The bar mitzvah is a coming-of-age ceremony for Jewish boys entering their teens. These celebrations are significant moments signaling a transition into adulthood … and they’re typically much bigger, blowout affairs compared to the standard birthday party.
If you’re invited to a bar mitzvah—congratulations! From experience, I can tell you that you’re going to have a blast! But if you’re outside the Jewish community, you might have a few questions about what to expect, and several of them might revolve around whether you should bring a gift:
- Is it customary to bring a present?
- If so, what type of bar mitzvah gift is appropriate?
- What’s the best kind of gift to give?
- How much money are you expected to spend?
The good news? You have several gifting options when it comes to bar mitzvahs—there isn’t a single “right” present.
So, let’s dig in! Below, I’ll talk about some of the best bar mitzvah gifts, the benefits of each type of gift, and a little more general information about bar mitzvahs, too.
And importantly, I’ll be talking about appropriate gifts for a bar mitzvah. If your loved one is in fact a Jewish girl, not a boy, you’ll want to explore the best bat mitzvah gifts.
Is It Customary to Give a Gift at a Bar Mitzvah?
In short: Yes. Guests typically bring a gift to a bar mitzvah celebration.
A bar mitzvah will usually start with a synagogue service, followed by a more traditional party. Gifts are brought to the party and placed on a designated gift table. Given the significance of this particular age, people frequently give more expensive gifts than they do for other birthdays. As a rule of thumb, take how much you’d normally spend on a birthday gift, then increase that by 50%.
However, I’ve got one more bar mitzvah gift-giving custom for you to follow.
As Jewish Boys Turn 13, The Number to Remember Is 18
Eighteen is a lucky number in Judaism. That’s because it symbolizes “chai”—the Hebrew word for “life,” and a word that’s built from two Hebrew letters: “chet” (the eighth letter) and “yod” (the 10th). So, especially if you’re giving a financial gift, I suggest you give in multiples of 18 to wish the now-young man a long and happy life.
You don’t have to give cash, of course. You can also provide other monetary gifts (say, gift certificates or even stock), as well as some non-monetary physical gifts.
With that, let’s dive into all of the types of appropriate bar mitzvah gifts.
Best Bar Mitzvah Gift Ideas with a Financial Intent
First up, here are several types of bar mitzvah gifts to consider if you want to provide a little extra financial security to your acquaintance, friend, or loved one. In no particular order …
#1: Individual Stocks
Stocks make excellent bar mitzvah gifts for several reasons.
To start, strategically chosen stocks have the potential to grow significantly in value over time. The average total return of the stock market (as measured by the S&P 500, with dividends reinvested) has been a whopping 10.5% annually since 1971, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller.
Also, many young people enjoy owning the stock of their favorite companies. For instance, if I knew a bar mitzvah boy was a big fan of Apple (AAPL) products, I would consider buying him AAPL stock. (Coincidentally, as of this writing, AAPL shares were trading around $180!)
Also, if you give appreciated stocks you already own, you’ll avoid any capital gains taxes you otherwise would’ve had to pay if you had sold those shares instead.
If you do want to go this route, I suggest you read up on how to gift stock in a tax-friendly way.
#2: Mutual Funds
The idea behind gifting mutual funds is similar to gifting stocks … and they’re arguably safer and more stable to boot.
A mutual fund typically holds dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of stocks, bonds, and/or other assets. This provides “diversification,” which is the investment world’s equivalent of not putting all your eggs in one basket. Think about it. Sticking with the Apple reference above, let’s say Apple’s CEO woke up one morning and inexplicably decided not to sell iPhones—the stock would probably fall quickly and precipitously. If you own Apple stock, you’re going to suffer significant losses. However, if you own a mutual fund that owns Apple, but also many other stocks, your losses will be limited.
Just note that the flip side applies: Mutual funds also don’t have as much potential for explosive gains as individual stocks. They also charge annual fees for the privilege of holding all those assets for you, and those fees come out of your performance. Further, funds might not be as exciting to a young teen. Still, if you’re looking out for the bar mitzvah boy’s financial future, mutual funds work exceptionally well as long-term investments.
#3: Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are similar to mutual funds in that they allow you to invest in numerous stocks, bonds, or other assets with just one purchase. But they have a few noteworthy differences.
