My wife and I have been together for nearly two decades. That’s a long time. We have loved celebrating milestones and events together along the way. We do all the major holidays and dates like our wedding anniversary and birthdays. But, we also celebrate smaller, sillier dates, too — like the day we started dating.
As we got older, however, we realized that we had enough “stuff.” We were tired of dealing with the holiday crowds at the mall, too. This was just for one other person — for major holidays, we had to get gifts for family and close friends, too, which can get expensive.
So, instead of going crazy over buying material things, my wife and I have opted instead to gift experiences — for example, tickets to see Hamilton. Now we almost never get each other physical gifts.
To be clear, we’re not scrooges, nor is it because we’re trying to be super frugal (though you can definitely save money this way), it’s that we value spending time together as a couple and a family, even if it’s just binge-watching shows on Hulu, much more than accumulating things. I don’t want to get caught up buying my family tons of stuff just because. After all, the holidays are, in particular, meant to be spent with friends and family, and I’d rather have opportunities to cherish each and every relationship I have.
Of course, just because this is what my wife and I value, doesn’t mean to you need to jump on the bandwagon as well. However, if you are sick of stressing out over gift-giving or just accumulating needless stuff, I suggest you give these suggestions a shot when the holidays roll around.
Cooking Special Meals
For our anniversary, both dating and wedding, and for Valentine’s Day, we cook a romantic meal together. Cooking is an activity we really enjoy, and it’s as much about spending time together as it is about the food.
One of our go-to meals is a roasted rack of lamb with root vegetables and tomatoes. Our starter is cream of crab soup. It’s a decadent meal even before you get to the homemade chocolate mousse topped with fresh whipped cream.
We’ve cooked it so often that it’s better than going to a restaurant. Plus, there are plenty of leftovers.
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I don’t know about you, but I love freshly baked cookies — like … a lot. Fortunately for me, my lovely wife enjoys baking them.
Now that our kids are in school, we will make a batch of cookies to go along with a small gift card for their teachers. We get our kids in on the baking process, too. Their little hands are great at mixing, and they enjoy making the treats their teachers will enjoy. (If you’re not into sweets, there are savory foods you can give as gifts, as well.)
For your next holiday party, try inviting friends and family for a potluck, and have them share their favorite dish instead of doing a gift exchange. You can do something fun, like share why it’s your favorite dish or a funny story that happened as a result of you cooking the dish.
Attending Live Events
We love going to concerts, musicals and other shows together. I fully subscribe to the idea that our memory of experiences gets more positive with time. We look to fill our lives with as many events as possible because when you schedule a fun outing, you get many days of enjoyment. There’s the anticipation of the event, then the actual enjoyment of the event, followed by the memory of the event.
Recently, we saw Elton John perform at the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. Though I’m not a super fan, I enjoyed his music, and it was a joy to experience his music in an area of his adoring fans — my wife included. It’s something we’ll remember for quite some time, and I get more enjoyment from that memory than over any single item.
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Splurge on Destination Holidays
Yes, it can be expensive to travel over the holidays, but jetting off to a place that will guarantee you an unforgettable family vacation could be worth it. If you’re not into splurging, see if you can make it a point to have a staycation or even go to the next town over.
For those who would rather travel off-season, you can still figure out alternatives for the holidays. Perhaps the “gift” can be to schedule the time to plan the vacation. You can do things like make a Pinterest board or ask your children to cut out images of activities they’re interested in trying.
More on Holiday Getaways: The Most and Least Affordable Places to Spend Your Holiday Vacation
Remember That It’s About the People
At the end of the day, even exchanging gifts is meant to show appreciation for friends and loved ones, maybe even as a thank-you to your neighbors and co-workers. I know from experience that people will appreciate and remember how much you spent time with them.
This holiday season, I’d rather focus on the memories than things. I hope you’ll join me.
Read More: These States Spend the Most on Holiday Gifts
More From Our Smart Money Squad
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- Watch: Budgeting Tips for Couples
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