Experiences as Gifts, Appreciating What You Have, and What We're Getting Our Kids

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Photo credit: Naito8- Freedigitalphotos.net
With the holiday season upon us, people around the world are stressing out about gifting- what they should give each loved one, and many are going into debt to pay for these extravagances. Forums I'm in are filled with discussions about how much to spend on each child ("Is $200 dollars reasonable per kid if we're short on cash- I don't know if I can swing $500 per child?"), feeling guilty about not spending enough on each child, or showing off how much they're showering their kids with all sorts of extravagances.

Tis the season to be materialistic and wasteful, it seems.

Not in our family.

Forget the fact that money is tight around here and cash doesn't flow like water into our bank accounts.

Even if I were rich, I still don't want to be teaching my kids to live their life in pursuit of material possessions, equating acquisition of paraphernalia with happiness. In fact, it is often the opposite- lottery winners are often miserable, and poor people can be very happy.

I mentioned it before Black Friday, and I'll say it again- the best way to be happy is to decide to be happy, to decide to appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don't have.
Even if there is a lot you're lacking in your life- just by virtue of reading this post, you automatically are lucky and have more than many people in the world do- you have the ability to read, eyesight, access to technology such as computers, cell phones, and internet. And that isn't mentioning the food in people's refrigerators, the roof over their heads, the clothes on their back, and the clean bill of health that I hope most blog readers have. (And if you don't have all 4 of the above, I really wish you success in getting those soon, and my heart goes out to you.)

We're trying to raise our kids to focus on what they have instead of what they don't have. To realize how much abundance they have in their lives.

We may live in a tiny home, getting tinier by the day with our 6 person family squished into a 484 square foot house, but we do have a lot of wonderful things. My children, specifically, have noticed how much "stuff" they have. Lee, my 7 year old, and oldest, pointed out to me recently that while he loves Lego and really enjoys playing with it, and the more Lego he has, the more creative he's able to be with it... he really doesn't need or want any more Lego, because he doesn't have any more room to store it- his Lego collection fills his entire shelf!
My kids have toys. We try to get them quality items that will last a long time, and will be used over and over- no cheap junk that will get thrown out in a few minutes after it breaks. And over time, these toys accumulate until they have less and less room to store it.
They really don't need any more toys, and my kids have come to acknowledge that fact.

On top of that, we don't want to be spending so much money on filling our house with more things we don't need...

When it comes to gifting, in the past I tried making homemade gifts for my kids and extended family, but honestly... unless it's something they really want and need, I feel you're just wasting your time and energy making "stuff", still sticking with the mentality that "stuff" is what makes you happy, even if the "stuff" happen to be homemade and cheap.

Because of this, our family decided that in lieu of physical gifts, we'd get our kids an experience gift- a family trip to the zoo.
We have a really amazing zoo nearby, and my kids, especially my 5 year old son, Ike, really, really love animals and learning all about that. For some reason, the zoo is a fortune- a trip there with our family would cost $62 just on admission- so if we wanted to go there, it really would have to be in place of physical gifts for the kids.
When I broached the topic with my kids, seeing how they felt about a trip to the zoo instead of gifts this year, they were thrilled about the idea, and super excited to go!

I wish I could take my kids to the zoo more often, instead of the once every few years like we've done so far...

Then, when a family member contacted us, asking us what our kids would like for a present, I mentioned to her that I was thinking about maybe getting a zoo membership, which would cost $155 for our family for the year (which pays for itself after just 2.5 visits), and asked her if she'd like to contribute to the cost of the membership (which would only be $93 dollars more than we originally had planned on paying for the trip there) in lieu of presents, and she said she would.
When I mentioned this to my kids, that this relative would be paying for us to get a zoo pass so we can go there many times instead of just once, my kids were literally jumping for joy at the news.

The reason why I am happy to spend money on a zoo trip is the money, while still a decent amount, isn't being spent on junk to accumulate in our house and doesn't increase our quality of life. Instead, the money is being spent on building memories with people with love and care about. Which is something that aligns with our family values. That people and memories are what should be cherished, and that pursuing materialism shouldn't be a goal in life.

(There's the added bonus that a local homeschooling group gets together monthly at the zoo, and now that my children are older, I think they'd also appreciate the socialization that occurs there, especially with kids in similar boats.)

That said, I am buying one set of gifts.

For Anneliese's 3rd birthday on December 26th.

Because while my boys have a lot of toys, I'll admit Anneliese doesn't have as many things that are just hers to play with, and that suit her tastes.

She is... just about the girliest girl I ever met. (I don't know where it comes from- certainly not from me!)
Things that bring a smile to her face:
Princesses or anything princess related, like crowns, scepters, wands.
Pink or purple.
Sparkly, shimmery, or glittery.
Flowers, hearts, stars.
Headbands, bows.
Makeup and nail polish.
Pretty dresses.
Ballerina things.
You get the picture.

(She's the type of kid that if she heard of the show "Toddlers in Tiaras", she'd want to participate.)

