Give Experiences This Holiday Season

The holiday gift-giving season is upon us once again. For many of us, that means stress. What gift can we give to the people we care about that actually means something? Why do the holidays have to be so expensive after we buy gifts for everyone on our Christmas list? Then, on Christmas Day, we have to find polite things to say about the unwanted gifts we get and we find ourselves with a bunch of additional stuff to take care of whether we like it or not.

All of these problems can be solved by one simple change in your perspective about gift-giving this year: give experiences instead of things.

What do I mean by this? Instead of giving a material gift that would require you to spend money on something you’re unsure they’ll like and them receiving something that they’ll have to now take responsiblity for, give them something that isn’t material.

Six Ideas for “Experience” Gifts

Here are six quick ideas to get you started, but there are hundreds more just like it if you let your creativity go.

1. For a child:

Give a field trip. This could be a trip to a zoo, to a kid-friendly science center (like the wonderful one in Des Moines, Iowa), a wilderness hike, or to a baseball game. You’ll handle all the logistics of the trip for them.

2. For a food lover:

Offer a home-cooked version of a meal they’ve longed for. Try making them something challenging like coq au vin or beef bourguignon. Get out your fine china and linens for this dinner, too – make it something special. It could be a romantic gift for a food-loving couple.

3. For an art lover:

Plan a trip with them to the art museum of their choice later in the year. Buy the ticket and handle the transportation yourself.

4. For a spouse:

Pledge to do the dishes for a year – or give them a few weekends where they can do whatever they want (with or without you).

5. For a gamer:

Give them some invitations that allow them to choose a game to play with you. This is a great way to understand someone’s hobby better (and perhaps find it interesting and exciting yourself).

6. For a parent:

Give a free night of babysitting. To them, this means an evening doing whatever they’d most enjoy doing without having to worry at all about their children.

Barter for Services

If you have some good ideas for experiences but don’t have the cash, look into a barter with the person that could provide that service. For example, you might be willing to work 40 hours at a museum or a zoo for a certain number of tickets. Perhaps you could provide IT services at a spa in exchange for some gift certificates there. Many businesses are quite willing to offer credit in exchange for your skills and/or your time. Take advantage of that.

The Presentation

Many people balk at such gifts because they’re unsure how to present it. With a home printer and some time, you can create an elegant presentation of any gift.

1. Spend a little on a decent stationery set

You can use this for many such gifts over the long haul. Look for something tasteful and simple that doesn’t necessarily have to be holiday-oriented.

2. Use a straightforward layout in your word processer

There are thousands of templates for Word, most of which are compatible with most word processing programs out there.

3. Fill out the document with the details of the gift

Print it on the best printer you have access to, and also print the envelope with the recipient’s name on it in an elegant font.

4. Include some visuals within the envelope

A brochure that shows what the event is all about is perfect, as is a photograph that provides a visual reminder of what you’re going to do. It can even be something as interesting as snapshots from a past event you’ve enjoyed together.

Why This Works

Aside from the fact that it’s less expensive than giving traditional material gifts, giving experiences works for three reasons.

1. It doesn’t give a material item that the other person will have to deal with

It’s not going to wind up needing maintenance or taking up storage space in their home or requiring a trip to customer service.

2. It will stand out in a positive way in comparison to the items they receive

When you receive several items for Christmas, something distinct like this will definitely stand out from the crowd. Most of the “experience” gifts I’ve ever received still stand out for me.

3. It often allows you to experience the gift together

If the gift is an event you can both participate in, it becomes a shared memory, something far beyond what a material gift can offer.

For us, unfortunately, “experience” gifts are a bit of a challenge since we don’t live near many of the people we exchange gifts with. Of course, we have another solution for many of those folks for frugal, unique Christmas gifts… but that will have to wait until next week.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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