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Giving experiences, not “stuff” this Christmas

I plan on giving experiences, to replace much of my traditional shopping this Christmas. I would like to give experiences and memories that last much longer than “stuff”.

I’m determined to simplify gift giving. I will not just talk about doing things differently. This year I will do it – and writing this post will provide me with extra accountability to make it happen.

My kids’ birthdays are in October, November, December, and January so if we’re not careful, the fall and winter can become a gift frenzy.

Giving the gift of experience could be for grandparents, aunts, and uncles that are looking for gift ideas, or in lieu of other wrapped gifts from parents.

Giving experiences, not “stuff” this Christmas


This would be especially meaningful if the children would be really excited about a particular class and know that it wouldn’t be something mom and dad would ordinarily be able to provide.

This is not the time to give piano lessons if your children hate playing the piano (just saying…).

  • Karate
  • Art/Drawing
  • Dance
  • Skating
  • Lego Robotics


Quality time

One of my sisters has begun a neat tradition with my children. For their birthday, she has them over for a sleepover, a meal of their choice and a fun activity. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be a highlight for them.

They start asking her a month before their birthdays when it’s time for their “birthday sleepover”. The event has included:

  • An hour at Playdium
  • Baking chocolate-covered anything



Is there a particular show that’s in town that your children would like to see? What a perfect opportunity to spend time together and make a memory.

Depending on their age and stage, it could be Disney on Ice, a sophisticated venue like Stratford Theatre or a concert.



If you start early, you can watch for reduced-cost outings and adventures that would be unique gifts. A few favourite sites include Groupon and Living Social.
You could find deals on:

  • Paintball for a small group
  • Rental of a play place
  • Rock climbing (a huge hit with my older boys)

Family adventures

Our extended family is considering cancelling gift exchanges this year and going somewhere special together. Trading wrapping paper for lifetime memories.

Great Wolf Lodge looks like a great option for all the cousins ranging from 1 to 11. If we can convince the more traditional relatives, it will simplify gift purchasing – and if we decide this soon, we can watch for good deals all fall.


A once-in-a-lifetime gift

If I were to give in to my husband and my persuasive children, I would surprise them with a Christmas puppy! I am pretty certain that would be the only gift they would need for that year.

If your child wants a pet, and you are okay with that responsibility, this would be a fantastic gift idea!


Helping others

As your family feels lighter by simplifying gift-giving, what a perfect opportunity to help others during the season. You could visit a hospital, help organize a food bank or invite over people for tea.


Giving experiences instead of stuff could revolutionize the way we celebrate.

Now is the perfect time to begin to plan for Christmas giving. I want to purchase one experience gift each month for my children so the budget does not take a major hit in December. Starting early also allows me to watch for deals and avoid panic shopping.

Making a radical switch in the gift-giving traditions here will be difficult, but our family will discuss it and transition over the next few seasons. We will strike a balance between experiences and physical presents to see what works best for us.

Have you enjoyed giving experiences instead of stuff? Please share!


  1. Sabrina

    I have believed in this theory for many years and my children (10 and 6) have come to love their experiences much more than the toys that ultimately end up on a shelf collecting dust. We have done skating lessons, basketball lessons, art lessons, Harlem Globetrotters (LOVED by all!) and this year we are going to do Fallsview Indoor Waterpark and perhaps a play (thinking Aladdin). Good luck with your transition, but I am sure your kids will come to love it as much as mine! 🙂

  2. Alix

    Our favourite family gift to receive is a membership to a local museum. We enjoy it all year.

  3. Heather R

    This is so very not frugal but we’re taking a trip to DisneyWorld instead of doing Christmas gifts for the kids this year. We haven’t gone anywhere in the past few years and I’m very excited to surprise them with this. Even my mom and sister are coming so we’re just not exchanging presents at all. My kids have shown me that they are more into experiences than toys and we just want to give them the most ultimate experience that we can think of and have been saving for.

    • teachermum

      While not frugal on the whole, you can do Disney frugally–we’ve been doing that for years! Hands down, the best vacation value for your dollar.

      I’d love if our family would all agree to give up gift giving and do a family vacation. Time and memories are priceless.

      • Heather R

        Teachermum is there a particular website or book you can recommend on doing DisneyWorld frugally? I welcome any advice.

        • A M

          We have done this too – has some great deals and if you are on Pinterest there are many pins on how to do this frugally. My main advice would be to go off season (November or April is good) and stay on site (transportation is all provided by Disney including from the airport). If you can get a free dining deal it is fantastic as now meals are included as well and with a bit of google search on how to use the plan you will find you don’t need to buy anything more than a couple of snacks. For tickets try DW Savers or Undercover Tourist or use Air Miles if you have them. They will all mail the tickets to your house so you have them in advance and offer discounts. DO NOT buy tickets from the guys you find on every street corner in FL.