Primarily, as the name suggests, they trade on stock exchanges throughout the trading day, just like stocks; mutual funds, on the other hand, only change hands once each trading day, after the market closes.
ETFs are also typically cheaper than mutual funds. That’s largely because most mutual funds are actively managed, meaning one or more humans are making the investment decisions; most ETFs, however, are index funds, meaning a rules-based algorithm is calling the shots—a much cheaper way of running a fund. However, you’ll usually find that even actively managed ETFs have lower fees on average than their mutual fund counterparts.
A note about how to gift stocks, ETFs, and mutual funds
Gifting financial assets isn’t difficult, but it does require more than just pushing a button in your brokerage account.
I talked with Fidelity’s High Net Worth Team to provide an example of how to do this, which I’ve listed below. (But please note that the process might vary slightly by brokerage.)
- If both you and the recipient have Fidelity accounts, it’s as simple as calling up Fidelity and requesting a transfer of stocks, ETFs, and/or mutual funds. They’ll ask for pertinent account information and get the transfer done.
- If you and the recipient have different brokers, the receiving firm (the broker of the person who would receive the shares) needs to request the shares. So you would tell the recipient (in this case, the bar mitzvah boy’s parent or guardian who manages the account for him) to request shares from their broker. They’ll be asked to fill out a transfer of assets form that includes pertinent account information, and send it in. The transfer usually takes seven to 10 business days.
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We’ll note that Fidelity Youth™ Account isn’t a prepaid card nor a banking app, but it’s still strongly worth considering.
Controls parents want and need
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#4: Savings Bonds
A savings bond is basically a loan you make to the U.S. government. Like all bonds, savings bonds come with a promise that, in time, you’ll be paid back your initial investment, plus interest. But unlike most other bonds, you don’t collect that interest until you cash in the bond—typically once it reaches full “maturity.” So it’s best to let it accumulate interest for the full term of the bond—30 years for Series I and Series EE savings bonds.
A bar mitzvah ceremony might mark a child’s transition into adulthood, but it doesn’t mean the boy has suddenly obtained the willpower not to spend a wad of cash. So I look at savings bonds as a way to instill a little financial discipline—while rewarding someone for their patience.
To gift a savings bond, both you and the bar mitzvah boy must have an account with TreasuryDirect—a U.S. government website, and the only website where you can buy and redeem savings bonds. A parent or adult custodian must themselves have a TreasuryDirect account, then set up a linked account for the child.
#5: 529 Plans
A 529 plan is designed to help save for a child’s future education expenses, whether they’re going to college, vocational school, or some other post-secondary institution. (And technically, they can be used for K-12 expenses, too.)
Given the continuously rising prices of higher education, the sooner a kid saves for college, the better.
Contributions to a 529 plan are made on an “after-tax” basis—so there are no federal tax breaks (though there might be state tax breaks) when you put money in a 529 plan. Earnings grow tax-free, and you don’t have to pay income taxes on distributions as long as that money is used for qualified education expenses, which include costs such as tuition, fees, books, computers, and housing.
If funds aren’t used toward educational costs, you’ll have to pay both taxes and a 10% penalty. Fortunately, if necessary, the beneficiary can be switched to another qualifying family member. Or, starting in 2024, a beneficiary can transfer up to $35,000 of leftover money in a 529 plan into a Roth IRA in his or her name as long as the account was open for at least 15 years.
You can either open a 529 plan for the bar mitzvah boy (anyone, not just relatives, can open a 529 plan for a child) or contribute to an existing plan. Either way, I look at 529 plans as a fitting bar mitzvah gift because you’re focusing on education—one of the most important aspects of the transition to adulthood.
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You can share an invite code for friends and family to make contributions to a 529 savings plan for birthdays, holidays, or other noteworthy events (like making honor roll).
#6: Cash (in a Savings Account)
The benefit of cash is that it can be used for anything, from a video game or a fun time out with friends to college or a trip to Israel.
Just remember: If you’re going to give a cash gift, it’s good luck to work with a multiple of 18 ($36, $54, $72, $90, $108, etc.)—symbolizing wishes of a long and joyous life ahead. So again, if I were calculating this, I would take how much I’d usually spend on a birthday gift, add 50%, then round to the nearest multiple of 18.
If you want to give physical cash as a bar mitzvah gift, put it in a decorated envelope (a little aesthetic never hurts) and include a thoughtfully written note.
