Image: Gift © Brian Hagiwara, Brand X, Corbis

Here's a holiday shopping tip: Nobody really wants a glow-in-the-dark tie or another set of bath salts. Allow me to suggest a potentially life-changing present: the gift of personal finance.

There's a book out there for everyone on your list: the new graduate with a starter job (or no job) and a ton of student loans; your recently divorced mom, who's never concerned herself much with money; the friend with no idea how to plug financial leaks; a midlife-crisis brother who's questioning the value of his job; and the 30-something cousin who hasn't done a thing about retirement.

Beware: Even a whiff of condescension or condemnation may cause the recipient to toss the book aside. So you need to put your gift in context.

For example, MSN Money columnist Liz Weston says "Your Money or Your Life" is a book that "profoundly changed" the way she thought about finances. If there's a book that spoke to you in a similarly meaningful way, then enclose a note saying so -- for example, "This is how I got out of debt."

Image: Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman

You could also address a specific personal situation, such as: "This author speaks directly to Millennials about a life beyond ramen and five roommates."

Does your recipient have a goal, such as starting a business or retiring early? Include a note saying: "I looked through this, and it offers very realistic tips. Hope it gets you closer to your dream."

I asked a bunch of money specialists for books that would address these and other financial matters, plus I threw in a few recommendations of my own. Look for something that will speak to the folks in your life. Even if they wished it had been a pony, they'll be grateful it wasn't a fruitcake.

Some basics

Blogger J.D. Roth of Get Rich Slowly likes "Your Money or Your Life" as much as Weston does. Before he could fully appreciate it, though, he had to clear $35,000 in consumer debt, with help from "The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness."

Those are the two titles that "most affected the way I think about money," says Roth, who went on to write his own book, "Your Money: The Missing Manual."

Another oft-cited title is "The Millionaire Next Door." Frugal guru Clark Howard says this book confirms the old saw that rich people don't get rich by giving away their money. Apparently they get rich by paying no more than $16 for haircuts.

"It's what you don't spend that makes you rich over time," says Howard.

Not that he expects you to wait forever. Howard is also enthusiastic about "Living Rich by Spending Smart," which tweaks a basic budget to come up with thousands of dollars' worth of annual wiggle room.

"It deals with the immediate," Howard says. "It's not about cutting out a cup of coffee and ending up $100,000 richer in 30 years."

Saving yourself

Frugality expert Mary Hunt was in hock up to her hairline when she read "How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously." The book "was a real turning point for me," says Hunt, now the author of numerous books of her own, including the upcoming "The 7 Money Rules for Life: How to Take Control of Your Financial Future."

For someone who's at sea when it comes to money, financial coach Saundra Davis recommends "Ahoy, Money! How to Chart Your Course to Genuine Financial Freedom" and "The Motley Fool Personal Finance Workbook: A Foolproof Guide to Organizing Your Cash and Building Wealth."

The books above offer solid advice with no unrealistic promises. Davis, who coaches low-income Californians at the Earned Assets Resource Network, notes that some people think that a gimmicky title will provide a fast and easy answer to their money problems. Good luck with that.

"The bottom line is that there are really only three things we can do to address our financial distress: make more, spend less (or) a combination of the two," Davis says.