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Want Priceless Memories? Gift Experiences, Not Things…

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Have you ever found yourself puzzled by how often those brand-new toys get played with for a day or two – maybe a week or two – and then end up sitting on the shelf, with your kids begging to have the next trending toy that is guaranteed to make them happy for hundreds of years they say? For sure.

Or how often that brand new flat-screen TV he had to have, that dazzling mini-van with leather seats and built-in TV you knew would make those “chauffeuring” days more bearable, or the latest and greatest iPhone she needed to fit in at school just isn’t that new anymore and has lost its luster?

Happiness means different things to different people, based on our own religious and political preferences. But, if you’re wanting to know what science has to say about it, keep reading…

In 2016, Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University made four studies on the subject over decades and came to the conclusion that happiness is derived from experiences, not things. He found that people were ultimately much happier as a result of experiences…

“People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession. They think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they’ll be left with little compared to owning an item. But in reality we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession.”

Besides, we were placed on this earth to have relationships with and love PEOPLE – not THINGS. While a new television or cell phone might seem like a more lasting value at the time, the road trip with your family this summer will provide more long-lasting memories – and in the end more happiness.

Plus, your kids will remember that experience for years and may even share it with their kids and grandchildren. I mean who doesn’t remember grandma’s stories of that “one time when they…”?

So before spending money on that next toy or gadget, consider doing something different. Put aside money towards an “Experience Trip” where you can help others, take them camping and teach them how to pitch a tent (they’ll likely come back really thankful for that soft warm bed!), or just head to the beach this Summer and build the biggest sand castle together – bigger than you’d ever imagined.

Because happiness is derived from experiences, not things.


Written by Mary for Hip2Save. Mary is a proud mom to 3 kids in Austin, TX, who thrives off running long distance, bargain shopping, warm weather, a yummy latte…and a little Candy Crush from time to time. She loves quality time with family & friends and sharing great deals with others.

Join The Discussion

Comments 42

  1. Gerta

    Beautifully written and such wise words! Thanks for reminding everyone that joy is in us, not things!

  2. Kristy

    Absolutely agree. I started an experience fund for my family from cash back apps like Ibotta, checkout 51, & mobi. I’m also reselling stuff on eBay (toys and clothes). I refrain from all the great deals (toys) unless there’s a bday coming up. I want my kids to have experiences not just a lot of stuff. In the end all they care about is how much time you spent with them as growing up

  3. Barbika

    Thank you 🦋Beautiful and made me think..🙏🏻

  4. Erika

    This is my life’s motto and what I try to teach my kids everyday. Experiences and the memories they create are so much more meaningful and special than material possessions. We live a modest material life so we can have extra to make lasting memories with our family. Thank you for this post. ❤

  5. Heather C

    I do this exact thing for my in-laws. They are “at an H” where they need absolutely nothing but to give him an experience is so much appreciated and so well received

  6. just me

    I so agree! In fact I’ve just sold everything in my house for a move to a different state and I promised my kids lots and lots of experiences in their future and less things. We’ve been learning to live with a lot less and we are happier. I remember in a philosophy class in college that the more stuff we had the more it tied us down to take care of it. I would rather have experiences with those I love and give a memory than any cheap toy/ gadget out there. Well written & thanks for the reminder!

  7. Nicole Baker

    My husband and I literally JUST spoke about this topic this morning. We are going to start surprising our kids (8 and 5) with adventures every Christmas instead of lots of unnecessary things. I’m so excited to start doing this!!!

  8. Lexie

    This is what I keep trying to tell my in-laws. My kids have plenty of toys and when we do buy toys, I usually buy them second hand because they’re just as good and a fraction of the cost. A membership to the zoo or children’s museum makes such better gifts, they don’t clutter the house, we can use them all year long and we’ll have a year of memories to look back on. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts anymore, we usually plan a trip and make that our gift to each other.

  9. lise

    What are some of the experiences you have planned? I try to think of some that don’t involve $ and am always looking for new ideas. A trip to the beach, a walk in the forest preserve, a new park a day challenge, a picnic at an outdoor local concert, scavenger hunts, library story times.

  10. Holly

    Cool topic. On a semi-related topic, I once read an article that actually said money DOES buy happiness…to a point. Happiness and income positively correlate until you hit $50k-$75k. Beyond an income of approximately $75k a year, extra income ceases to equate to more happiness. Fascinating stuff.

