Forget the Gadgets; Give an Experience! by Kim Allman

Several weeks ago I wrote about how you can plan your holiday shopping in order to avoid the dreaded holiday debt.  I encouraged careful planning and a detailed list.  Did you make your list?  Have you been scouring the holiday flyers and asking your kids for their wish list so you can start your planning early?  Take a look at your list.  Are you giving any experiences?  What I mean is, are you just giving material things like toys and clothes or are you giving anyone your time or something they can create memories with?

Take a moment and think about what you received for Christmas last year.  Now think about what you gave to your family and friends.  Which gifts do you remember? Chances are you remember the gifts that involved an experience or a social interaction more clearly than the gifts that were material things.  Why?  Because experiences tend to make people happier than material things.  Think about it.  What creates more lasting memories?  A trip with the family where you spend time together or the latest iPod?  How many times have people received jewelry or electronics when all they wanted was time with the gift giver? 

One of my favorite Christmas memories is one from my childhood.  I don’t remember the year but I do remember that my brother and I were hoping for one of the latest video game systems (possibly Sega Genesis).  We already had some of the Nintendo systems but as a child, you can’t have enough video games!  Christmas day came and we started opening gifts, looking for that box of a certain size that would have both of our names on it.  As the boxes were being opened and cleared away, we spotted that most important box.  My brother and I glanced at each other with knowing smiles and ripped the paper off.  Our hearts quickly plummeted.  Inside this large box were a couple decks of playing cards and instructions on a variety of card games.  Were our parents serious?  How could they do this to us?  This had to be a cruel joke and we were convinced it was a form of child abuse. 

But you know what?  I don’t remember any of the other gifts I received that year.  Those playing cards were one of the best gifts I have ever received.  Once my brother and I got over the shock of the gift, we opened up the box and learned how to play the card games with our parents.  And we continued to have many nights of family fun.  Yes, the cards were a material item, but what my parents really gave to us was an opportunity to learn something new and spend time with them.  It fostered team work and a variety of skills.  That type of bonding doesn’t happen when your child is sitting in front of a video game staring at the screen and ignoring you. 

Another beautiful thing about giving experiences is that the gift can be substantially cheaper than a material thing. The playing cards were a lot cheaper than a video game console and it didn’t require new game cartridges or new controllers.  It just required family or friends to play.  Think about the value of experiences when you are doing your holiday shopping and think about the different ways you can give an experience but also save money at the same time.

  1. You can give an experience that includes you.  Come up with a gift that will involve you spending time with the recipient.  This is great for children.  What is the child interested in?  What do you think the child might be interested in?  Why not plan a day of visits to museum or locales that fit with the child’s interests?  Not only will the child learn something new but they’ll remember spending that time with you.  Those memories will outlast any video game or toy.
  2. You can give an experience that does not include you.  I’ve talked a lot about spending time with others but don’t underestimate the value of giving experiences that don’t involve you.  You may not be able to actually spend time with the person, but they will still enjoy the experience you provide to them.  Do you have a friend who recently moved to a new city?  Do some research into some of local activities and hot spots in that city.  Put the information together in a nice package and throw in some gift certificates and coupons.  Not only will your gift lead to a great experience but you will give a personal gift that is tailored to that person. 

Ultimately, giving an experience allows you to be more creative and give gifts that are more meaningful and can cost much less than buying the hottest toy or gadget.  It may take a little extra time on your part but it may very well be worth it in the long run.  Have you ever given or received an experience gift?  I’d love to hear your stories of good (and bad) experience gifts and how they impacted your life.

Kimberly Allman, Esq. is a financial planner and the President of Allman Financial Planning, LLC where she assists individuals who are seeking to improve their financial health. She is also the Manager of Homeownership Preservation for the New York Mortgage Coalition where she provides assistance to homeowners in distress through seminars, informational workshops and one-on-one counseling. She started her career as a corporate lawyer where she advised clients on a variety of investment products including hedge funds, mutual funds, structured products and real estate investment trusts.

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