Think back to your childhood. What were your favorite moments? Fishing with your dad right before sunset, as you sit in the canoe and watch the sunset on the lake? Visiting the zoo and getting to ride an elephant, or feed the baby animals with a bottle? Going to the “Big City” for the day and getting to ice skate at Rockefeller Center? Likely when you think about your childhood, with a few exceptions, you don't remember the toys that your parents got you that cost a fortune. I bet you can vividly remember the moments they spent with you though. My task today is a huge one. I'm going to do my best to convince you to stop buying stuff for people. Not just your kids, but your parents, your spouse, and even close friends. We're drowning in “stuff”. We don't need new stuff. This is especially important for kids. We're teaching them to have an endless stream of stuff. You're kids likely have too many toys for them to be able to clean up themselves, keep them organized and truly enjoy them. We had that problem too. We had a messy room with the floor covered in toys and kids that didn't play with any of it because it was so overwhelming. While this is a topic for another post, when we threw all of those toys in bags and stored them away, leaving out only 20 “good toys”, life changed in a great way! Suddenly the kids were playing better, could clean up on their own and it was easy to take care of the things that we have. We learned a lesson though. Kids are happier with less stuff. Adults are happier with less stuff to, although it's harder for us to see that.
What the people in your life crave is a connection to you. They want to be close to you, to know that you love them and thought about them specifically. They want time with you. Fun time, not time to do chores or the budget. Instead of buying the kids the latest $40 toy that will end up broken on their bedroom floor in two weeks, think about what memories you can create with them. Here's a few ideas… these events are for the Northern Virginia area since that's where we live, but you can find your own unique events. Great places to start looking are local Mom Facebook groups, Groupon or Living Social. You can also search on Google for “(your city) things to do with (your kids age group- babies, toddlers, pre-teen, teen etc)”.
- A Trip to the National Zoo (Free), including a ride on the metro, with kid-made animal tee shirts (puffy paint to the rescue!) and a packed lunch with giant chocolate chip cookies that can be eaten on the benches right in front of the Orangutans. (Approximate cost: $14 including the cost of lunch.)
- A trip to “A Day Out with Thomas” to take a ride on Thomas the Train and see the Thomas related exhibits and events. Let them take their Thomas Train toy from home and surprise them with a wooden train whistle (which can be found for cheap on amazon through the affiliate link below). (Approximate Cost: $30)
- A canoe ride, or paddle boat ride at the local lake. If you have a canoe this is free, but renting them (and life vests!) are usually pretty cheap. You can fish, or just pack some stale bread to feed the fish and turtles. (Approximate cost- about $15) if you're renting the boat.
- Taking a boat tour of DC with DC Duck Tours using a bus that transforms into a boat to see sights by both land and water. Since this is an expensive trip anyway, we're going to go for gold and add a trip to Ben's Chili Bowl for lunch ahead of time. (Approximate cost: $90)
- A trip to a baseball game. Our Major League Washington Nationals have tickets for only $12! We would ride the metro (a fun event in and of itself if you're a kid), we'd pack a lunch (including cracker jacks of course). Alternatively, our Minor League Potomac Nationals are my absolute favorite. The stadium is smaller, much less crowded, they have dollar night Mondays where tickets, hotdogs and sodas are each $1. They have a mascot that the kids can meet and lots of fun extras. (Approximate Cost: $6-$40 depending on which you choose.)
- Feeling really brave? Cancel traditional Christmas presents to take an extra family vacation. Anything from a weekend at Great Wolf Lodge with its amazing indoor waterpark to a week at Disney World. (My parents did this once. Trust me- we didn't miss the presents at all and they created Disney fans for life.) (Approximate Cost- Varies.)
- A night at Disney on Ice (or Frozen on Ice), have the kids come in character! Princess Elsa or your little Prince Charming will love it. (Approximate cost – $80, unless you go for resale tickets.)
- A day at the Circus, complete with all the cotton candy that they want to eat. (Approximate cost- $50.)
- A visit to an Air Show (don't forget to bring some toy planes from home!). (Approximate cost- Free thanks to Manassas Air Field.)
- A local high school or college play. I've been to everything from high school plays to Broadway and they all took my breath away. High school play tickets are likely about $10, while Broadway tickets are over $100. If you love Broadway, by all means go for it. I'm just as happy in the small scale theaters. (Approximate cost- $20.)
- A visit to the Prince William ice rink for “Snow and Story” (where they pile the ice with snow and toys and let the kids go nuts- we have a little guy not quite ready to skate and we've been lacking snow this winter). (Approximate cost- $7.)
- A game of “I Spy” at the local museum. Have a list prepped ahead of time with things to find, this makes it more fun for them, and while they're looking for their list, they'll be more interactive with the exhibits.
This works for spouses too! Here are the top 5 things that I would love for my birthday (Hint, hint Darling).
- A sunset visit to the FDR Monument, with a handmade picnic catered to my tastes (meaning all of my favorite foods and at least 3 kinds of brownies).
- A family visit to the Shenandoah Caverns, with the sworn oath that you'll do all the diaper changesJ
- A package of ballroom dancing lessons (plus the babysitter to cover our time away) or swing dancing, dirty dancing, whatever.
- A frugal weekend away (This is where you use deal websites to find a decent hotel with a free breakfast for about $35 anywhere, then find something in the area you would love to do or see and make it an overnight trip. A weekend away for $35? Yes, please!)
- Get a babysitter for a few hours so you and I can head to a location of your choosing. You can teach me your photography skills, which are desperately needed.
Pro Tip: Keep your eye on Groupon and Living Social. Not only do they have great deals for events but they're my number one way to find unique experiences. A quick glance at my Groupon account just let me know about “Trapped in a room with a Zombie” which my husband would love for $16, a snow shoeing adventure package, a vintage car rental, the Lego brick fest fan festival, a formula 1 racing experience and tons more.
There's a phenomenal experience for virtually every budget, including plenty of free ones. The idea is to make the occasion special and memorable. This list would succeed in that goal so much better than the latest toy or flowers that will wilt in a few days. Come visit me on Facebook and let me know if you're giving an experience instead of “stuff” this year !
This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission that helps keep the Busy Budgeter up and running. Read my full disclosure policy here.