A few weeks ago my husband and I were searching for the perfect birthday gifts for two of our young granddaughters. We Googled “best gifts for 8-year-old girls” and “best gifts for 10-year-old girls.” As we became quite uncertain about what to get, knowing many parents have to clean out the toys and clutter more than a few times a year, I called my daughter-in-law, Jennifer. She promptly suggested we give an “experience” gift. We had given Christopher and Jennifer (the grownups) experience gifts for both birthdays and Christmas last year (along with other family members doing the same, I’m sure). Her definition of an “experience” gift is just sending the amount of money we would otherwise spend on traditional gifts, and they would use it for an amazing opportunity for the whole family. Genius!!!

Last year, they were able to take the family (they have five children) to Branson, MO for six days. They stayed in a beautiful hotel, treated themselves to a variety of dining experiences and a number of shows. Having six days free to spend with each other and the kids allows for the best quality family time ever. And, yes their children are very well-behaved! However, the best part is the gift given back to the grandparents in seeing the pictures posted on Facebook or texted to our phones.

I was worried about the girls being disappointed with just an envelope with cash, but they both were elated. Examples of suggestions included in each card were: eat at a restaurant of your choice, a trip to the bookstore, going to see a movie, including snacks, or a trip to your favorite ice cream shop. Again, Genius!!! Not only are they excited about opening the envelopes, they now have time to contemplate their choices and look forward to their next outing.

Experience gifts can be shared and appreciated by all ages, genders and income levels. It can be as simple as giving a child two dollars to go pick out a candy bar or put in a piggy bank to grow over time into a bigger experience. It’s important to let friends and family know this is what you want. It’s just as important to let the gift givers know how you used the gift. It’s simple to show the giver you care and appreciate the experience by sending pictures of smiling faces. It’s a win/win for everyone.

For the adults the experience may be something really special as in the Branson trip mentioned earlier, a second honeymoon, or a cruise. But it can also serve as a way to get something really needed or wanted in everyday life. Examples could be an iRobot for an easy and convenient way to clean floors, a cordless blower for leaves in the fall, a new set of tools or a trip to ones favorite nursery/landscaping store for flowers, trees or bushes for the garden lover. The possibilities are endless.

With Christmas not too far away, maybe it’s time to inquire about what someone really wants. My late mother-in-law would bring me a couple of flats of pansies for my birthday in October (the perfect time to plant them) and I was elated every time. She knew exactly what I wanted. If you’re ambivalent about knowing exactly what you want, ask for an experience gift. There will still be oohs and ahhs when the gift giving begins and maybe some discussions about plans for the gifts, but without the dreaded chore of returning items the next day.

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