If you're tired of fighting traffic, can't find the right thing for your kids online or simply want to try to give a gift with a purpose this year, go fund shopping. There are no lines...

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If you’re tired of fighting traffic, can’t find the right thing for your kids online or simply want to try to give a gift with a purpose this year, go fund shopping.

There are no lines, no congested parking lots and a huge selection, but there are also a few twists to navigate and decisions to make.

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With that in mind, here’s a holiday shopper’s guide to giving funds as gifts to children.

For starters, enter the gift-investment process knowing that your favorite funds may not be available as “the perfect gift.”

Many fund companies have established “gift of shares” programs. Following the lead of Franklin Templeton and Alliance, these generally amount to a card or certificate good for a formal presentation, along with a pledge to make an investment in the recipient’s name.

The recipient typically gets to pick the fund of his or her choice from within the fund family.

The Monetta funds go a bit further with the Monetta Express program, which combines strong educational materials with nice gift items and low minimum investments. The problem is that the company’s funds are nothing to rave about.

There are two funds — Columbia Young Investor (SRYIX) and USAA First Start Growth (UFSGX) — designed to be given to young or starting investors. While the funds have materials designed to help newbies, neither has performance that is particularly compelling and both have costs that are above average.

Next you get down to using your ordinary mutual fund as a gift, with no special card or program other than the one you make up yourself.

It’s not as easy as choosing your favorite fund, because most gifts are small-dollar transactions, and that may force you to look for funds that have a low minimum. This gets tricky, because funds with little or no required initial purchase tend to have above-average expenses.

To find mutual funds with a low minimum investment, go to the Web site of the Mutual Fund Education Alliance at www.mfea.com or check out the “fund selector” feature at Morningstar.com and combine the lowest required investment with other features you like in a fund.

And before giving up on your favorite picks — even if they have a high minimum — see if they will waive that requirement for accounts established for children. Some firms make exceptions for kids, although they don’t advertise that special treatment.

It’s entirely possible, however, that a low-cost diehard trying to give $100 to a nephew might have to buy a fund he would not own himself. The decision, therefore, may come down to whether buying a fund with above-average costs is worth doing if it helps to teach the recipient about investing.

Remember, too, that the best way to ensure that your gift achieves a goal of teaching something about funds is to include a bit of your investment philosophy and wisdom.

Include the list of factors that led you to make your choice, or pick the fund together with the recipient and start his file with the list of buying factors plus the prospectus. Follow up with the occasional progress report and you may spark an interest in investing that lasts well beyond the life of this year’s hot toy, doll or video game.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at CBS Marketwatch. He can be reached at jaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.