          • Heather R

            Thank you so much for your advice! I’m going to check out that website:)

        • teachermum

          Heather, shoot me an email at teachermum at hotmail so I don’t go on and on and one here…

          Great tips listed below in AM’s post.

          Off the cuff:

          Know the value seasons.

          Know the value resorts.

          Do your math for several scenarios. Free Dining sounds like the best deal, but it isn’t always and it isn’t completely free. You pay full room rates to get it and depending on what you will eat, you may or may not be able to do better with room discounts and careful dining choices.

          Basic eating strategies? Bring/buy groceries for breakfast in the room while everyone gets ready. Bring along your own snacks (you are allowed to bring food into the parks, just not glass bottles) but indeed account for at least one Mickey ice cream bar! Eat counter service (quick service) only (as opposed to Table Service (waiter in a sit down restaurant). Disney counter service is NOT McDonalds. has all the menus for all the eateries on-site. Watch what people are ordering as you wait in line as some entrees are easily large enough to share. Anyone can order a kid’s meal at a counter service place-it’s often plenty for an adult. No drinks with meals-a cup of ice water is ALWAYS free from any location at any time. For our family of four, drinks at two meals would be close to $20/day, let alone anything in addition.

          Undercover tourist has the best ticket prices. By far, the cheapest tickets are the longest ones (per day cost) so only do Disney to get the best bang for your buck. We have no problem, even after 15+ trips, filling 10 days with just Disney. Non-frugal? A few Disney days, a few Sea World days, a few Universal Days…

          They have free transportation from the airport to the hotel but it may be worth your while to rent a car for a day when you arrive to make a grocery stop-if you prefer bottled water to local, that alone can save you the cost of the car!

          Don’t book any extras and skip souvenirs (gasp!).

          I could go on, and on, and on…

  4. Caroline

    My mother started doing this for our children some years ago and some of the presents have included a flying lesson in a Cessna, and outing to see the circus, a basketball game, going to the butterfly conservatory. It was a good way of giving an experience and quality time.

  5. James Slattery

    My family often took me to plays (same day discount at Dundas Square booth of Toronto Tix), city garden tours (I LOVE gardening), sports games or camping. All great memories.

  6. mpars

    I LOVE going to the theatre/opera/symphony etc and as a student I get 50% off tickets at the NAC and other Ottawa venues. My bf loves this too because every year for my birthday (and sometimes for Christmas too!) he knows that tickets to a show will be my gift. Simple for him, a fun date night for us, and everyone is happy! He lets me pick the show that I like and works with our schedule (since box office opens after my birthday) and I really enjoy the anticipation in the days or weeks before we go.

  7. Angela

    Very smart…we have also been trying to scale back the amount of “stuff” the children get at Christmas, as it is so much more than about getting.

  8. A M

    We have 4 children and really they don’t need any more “stuff” so have been concentrating on this approach for some time now. We receive a cheque from my Dad each year and we try to look for an experience that we wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy. Last year we went to Horseshoe Valley for 2 days and this year we are trying to get a good deal for Great Wolf Lodge (my kids have been asking FOREVER to go there but it has always been too expensive). When we pool the money from all 4 children though, it opens up so many more options and exciting places that we can go and becomes much more fun and meaningful than 4 more toys.

    • Karen

      Perfect example of giving experiences, especially by “pooling resources.” Thanks for sharing.

  9. Louise

    We also do this. We often let the grandparents in on the gift so that they can get something needed for the class or somehow complimentary. This year we are thinking about a membership/season’s pass to the zoo or a season’s pass for the the local provincial park to enjoy all year. Before we had kids we regularly got Raptors tickets for Christmas.

    • Karen

      I recently looked into get zoo passes with Air Miles. That makes it really affordable (depending on which zoo you live closest to).

  10. Linda

    I don’t have children, but my parents and I have done this type of thing from time to time. One time, I got my Dad’s clock in the vehicle fixed. He thought he went over a bump and it started again lol.

  11. Jenn

    Great article articulating the reasons we should cut out or alter the gift-giving habit at

  12. sabadi

    If considering a puppy, this is a good article some ideas on how to do it well. And please consider adopting! It’s soooo rewarding to offer a needy puppy or dog or cat or rabbit or turtle or any pet animal a good home. It can be an opportunity to teach kids about the value of pets as not just commodities or things to have/own but a forever member of the family that can be carefully chosen to fit that family.

  13. Andrea

    Please do not give dogs/ cats/ rabbits/ guinea pigs etc. for Christmas. Animals are no gifts or toys. They are partners and new family members. Make their first day in your family a quiet and not the most stressful one. You could maybe have all the pet supplies under the Christmas tree and then go and pick your new furry friend up from the shelter a couple of days after Christmas. 🙂
    Everyone will benefit from this!

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