November 17, 2009

Experiential Gifts for the Holidays

This is the first segment of a series I'll be doing this week about non-consumer holiday gift giving. Today I'll talk about "experiential" gifts, tomorrow I'll have ideas for handmade gifts, and Thursday I'll give you some frugal gift ideas that cost under $10.

"Experiential" gifts are my absolute favorite, both to give and to receive. I've been a proponent of gifts of experience since way before I started The Compact. Experiences are so much more meaningful than STUFF, and the options are endless.

I started down this path several years ago when I was trying to think of a gift for my mom for her birthday. My parents had recently moved into a smaller house and had already gotten rid of a lot of possessions and put a lot more into storage. Whenever I'd taken the train to visit my parents in San Diego from Los Angeles, I'd noticed a restaurant in San Juan Capistrano that was right along the route and looked so charming. So my gift was a card with a train ticket and a coupon for lunch inside. My mom and I met at that restaurant halfway between our homes for a delicious lunch and a glass of wine, walked around San Juan Capistrano, browsed in a high-end gift shop, and got inspired by the people painting watercolors of the mission. It was a perfect afternoon and my mom absolutely loved her gift. Since then my whole family has adopted the practice of experiential gifts.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

1) Museum membership. One of my favorite gifts from my parents that my husband and I have enjoyed this year is a membership at The Norton Simon museum, which is less than a 10 minute drive from our home. There are so many advantages to a membership, but the main one is that going to the museum doesn't have to be a big "outing," you can just drop by to see a new exhibit or look at your favorite painting, or browse for an hour. I often go just to stroll through the gardens and sit and read a book. A really fun bonus is that members are invited to special events, like the acquisition of a new piece of art or a piece on loan from another museum. My husband and I love the wine and cheese receptions that accompany these events. This is a more affordable option than you might imagine: a one-year membership for myself AND my husband, which included 2 free guest passes, cost just $65.

2) Classes or lessons. If your husband has always wanted to play the guitar, give him guitar lessons. I got that idea from Non Consumer Girl, and I'm thinking it would be a good gift for my husband too. Maybe your mother always talks about taking a writing course at the community college, your parents would love to learn the tango, or your daughter in college is a budding gourmet who would enjoy a cooking class. Music lessons, horseback riding lessons, cooking classes, dance lessons, college courses, the options are endless.

3) Concert tickets. This one has been a big hit with my parents. One Father's Day I took my dad to see Dave Brubeck at a San Diego venue right on the water. It was a fabulous concert and we had a great time. My brothers and I splurged to send my parents to see Josh Groban, something they never would have figured out how to even buy tickets for on their own. My mom is a huge fan and she was swooning for days.

4) Massage, manicure, pedicure, or other spa services. This is the kind of gift that is so appreciated by someone who's lost their job or going through financial difficulty. They can't afford to treat themselves, and the stress relief and pampering will make them feel so much better.

5) Yoga classes. Again, this is the kind of thing people cut from their budget, usually just when they need it the most. This is what I'm giving my brother this year because he loves yoga but just can't afford the luxury of paying for a class.

6) Gym membership. Joining a gym is a big commitment, but if your loved one recently dropped their membership, or you know where they'd love to go if only they could afford it, this would be a great gift.

7) Animal encounters. I'm not talking about getting in a cage with sharks or wrestling an alligator, there are much safer ways for animal lovers to interact with other species. Look into what's available at zoos and animal parks in your area. My mother got into a tank in a wetsuit with a beluga whale at Sea World, and the smile on her face in the photo makes her look 20 years younger. The photo of me at the beginning of this post was taken on Christmas Day in 2001 in the Florida Keys at a marine animal park. My husband likes to tell the story of how my hand shot up with a bunch of kids when they asked who would like to come up and meet the sea lion. Then they asked each of us as we went up if we wanted a hug or a kiss, and I was the only one who chose a hug. It's one of my fondest memories and favorite photos.

8) Wine Club. I'm arguing for this as an experience, even though it's tangible, because it's an experience to receive and drink the bottles. This was one of our favorite wedding gifts from our good friends, because it was an excellent winery and the type of wine we rarely splurge for, but we'd save it for special occasions, and make the event even more memorable. Also, you can look into an organic winery. And if a full year is out of your price range, many places offer a half-year membership.

9) Charity. Kiva dot org and Global Giving are two examples of charities that let you get involved and pick the project you want to participate in. For as little as $10, you can give your loved one the gift of providing a family in Mali with a mosquito net to protect them from malaria, textbooks for schoolgirls in Afghanistan, or job training for at-risk teenagers in the United States.

10) CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) delivery of fresh, local, organic produce. You know what a fan I am of this service we started back in May. This would be a great gift for someone who has good intentions about eating healthy, but doesn't have the time or follow through to get to the Farmer's Market. Check out Local Harvest to find a CSA in your area.

11) Theater tickets. Tickets to a performance of their favorite play or season tickets at their favorite venue are a great gift for a theater-loving couple living on a fixed income or whose funds are tight. Theaters offer great prices on season tickets when you can attend during the week or at matinees. And these days you can negotiate deals because theaters, and the arts in general, are hurting for business.

12) Brunch. Much more reasonably priced than dinner, some buffet brunches at nice hotels offer an incredible spread and a nice dose of luxury for a newly married couple or a couple with kids who need some time alone.

