Gifts That Pay Off: Language classes, computer coding — and other holiday gifts that will last a lifetime

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This story is part of an ongoing MarketWatch series, “Gifts that pay off.” Between now and Dec. 25, we will look at gifts that could potentially earn the recipients money or improve their lives.

You may not be able to wrap this particular gift, but it will last longer than a pair of socks.

Instead of giving a loved one a sweater or tie, why not help advance his or her career? They may even find a new hobby, meet new friends or simply have an enriching experience they will remember forever. “People value and remember experiences much more than they do things,” said James Rohrbach, chief executive officer of Fluent City, a language learning company with sites in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.

The benefits of taking an adult class could be good for your health: People who learn a new skill might avoid dementia, as brain chemistry changes when people are learning, according to Central Connecticut State University’s Continuing Education department. People with more skills may also apply for a higher-paying job. Moreover, a class can open up a new career path, or even become a side hustle that earns you extra money.

MarketWatch photo illustration/iStockphoto

This is the sixth article in a new MarketWatch series, ‘Gifts that pay off.’ Between now and Dec. 25, we will look at gifts that could potentially earn the receiver money.

What’s more, experiences tend to make people happier than tangible goods. Materialism can lead to loneliness, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research from 2013 showed. Millennials especially prefer experiences, such as classes, over tangible goods: 78% say they’d rather spend money on an experience or event, according to one poll conducted on behalf of event-planning company Eventbrite. Seniors can also benefit, especially if they aren’t yet ready to retire.

Here are some ideas for your loved ones this holiday season:

A passion that saves hundreds of dollars

People looking to follow a specific diet (like Paleo or Whole 30) and those who just appreciate making a delicious homemade meal can gain a lot from taking a class on the basics of cooking. “Once you understand how to cook, it doesn’t matter what diet you follow,” said Celeste Terrell, co-owner of Well Done Cooking Classes in Houston. Aside from saving money on eating out, it can also save on calories: People who eat out eat an average of 200 calories more than those who eat at home, according to the Public Health Nutrition.

Cooking classes offer the potential to eat healthier meals at home or in the office, but it’s important to be tactful and empathetic when giving certain gifts. For example, if you argue with your spouse about his or her lack of cooking skills, maybe don’t give them the gift of a “how to cook” class. Cooking classes range in cost between $75 and $200, according to freelancing site Angie’s List. But it can save that much or more per month if people swapped out a few nights’ out or lunches for a homecooked meal.

Also see: Is it better to buy stuff or experiences? Lin-Manuel Miranda and my Vitamix blender have the answer

For the adventurous, career-minded type

Knowing more than one language can make a person very competitive in the workforce, as well as more culturally aware. “You don’t have to get fluent to find great value from studying another language,” Rohrbach said. Locals appreciate tourists who try to learn the language — it’s a sign of respect, he said. Americans are behind other countries when it comes to language learning — because of school budget cuts and teacher shortages, there just aren’t enough foreign language education, the Atlantic reported in 2015. There are also programs, like Rosetta Stone, that help people learn a new language. Rosetta Stone costs about $250 for levels 1 to 5, or can be purchased as a subscription-based model, such as $18 a month for three months.

Land some of the highest paying jobs in America

Coding is one of the most sought after skills for half the highest paid jobs in America, according to an analysis of 26 million U.S. online job postings by analytics firm Burning Glass and Oracle Academy. They look for people who understand SQL, Python and JavaScript. But even a basic understanding of coding could be beneficial for job seekers. Lehman College, a part of the City University of New York, has continuing education classes specifically for Microsoft Office. Classes can be pricey. The onsite bootcamp tuition for Coding Dojo in multiple cities, such as Washington, D.C. and Tulsa, range between $10,500 and $13,500, but there is a less expensive option for its online program.

Check online reviews of bootcamps, talk to alumni and tread carefully if they’re connected to for-profit colleges. The coding bootcamp industry is facing a reckoning, MarketWatch reporter Jillian Berman recently reported. “Multiple high-profile bootcamps funded by companies operating for-profit college chains have closed over the past several months, underscoring the difficulty of running a successful training program in a nascent industry,” she found. “The schools typically charge thousands of dollars for a several month course that provides in-demand skills, but no degree.”

Something to stay healthy and live longer

Want your loved one to get healthy and live longer? Try gift cards for the local gym, Soul Cycle center or Pure Barre. Not sure what type of workout the giftee would like the most? ClassPass offers members the opportunity to try out numerous studios in the area, for a variety of types of fitness, such as boot camp and kickboxing. Classes at these outlets and other boutiques for fitness and yoga can range from $20 per class to $40 or more.

(This story was updated on Dec. 6, 2018.)

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