an empty nest lifestyle blog

Why I’m giving my kids experiences instead of gifts this year

Why I’m giving my kids experiences instead of gifts this year

I admit it. I have spoiled my kids. They’ve had their share of Barbie dollhouses, video games, skateboards and the latest teen fashions. And now that they’re in their twenties, I have no idea who is enjoying those hundreds, no thousands, of dollars worth of toys that were donated or sold for a dollar out of my garage. Believe me, packing up those expensive American Girl dolls with all of their furniture and accessories to give them away still hurts me in the bank account to this day.

Aside from toys, another thing I did not skimp on with my children was experiences. We moved to Italy when they were just 7 and 9 because I wanted them to see the world. Even when we moved back to the states, I continued to fund their trips abroad because these are experiences that will last a lifetime.

The past few years, I’ve really focused on giving them experiences rather than things. As college students soon-to-be urban dwellers scraping by on minuscule undergrad salaries, they won’t have room for things. And they don’t need to be tied down by things. But no matter where or how they live, they’ll always have room for memories.

We recently took a family vacation to Australia. And since I’m still paying for it, I’ve informed them that, technically, that trip counts as part of their Christmas gifts. And we’re going to spend the days leading up to Christmas in New York City as tourists, taking in the shows and ice skating at Rockefeller Plaza. Again, they’ve been informed that there will be nothing to unwrap this season (wrapping paper is SO overrated) as their gifts are these experiences – things we do together as a family. Their gifts are the memories I allow them to create. Now that they’re older, we occasionally look back at those early days living in Milan and laugh about our naivety and misadventures as expats. These are memories they’ll tell their grandchildren someday. They never get old.

This year, and for many more years, I’ll focus on taking them places, exposing them to new experiences, and encouraging them to seek out new adventures. Or, my gifts may be as simple as a family bowling night or museum tour that goes into their bank of memories that can’t be donated or sold at a garage sale for ten cents on the dollar.

5 experiences that make great gifts:

  1. Purchase tickets to a show or attraction – perhaps it’s an interactive magic show where family members become part of the show or a comedy show where you’ll have some funny memories.
  2. Plan a family staycation – let each family member pick an activity in your hometown – maybe it’s the botanical gardens followed by an afternoon on the driving range and ending at a famous restaurant. You might even rent a special car for the day like an over-the-top sports car or convertible.
  3. Schedule a unique family outing – think of team building experiences like signing up for cooking classes as a family or run a local holiday 5K. Get the family outdoors with a camping trip and scavenger hunt or zipline through a nearby forest.
  4. Plan an actual trip – go somewhere you’ve never been before. Part of the experience, and the memories, should be the actual trip planning itself. Assign each family member a responsibility – getting there, day trips, tours, restaurants.
  5. Volunteer together – consider volunteering for a holiday event serving others or look into voluntour trips. Spending time as a family serving others is a great way to create some true feel-good memories.


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