I’d be very wealthy if I had a dollar for every time my son asks for a new toy. The one thousand times I’ve heard the question give me pause to think about my own childhood gifts.
My fondest childhood memories are of experiences not physical gifts. These memories include family trips, playing army, a helicopter ride, summer camp, and a hot air balloon ride. At top of this list was simply spending time with my Dad running errands on Saturday mornings.
Though a bit of a cliche, those close to death rarely wish for my toys or more hours at work. More often heard at end of life are thoughts of having a more time with friends and family. In the 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss states “Living like a millionaire requires doing interesting things and not just owning enviable things.”
These ideas resonant with me when I think of what I want to do and model for my son. I am not about to deprive him of toys entirely rather to put them in a healthier perspective. Many of the toys he does get are ones that stimulate his imagination such as tinker toys or one his favorites—ZOOB Jr.
My son has asked a thousand and one times for specific Octonaut toys like a Gup X. Thankfully, he actually asks for activities more than stuff. He likes time with Mommy and Daddy and playing with friends. Already, at age four he asks for his friends to sleepover.
Still, we do get inundated with toy requests. Last year, Santa’s list had over 30 items on it!!
So what’s a parent to do?
A friend gives her grandchildren Christmas gifts of specific activities with grandma. I know a wealthy family that takes their young kids on international trips four times a year. Both examples demonstrate types of experiential gifts for kids.
I found an interesting posting by Emily Roach. She lists a number of reasonably priced kid adventures as alternatives to tangible gifts. These are the kinds of things my grandmother friend is doing. These gifts provided not only the experience. They provide the anticipation and excitement of doing them well after opening the gift. Here is Ms. Roach’s list.
- Trip to a [stage] show
- Children’s museum visit, or a specialty museum that ties into your kid’s favorite hobby
- Visit the zoo or aquarium
- Spend the day at a local theme park
- Let your child pick their favorite restaurant for a special birthday dinner
- Attend a concert
- Spend the day in the city, be a tourist even if you don’t live that far away
- Sporting event. From basketball games to a gymnastics tour, there are many different options.
- Movie tickets
- Tour a local farm or orchard
- Cooking or art classes
- A session of classes: music, sports, dance, etc. –
Some gifts can be more simple, perhaps, everyday activities. Using these creates and safeguards dedicated special time for a child and the giver.
- Helping to plan a special meal
- Baking cookies
- Special Church activities
- Planting seeds for tomatoes or flowers
- A day or a few hours (minutes) with Mommy or Daddy at work
- A special outing for an ice cream cone
- Looking at Fall color
- Huddling under the covers on cold morning.
I have chosen to start experiences with my son. Already, we make sure he regularly sees his grandparents. This includes ones that live in a distant state that he sees in person several times a year and almost weekly via Skype. We have certain family traditions on the trips such as going to Hershey Chocolate World (family lives in Hershey, PA) that help counterbalance the long car ride and enhance the experience.
At times we tie a tangible gift to our experiential efforts. For example, my son is getting his first bike on his 5th birthday. Being his first bike, my wife and I will share with him the experience of learning to ride and later rides together as a family. We have also started a family tradition of attending our church’s week long family camp. My sister has jump on the gift of experiences by providing him tickets to special comedy puppet show for kids.
Giving experiences takes more thought and time than turning on the TV and is much more rewarding. It makes going to stores easier (even just a tad) for there is less “Daddy I want” at every turn. I am loving making this process a habit and a proactive lifestyle choice.
So I ask myself most days and I ask you.
What can you do today to give your kid some great childhood experiences and memories?
Note: During the busy tax season, I only have room for 2 new clients.