    • NikkiLLM5

      I totally see your point. And yes money is mostly a necessity to buy the necessities. But the more you have especially if you put it toward college for the kids, retirement, savings, etc. it sure can make life a lot easier & less worrisome. Money doesn’t equal happiness just more freedom & less worry. Lol.

  11. Nicole

    I LOVE this idea! I want to give experiences instead of things, but I tried to start by downsizing the last holiday and my kids said it was the worst ever! Ages 6 & 8. Ok my savvy moms, give me some suggestions to make this idea fky with my kids!

    • Holly

      I hear ya. Maybe the first downsized Christmas was a shock, but they should get used to it over the years. The older they get, the more they’ll appreciate the experiences. My eight year old asked me “Is that it?” after unwrapping the last present last Christmas. We had a long talk about how fortunate he was to get ANY presents, and that just being together as a family is what matters most in life. Somewhere along the way, I spoiled him with “stuff”, and now I need to undo that.

    • Tina

      For my 3 kids birthday’s this year we decided to “do” something with them- just them- instead of a gift. We got a sitter for the other 2 and had a day out with each of our kids. Lunch, park, zoo or museum. My youngest wanted to go bowling. All 3 said it was the best birthday! I took lots of pics and we had a wonderful time. They felt really special and we spent the same or less than I would have on more stuff! I’m hoping to make it a family tradition.

    • Cristine

      We always include an experience gift with christmas (and usually its their “big one”) and their birthday. This year, my son got tickets to a professional hockey game- his favorite team- and went with his dad. we have done tickets to baseball games, the aquarium, a favorite museum, movie gift cards, etc. we usually print out something and buy a corresponding item (a t shirt for the team, snacks for the movie, etc) to wrap and that way they have something to open. My kids love these more than most physical gifts- and parents get to be included in the fun!

    • Lexie

      Maybe let them participate in picking the experiences so that they will be more involved and excited about it. I’m starting early and doing it with our now 2 year old so she doesn’t know any different after I saw the ridiculous way our 5 year old niece acted about not getting “enough” presents last year.

  12. holly

    This is a great reminder! I used to be all about “stuff”, but after losing most of my stuff I started to think like a minimalist. Also, I hated going out of town/a far vacation (I’m a homebody!) but, if I think about it, those were the best times/memories. Now a days, I have an on-going list of places I want to go.

    To add onto the Kimball quote, The Minimalists say “love people. use things. the opposite never works”.

  13. Susi

    Most animal refuges and protected preserves offer many free things to do throughout the year. Things like nature hikes, bird watching, twilight strolls etc and they offer lots of kid geared activities as well. Check out google to find what’s best you…they offer so many great free activities and they are memory making as well!!

  14. Steph

    I would love to take my kids on a trip instead of a big Christmas. We spend too much $ on stuff they don’t need. Just not sure how to “sell it” and get everyone on board

    • Lo

      I think you might be surprised if you just asked your family what they thought about a trip instead of a bunch of gifts. There might be no need for a big “sell”

    • Wassup

      Yeah, we mentioned this to my 8 year old. At first she said yes, but then started back-tracking. It’s hard.

  15. Katie

    I have an aunt that sends us money for a zoo membership every year. Sometimes we use it for the zoo or for a different membership and this time around we are saving it to help fund an up and coming trip. I’m very appreciative!

  16. Cara

    I don’t have kids but I live by this philosophy. I was going broke trying to buy things that didn’t matter. I wanted to keep up with the Jones’s and have the latest, greatest everything. One day I realized that the money that I was wasting could go towards living a fulfilling life and making memories. I just got back from a trip to Glenwood Springs, CO. I conquered my fear of heights and made memories that will last a lifetime while I was there. I don’t regret giving up things for memories. I can look back at the pictures of my memories, while the things will be long gone and donated.