13) Getaway. An overnight or weekend getaway to the beach or the mountains would be a fantastic option for an overstressed couple. A wine country package, canoe trip, cross country skiing, or just sitting on the porch of your creekside cabin reading a good book- just what the doctor ordered.

14) Go-Kart or car racing track. An afternoon with their dad at one of these places would be heaven for a pre-teen boy, especially one who wants to grow up to be Dale Earnhart, Jr.

15) Other options for kids include theme parks and water parks, an afternoon of kite-flying, or a day at the beach. Or introduce your child to volunteering at an early age, by serving up plates at a food kitchen, caroling at a hospital or nursing home, or "adopting" a family who's fallen on hard times and buying gifts for each of them. Your children will learn the meaning of the holidays through their experience.

16) Certificates. Home spa treatments, car washes, babysitting, dog walking. This is a nice option when you're short on money. I recently gave my husband a home facial and he loved it. He said it was very relaxing.

17) A home-cooked meal. It's so simple you might not even think of it, but for someone who's socially isolated, new in town, or has recently divorced or lost their spouse, this gift of food and friendship would be extremely appreciated.

Additionally, spending time with family members doing holiday-related activities like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, or attending a holiday-themed concert or play can be your gift to each other.

I'm sure you can think of more ideas that will be just perfect for the people in your life. When you give this kind of gift, you're giving memories. And you know what they say: memories last forever. Which is not the case with most of the stuff many people will be buying at the mall. The bonus with these gifts is that avoiding the mall this time of year will save you immeasurable amounts of stress and give you more time for whatever rituals you enjoy, whether it's baking, listening to music, or just spending time with family and friends.

I hope you got some ideas here. Please tell us about your favorite experiential gifts in the Comments section.


This Thrifted Life said...

So many great ideas! Honestly, if a friend cooked a good meal for me (or even just ordered in) ad just spent the evening chatting, it would be such a wonderful gift in this harried world.

Ellen said...

Add Charity Checks to your list of charity giving opportunities: You get the tax deduction, and the recipient is given the opportunity to support the cause of their!

Founded by Stanford grads Victor Dorff and Lisa Sonne, Charity Checks is a non-profit organization that created "Giving Certificates" to be purchased online in many different denominations - and given to your friends or family. Recipients choose the organization that will receive the certificate – with almost 2 million... IRS-qualified charities to choose from. Tax-deductible for the purchaser, and a great way to give back during the holiday season, Giving Certificates are also a valuable tool for teaching kids about charitable giving.

Cate said...

What a great picture! Great ideas, too. Season tickets to sporting events are also good (there are so many packages that you're bound to find something affordable, especially if we're talking minor league baseball or something) and zoo/aquarium memberships are also good.

Marie-Josée said...

I love the picture ! You look so pleased. I really appreciate your suggestions, and my favorite is the massage, manicure, pedicure idea. I love receiving those as a gift, because I always feel so pampered during the treatment, it's such a time out for me, and the luxurious feeling lingers. It is so true that offering that type of treat to someone who currently can't afford it will make it even more appreciated. I would be tempted to give a gift card to someone going through rough financial times, which would probably be used to purchase practical items versus an appreciated treat. I think I will print your post and tape it to the fridge. I am certain it will ignite an interesting conversation with the familia and has already given me several great ideas. Thanks Angela !

Marie-Josée from Montréal, Québec, Canada

Non Consumer Girl said...

Hi Angela!

I love your ideas!

The best presents i have ever received and given have been experiences!

Thanks for this thoughtful post.

Non Consumer Girl

Non consumer Girl said...

My Mum and Dad live 5 mins walk from a community theatre.

Mum loves to take the grandkids to the theatre every school holidays.

However, there is always a production for "grownups", so I am looking into theatre tickets for my parents for Christmas presents.

My Mum loves the theatre so much, it is a special treat that she wouldn't normally indulge in, but would mean so much to her....

Bean said...

Great post. Number 14 is going on the christmas list, I know a great place the boys would love!

Betsy Talbot said...

Love giving and getting experiential gifts!

My favorite was a birthday gift for Warren right after we moved to Boston. There is a culinary school there that gives couples cooking classes, and we spent several hours one Saturday night chopping, cooking, learning, and then enjoying a big dinner together with our new friends. It was the perfect gift for him because he wanted to learn more about cooking and it introduced us to new people. Win-win!

Another idea is to buy an activity for an upcoming vacation, sort of like they do for wedding gifts these days. If you know someone is going to Napa, you can buy them a ride in a hot air balloon. These might be things that they wouldn't normally budget for and would be a nice treat.

Angela said...

Thanks for all your great ideas and for taking the time to make a comment.

Experiential gifts really are the best!

Bohdan Brumerskyj said...

I am reading this blog for the first time, and I saw your comment regarding buying concert tickets. You mentioned my sister, Hannah Brumerskyj, on your blog a few months ago and it was her link which brougt me here. I was very impressed with your experential presents posting, and wanted to report that my mother has now been for the past 2 years, purchased concert tickets for myself, my siblings and out partners for Christmas and Birthdays. We live in Australia, and don't have a Broadway or West End type of venture, but do have a number of performance venues throughout Sydney and it is to these that we have gone and seen productions of such shows as Wiched, Cirque Du Soleil and other fantastic productions. Thanks for the fantastic post.

Angela said...

Hello! I'm so happy you like the post and thanks for commenting. Experiential gifts have been my favorite for some time now.