Create a holiday experience

Turn your holidays on a budget into the best ones yet.

Celebrating Christmas on a budget? Looking for 8 days of Hanukkah presents that don't break the bank? You can start by calling off the search for those “perfect” gifts on a budget. Instead, give loved ones an experience to last a lifetime. Here’s how to save some cash while doing it.

1. Let them in on it

Chances are the people closest to you already know that you’re shopping for gifts on a budget. Time to flip the script. Tell them that there are no gifts this year—it’s fine, almost 80% of millennials prefer where you’re going with this.1 Tell them that you’ll be planning something special instead: a holiday experience.

Why spill the beans? Because studies show that people get more happiness waiting for an experience than waiting for material things.2 So create anticipation, just keep the details quiet. If you really can’t contain yourself, draw up a countdown calendar (by hand to save some money) and drop that special someone a hint each day.

2. Reclaim your budget for Christmas and holiday gifts

Next, figure out how much of your budget you want to spend, if any. It’s not really about the money any more. There are all kinds of experiences that you can create for little to no cash, so you might even be able to stash some of your unspent budget back into your savings account.

Think about how many people you’re including in your holiday experience. Is it for your entire family or group of friends gathering for Kwanzaa? Are your two kids excited for Hanukkah? Is that one special someone in your life coming over for Christmas? If you have more than one experience that you’re creating, remember to budget for both. If you feel like you’re spreading your cash too thin, get a little more creative with one experience so you can spend (or save) more on another.

3. Invent your holiday experience

Now it’s time for the best part: Choosing or creating your perfect experience. Remember that experiences are just like gifts and are best when they’re from the heart. Tailor it to the person. What are their interests? Are they more the outdoor or indoor type? Here are a few ideas to help you get a holiday brainstorm going and the idea snowflakes falling:

  • If you have money to spend: There are tons of things you can sign up for together, like baking lessons, walking tours or exercise classes (hello, New Year’s resolution). You could also go ice skating, take a horse-drawn carriage through a snowy park or plan a romantic getaway. Extra points for combining that getaway with any of the other experiences!

  • If you have minimal money to spend: A DIY party is a great way to get friends to gather for the season. Keep spending to a minimum by making your own decorations or baking your own treats. Hosting not your thing? Instead, get everyone in the car and take a long drive to look at holiday lights and attractions, or visit local stores and hotels with “winter wonderland” decorations. If it’s cold enough, buy a sled and head for the nearby frosty hills. Then, come home and see which one of you can make the best gingerbread house before eating it all up. You got this!

  • If you have no money to spend: You may be strapped for cash, but this is going to be a holiday to look back on and smile. Gather your biggest group of friends and go caroling for Christmas or volunteer at a local soup kitchen during Kwanzaa. Afterward, head back to your place for a festive movie marathon, complete with hot cocoa and warm holiday cheer. Then, gather the little ones around a cozy fireplace and talk about the origin or spirit of the season and what it means to you and your family.

Time: the ultimate holiday gift on a budget

You may have noticed that all of these suggestions have one thing in common—spending time, not money. These special moments that you spend with the ones you cherish most are what create magical memories, not finding gifts that can miss the true meaning of the holidays. So instead, search your heart and come up with a unique way to make this season the most memorable yet.

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