  17. Jenna

    We started doing this years ago with our kids. (we have 5) My husband and I realized after spending money on Christmas and then again in 6 months for a vacation was draining our budget, so we combined them. My husband & I pick a destination and then plan little gifts around the trip for the kids to open at Christmas. We include “clues” so they have to guess where they are going. It is a huge hit in our house! ( our kids are now ages 6-17) Last year we planned a trip to Niagara Falls Canada. So we wrapped up a Canadian coin, picture of a passport, canada map, and other little things. One year we did letters, one letter in each gift so they had to unscramble them. We also give them little things to keep them busy on the trip, like activity books, movies, car games etc.
    We had the in-laws start doing this to. They give us a set amount to spend on a vacation with them, then we plan it. It isn’t far but the kids love talking about all the things they have done with Grandpa & Grandma. A corn maze in the fall with a night in a hotel. One year we went to a resort for a weekend, we still remember the pontoon ride and grandma riding the 4 person bike into the river 🙂

  18. cheap mom

    We are a working class family of 6 so we don’t have a lot of money but I would love to be able to do a vacation this summer can anyone give me some CHEAP ideas besides camping lol thank you

    • Emily

      I just planned a vacay on the cheap using vrbo for a $70 a night condo that sleeps 6 and we’re driving there so no plane tickets!

  19. Mourrene

    Great, great topic. I was just saying the other day that I’d like to improve my quality of life by being able to do more. I’ve always felt that it was ok to live your best life—as long as you can truly afford it. For me, that means financial stability but also the ability to have fun and meaningful experiences. There are so many places I want to visit and I told my friend that I want to be able to go off for a weekend and explore a new city, go to concerts, plays–all of the things that make life enjoyable to me and not so boring, lol. This post reinforces that desire. 😊

  20. Teah

    For my nieces and nephews at Christmas I make them a “gift certificate”, each year it is different. I have given them a dozen cookies, batches of ice cream, pies etc… They get to pick the kind/flavor, and I will teach them/help them make it. They get to redeem it when they want it with a 24hr notice. I supply the ingredients. I love it because I get to spend one on one time with them teaching them a fun skill and they love it because they get to come up with and create something that is just for them. It’s a fun and money saving idea that gives them something they will always remember.

  21. cheap mom

    Help I need some cheap ideas on a vacation for a family of 6

  22. Kate

    YES! Experiences not things! I am personally invested in a minimalism lifestyle but still check your site daily for necessities, sometimes it’s quite a test of my values.

  23. Lana

    For those of us who are empty nesters and just cannot do everything anymore, we covet help! The best gift to us is kids coming home and cleaning windows, painting, yard work, etc. We do not need more stuff!

  24. Lauren

    Love this! Thank you for the reminder…so true!! <3

  25. Queenmum

    🌸Beautiful!! Thank you 😊

  26. Elle

    Thanks for this.

  27. Shannon

    Yes! So much yes ❤️

  28. Nell

    I agree with this 100%! My daughter will be 4 this summer and Zi’ve been begging since her first birthday for experience opportunities over things. Her grandparents don’t agree, or just can’t seem to grasp the concept. They all want her to have lots of things to open. Drives me crazy!!! This year, I hope she will ask for experiences specifically…

  29. Amanda

    It’s funny because I’ve been doing this for gifts for years now!?

  30. Christi + S

    I love this SO much! Please keep re-posting this as a reminder every few months or so!

  31. Rebecca

    I wish we had something around here to get memberships to, zoo or aquarium, museum, something. Being military, we can’t promise them a trip for their birthday or Christmas because it likely will get cancelled. They already get one-on-one time with us, we go to movies as a family, we live at the beach, not sure what else we can offer. They definitely don’t need more toys, all our out of state relatives send gifts, so even if we don’t get them a thing, they still get a lot.

  32. Mommy of 3

    Ever since we got married, my husband and I would not give each other gifts on birthdays and big holidays so that we can save the money to go on vacations. Spending time together and having those experiences together was more valuable than anything else. Twelve years and 3 kids later, we have continued with that ‘tradition’ and the kids love being able to go on vacation instead of getting presents on their birthdays and holidays. They love the fact that they get to go to many different places and will have everlasting memories that they will cherish forever.

  33. Lambchop4ever

    I do this for my twin boys. I started it when I was divorced and wanted to connect with them and remind them that we were still a family. I gifted them with their first airplane ride, first, helicopter ride, and cruise…. I am not certain what the experience will be this year…. but I always tie in something small relating to the experience (airplane, swim trunks etc.) They look forward to this every Christmas…I know as a child, I remember far more vacations with my family then toys… I hope they appreciate it and look back when they become adults. P.S. I also buy them a shirt of all of the new states they visit and plan to make a blanket with them when they graduate.

  34. joanntaylormitchell

    This is what some of my grown children are doing with their children but I never thought about asking for those things for myself since there are many things I’m unable to do. Thank you for the suggestions.

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