I was trying to figure out what I could get for Anneliese that wouldn't break easily, that wouldn't make a mess, and that suited her very girly personality.
A relative asked what she should get for Anneliese's birthday, and we came up with the idea of a pink pocketbook filled with all sorts of accessories like cheap makeup, brushes, dress up necklaces, etc...

But then I didn't know what to get her.

Some friends suggested tiaras and tutus (among other things), so I decided to go with that, since I knew she'd love that.

I ended up buying her two tiaras from ebay- made out of metal and crystal and fake pearls, instead of the cheapo plastic stuff that was available here for nearly the same price, even factoring in international shipping.
I already know she will be in love with these, because I let her pick out the two tiaras I ordered from a list, and she was super excited just seeing them on the screen.
And the last two gifts are a surprise. First is a pink tutu made from tulle. She had a tutu in the past, much simpler than this, and she wore it until it fell apart. I can imagine she'll love this just as much, especially since lately she's been obsessed with ballet.
Speaking of which- her last gift is ballet slippers, also from ebay. I want to start teaching her ballet- I danced ballet for many years and taught ballet for a year- so now she'll have the "right equipment" for ballet.
(For all these items, I first checked Aliexpress.com to price compare, but ebay was cheaper for everything.)

Total cost of her birthday gifts? A drop under $20. (And that's including international shipping!)
I know she'll absolutely love these gifts- I can't wait to give them to her and watch her face light up...

Added bonus? These items are all small and easy to put away, so they won't clutter up our tiny home.

And other than these items, there's one other gift that I'm planning on giving so far.
A relative is due to give birth sometime in the next little while, and asked me to encapsulate her placenta. That will be my gift to her.

Another relative who really enjoys natural, homemade things will be getting some hand crafted soap that I made.

And other than that?

I'll only be giving or making a gift should I think of something that I know the other person would really appreciate and won't be too difficult or expensive to make. No idea yet if or what I'll be doing anything more.
And that's totally fine by me.
I don't like gifting just for the sake of "fulfilling an obligation". I give people gifts if I think they'd appreciate it and my budget allows it.

That's it.

Wishing you all a very peaceful, relaxing, and meaningful holiday season that aligns with your value system and suits your budget.

What are you doing about gifting this holiday season, if at all? Do you feel pressure from friends, family, your kids, and spouse to go overboard and spend a lot and get many gifts, or do you feel like you can do it simply and people will appreciate or at least not be critical of the simplicity?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This year I'm giving a gift that keeps on giving...my two oldest are getting magazine subscriptions (two magazines but I expect them to share both subscriptions). It's more than what I would spend on a single "stuff" gift, but manageable because it's paid monthly and because one of the magazines (National Geographic Kids) I am also looking at as an educational enrichment tool. The two littles - I haven't quite decided yet but I'm leaning towards one of those puzzle sets that come in 4 levels of difficulty in a single box. I saw a few on sale for about $10 and I can handle that much for two kids!

  2. There were some surprise weddings and babies this year that ate into our gift budget, so we have less to spend this year than usual and we've had to rethink things a bit.

    My sister and I decided to stop exchanging gifts and to just get gifts to for the kids. It's nice knowing we have a couple less gifts to buy.

    For our daughter who's two, we bought here some toys from Amazon for $40 and we might be buying her a new night light because she's become afraid of the dark. My husband and I will be exchanging Christmas stockings this year ($20 max), and I'm really looking forward to that.

    For the rest of the family we do feel pressured to buy nice gifts for them. They spoil us rotten and we haven't been able to break them of the habit. Maybe over the next few years the focus will shift from away from gifts. But, we're fortunate that our family can get together and share a few days all together and that the gifts only take up a small amount of that time.

    I wish we had a zoo in town, our daughter would love it!

  3. Funny, I just recently wrote a post about wanting to gift an experience for Christmas, but my kids didn't want to do that. I couldn't convince them. I even tried by asking them what they received for Christmas last year and they remembered every gift! We have 3 kids and spend $100 per kid this year, compared to $67 last year.

    And the zoo membership is a great gift. We've had it in the past, then not for a couple of years, but this past year, my 15yo son was able to get a volunteer internship (67 kids got in from over 300 applicants). So now we all get to go for free too.

    1. How old are your kids?
      You can't just suddenly go cold turkey- it has to be a gradual thing if you want to spend less on gifts and more on experiences, etc....

    2. Hmm..gradually. That might work. The only problem, is that since our budget is limited for gift giving (compared to some), and experiences are quite expensive around here. I'm in the Chicago area. My boys are 15, 13 and 9.

    3. I just googled free fun chicago and came up with some ideas:

    4. Thank you. You are right. There are some free things to do in Chicago. But for a Christmas experience, I was thinking about doing something a little more memorable and maybe even a quickie weekend getaway. :)

      We were planning on going to watch the sunrise on Lake Michigan tomorrow morning as it's supposed to be a nice sunny day, but realized our oldest is babysitting tomorrow.

      I also love discovering new towns and places, new forest preserves, etc. Love being outdoors, but sometimes it's a bit too cold here! LOL

      Thanks so much for the suggestions, there's actually a couple on there that I wasn't aware of and will put on our future to do list. Happy New Year!

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