the rest of their lives, you only need to buy small amounts. [The companies you invest in] can be any size ... but don't buy all at once. Buy the same amount twice a year for two years to spread your risk," he says.STOCK PICKSCanavan also advises averaging into the market, buying income-producing stocks, such as Telstra and biopharmaceutical company CSL, and reinvesting the dividends.Montgomery says four-wheel-drive accessories supplier ARB Corp, CSL, Cochlear, ANZ and Flight Centre are his top long-term picks. Although he would normally buy shares for his three children, aged 10, eight and two, this year he is thinking of giving them small gold ingots instead (see box).The research director of the Intelligent Investor newsletter, Nathan Bell, picks QBE Insurance, Computershare and Woolworths as quality stocks that should stand the test of time."People will still be buying groceries from Woolworths in 20 years' time and you get a 5 per cent fully franked dividend yield along the way," he says.Bell says QBE is a strong, well-managed insurance business with a dividend yield of 9.8 per cent but it's currently priced as though it will never make another dollar of investments. He says Computershare has just made a great acquisition in the US and is a well-managed business for the long haul.Bell owns all three stocks and hopes they will provide for his children in future. But with six-month-old twins, he hasn't had time to think about shares for their Christmas stockings yet.EXPERTS AND ANALYSISIf someone in your life spends endless hours in the study trying to make sense of financial markets, you can help them lift their game and enjoy the company of like-minded people at the same time.Give them an annual membership to one of three independent, non-profit investment associations or a subscription to an investment newsletter.The Australian Investors' Association (AIA), Australian Shareholders' Association (ASA) and the Australian Technical Analysts Association (ATAA) all offer one-year subscriptions that provide educational material, regular conferences and seminars and the chance to join a local discussion group in capital cities and some regional centres.The AIA is offering a Christmas special: join now and $130 buys 15 months' membership for the price of 12. This deal is only available over the phone on 1300 555 061.The ASA offers several levels of membership from $115 a year, while the ATAA charges $290. The ATAA is aimed more at traders and offers diploma courses in technical analysis in conjunction with Kaplan.Paul Ash, an ATAA member for 20 years, says the organisation has introduced him to a vast array of like-minded amateurs and experts. "If ever I've got an investment problem, I can ask other people and they can usually provide a solution," he says.AIA executive officer Silvana Eccles says a survey found that the most popular subscription newsletters among its members were the Eureka Report ($385 for one year), Morningstar (from $299 a year), Investing Times (from $250 a year) and Marcus Padley's Marcus Today ($750 a year).BRAIN FOODBooks are synonymous with holidays on the sand or a plane trip overseas. They not only help while away the hours but help the reader make money.Five years ago Janene Murdoch, of the Educated Investor bookshop, gave her 17-year-old son a copy of Scott Pape's The Barefoot Investor: Five Steps to Financial Freedom in Your 20s and 30s (Capstone, $26.95) in an attempt to teach him good money habits. The book hit the mark. Now aged 22 and one year into his first full-time job, her son has saved close to $40,000 towards his first home."It's scary how many 30-year-olds still haven't got their money sorted," Murdoch says. She recommends two of the current crop of investment books that provide food for thought, as well as an entertaining holiday read.Bulls, Bears and a Croupier, by former journalist and fund manager Matthew Kidman (Wiley, $34.95), encourages readers to stop gambling and prepare to make money on the sharemarket when the bears finish their mauling. Although it aims to be an investment primer, it is also full of colourful characters and entertaining anecdotes.Extreme Money: The Masters of the Universe and the Cult of Risk by Satyajit Das (Penguin, $32.95), is a well-written, illuminating explanation of the fine mess the so-called financial experts have got us into.Even in bear markets, some people are making money. If you want to find out how, Murdoch suggests Alan Hull's Trade My Way (Wiley, $29.95).For budding Warren Buffetts of any age heading off on holidays with an e-book reader, many investment titles are now available in digital form.Lesley Williams, director of Major Street Publications, says all her best-selling investment titles are also available as e-books. Allan Trench's excellent A Share Buyer's Guide to Investing in the Australian Mining Boom retails for $34.95 on paper or $15.95 as an electronic download. Margaret Lomas's Investing in the Right Property Now! is $29.95 and $12.95 as an e-book.SOUL FOODFor the person who has everything, or is just difficult to buy for, why not consider making a charitable donation on their behalf.For as little as $10, you can help SANE Australia help people suffering from mental illness, while $60 provides clean water for a family in a developing country and $69 will send a girl to school.You can go straight to the charity of your choice and buy a gift card online or choose from hundreds of charities at karmacurrency.com.au.Or perhaps the most precious thing you can give this Christmas is your time. The Salvation Army alone expects to help 300,000 Australians this Christmas. It will serve 8000 meals and distribute $20 million in vouchers, hampers and toys.If you have time or money to spare, ring the local contact number for the Salvation Army or similar charities operating in your area to see how you can help. It may also be the best gift you can give yourself this Christmas.Bright prospects for someone special- Invoke wealth and prosperity with a 2012 Year of the Dragon gold coin.- Start a share portfolio for a child and add small amounts regularly. (See "Stock Picks", below.)- Alternatively, buy shares in a listed investment company or exchange-traded fund.- Build investment know-how with a book or membership of an investors' association.- Donate time or money to a good cause.A sprinkling of gold is sure to brighten the mood of the most jaded investors this Christmas.Precious metal investment could light up Christmas as prices soarThe gold price has jumped 25 per cent this year to its current level of about $1736 an ounce, a spectacular return in a year in which Australian shares have fallen 16 per cent and other mainstream asset classes are treading water at best.Greg Canavan says gold could go to $US5000 ($5015) an ounce if central banks keep printing money to bail out debt-laden nations, boosting inflation as a result."Gold will be a better store of value [than other investments]," says Canavan, who has 23 per cent of his personal portfolio in a mix of precious metals and gold shares for diversification.It seems a lot of people agree with him. Gold coins, bars and baubles are flying out of the Perth Mint gift shop, according to retail sales manager Cathy Anza."[Some issues of] Year of the Dragon gold coins are selling out before the year even begins," Anza says.The Chinese Year of the Dragon is meant to bring good fortune and prosperity and if next year is as wild a ride as the past one, an investment in gold may be one of the few ways to prosper.Bullion coins and bars are priced according to the daily spot price for gold. Collectable coins and minted bars sell for a premium over the spot price, depending on the design and packaging. Most come in an attractive presentation case.Year of the Dragon gold coins start at $339 for th of an ounce (2.83 grams) of 99.9 per cent pure gold. Children might also like a pure-gold Kangaroo Nugget, which start at $245.58 for th of an ounce.For those who like their gold pure and simple, gold bars start at $927 for half an ounce.Gold minted bars with the Perth Mint logo and kangaroo motif start from $322 for five grams.All products can be bought online at perthmint.com.au and are delivered to your door.