However, I suggest a card without physical cash, and instead deposit the money into a savings account. That reduces the temptation to immediately spend the cash and encourages good financial habits.
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#7: Gift Certificates
Gift certificates can feel a bit more personal than cash because you’re at least selecting a certificate for a store you know the child enjoys. It’s a nice compromise of giving the soon-to-be-teen a choice of what to buy while still showing them you pay attention to their interests.
I plan months ahead for loved ones’ birthdays. One tip I’ve picked up along the way: Take advantage of discounted rates on gift certificates around the holidays.
#8: Israel Bonds
Israel bonds both support Israel’s economy and, like U.S. savings bonds, will grow in value over time for the recipient, making them an excellent and appropriate bar mitzvah gift.
Israel bonds accumulate taxable interest until maturity. A popular bond series for bar mitzvahs, offered through IsraelBonds.com, is the eMazel Tov bond, which can be redeemed in five years—meaning the recipient would be age 18 by the time they can redeem the money. They start at a minimum purchase of $36 (yes, you’re perceptive—that’s a multiple of 18!), and you can buy any value above that in $1 increments up to $2,500 per purchaser per holder per month.
Related Questions About Giving a Bar Mitzvah Gift
What is a bar mitzvah?
A bar mitzvah, in the most literal sense, is the coming of age for a Jewish boy.
The term “bar mitzvah” is Hebrew for “son of the commandment.” Upon turning 13, a Jewish boy is considered an adult, from a religious perspective—and thus assumes all of the accompanying responsibilities, including observing the 613 commandments of the Torah.
This Jewish rite of passage actually occurs regardless of whether any ceremony occurs … but given that it’s a reason for celebration, many bar mitzvahs include both religious rituals and a party. The Jewish community typically holds a religious ceremony on the first Shabbat after the boy turns 13, where, among other practices, the bar mitzvah boy reads from the Torah.
Celebrations usually take place after the ceremony. Food, dancing, and bar mitzvah gifts are part and parcel of the experience.
What is a bat mitzvah?
A bat mitzvah is a similar rite of passage, but for a Jewish girl. (“Bat mitzvah,” as you might have guessed, means “daughter of the commandment.”)
The primary difference between the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah is the age—in most (but not all) Jewish communities, a girl celebrates this occasion at age 12, not 13.
Otherwise, there are plenty of similarities. Regardless of whether it’s a bar or bat mitzvah, the religious ceremony often occurs on Shabbat, in a synagogue, and it’s usually followed by a party. And the celebration for the bat mitzvah girl is typically bigger and more lavish than a normal birthday party. Indeed, this Jewish tradition is considered similar in pomp to a “sweet 16” party.
Do you bring gifts to a bar mitzvah?
Yes, it’s customary to bring a bar mitzvah gift. And as mentioned before, it’s good luck to incorporate multiples of 18 in the gift—especially if those gifts are monetary in nature. Other appropriate gifts include physical gifts that incorporate the bar mitzvah boy’s interests, or that are connected to Jewish history.
Again, my spending suggestion is 50% more than what you would spend on a regular birthday gift.
What is an appropriate bar mitzvah gift?
Seeing as how I’m writing on Young and the Invested, I can’t help but emphasize the fact that financial gifts are A-OK. You can gift investments such as stocks, ETFs, mutual funds, savings bonds, and more. Or you can give more immediate financial gifts: namely cash and gift certificates. (And one last reminder: Stick with multiples of 18! So if you were thinking about giving $50, give $54 instead.)
However, you don’t have to give money or investments as bar mitzvah presents. Which leads me to one final FAQ:
What are non-financial bar mitzvah gifts you can give?
I love financial gifts, but that’s not everyone’s style—and there’s nothing wrong with that! You have plenty of nonfinancial gift options to choose from. Some appropriate and traditional gift ideas for what to give the bar mitzvah boy on this special occasion include:
- Stationary with Hebrew letters, the Hebrew alphabet, or two Hebrew letters for their initials
- Shabbat candles or Shabbat candlesticks
- Hanukkah menorahs
- Kiddush cup
- Jewelry, such as a Hamsa necklace or a pendant featuring the Jewish Star of David
- Tzedakah boxes
And of course, you can always get bar mitzvah gift ideas straight from the source—by knowing the young man’s interests or asking them what’s on their wish list.
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