Where Logic Meets Love

For the One Who Has Everything: A Gift Guide of Experiences

Thursday, December 22, 2011

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For the One Who Has Everything: A Gift Guide of Experiences | Faith Permeating Life

Recently I've seen a lot of bloggers posting gift guides -- suggestions for what holiday gifts to buy for various people. So you can get advice for everyone in your life from the Jane Austen fan to the ballet dancer. (And Macha's tongue-in-cheek Catholic Christmas gift guide is pretty hilarious.)

Ever since I wrote about the importance of experiences I've been toying with writing a post about giving experiences. I like this idea because I'm very particular about what I put on my Christmas list and since last year have requested that people give to specific charities rather than buy me something not on my list, simply because I don't like having too many "things" in our little apartment. And many of the people I know don't really need or want a lot of things either; my dad always struggles to put enough things on his list that everyone in the family can buy him something.

I put this to the side because (family spoiler alert!) I didn't actually buy any "experiences" as gifts this year and felt that I was being hypocritical... but then I kept coming up with ideas, and I thought, well, maybe this will be helpful to someone who's trying to find something last-minute for that person who doesn't really need anything.

So here's my best attempt at a gift guide for giving experiences, not things.

I am not the kind of person who typically spends money on things like manicures and massages, but I do enjoy them enough that I'd get them on someone else's dime. I think there are a lot of women who are in this same boat: They enjoy getting pampered, but don't feel justified spending their hard-earned money this way. If you go this route, I suggest a gift card to a spa or similar place where there are a variety of options (massage, facial, manicure/pedicure), as what's relaxing for one person is uncomfortable for another.

This could be any number of things, depending on what the person enjoys. A round of golf (or mini-golf). A day at an amusement park. A zoo or museum membership. A gift card to get movie tickets or concert tickets of their choice. Something that gets them out of the house and doing something they find fun.

You can go either way with this one, either actually giving someone food (cookies, jam, their favorite snack) or giving a gift card to their favorite restaurant. Either way, they have the enjoyable experience of eating delicious food and then don't have anything taking up space afterwards. (Unless you give them food they don't like, in which case it will go in their pantry out of obligation and then stay there until the end of time. At least in my experience.)

Not magazine subscriptions. Unless you know it's something they've really wanted but haven't subscribed to for some reason, a magazine subscription can easily just become another piece of mail to deal with. I'm talking about virtual subscriptions. This could be anything from Netflix (movies) to Pandora One (music) to Hulu Plus (TV shows). If you know someone's using a trial version or free, ad-supported version of some service, paying for a subscription to the premium service could be a great gift.

Microlending: Not Quite Money, Not Quite Charity
There are two potential defaults for someone you don't know what to get: Give them money, or make a donation to charity in their name. Neither one is ideal, since money is kind of boring (and, if given to me, will likely go into the bank and not actually get spent on me in any kind of fun way), and charity donations don't necessarily have meaning unless you know for a fact that someone is passionate about a particular charity. As an alternative, check out Kiva.org, where you can lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries. You can buy gift cards to the site, which means the person who receives the gift card gets to go through and decide who they want to lend the money to, then eventually the money will be paid back and they can reinvest it or cash it out to PayPal. It's doing good, giving an experience, and giving money all in one! This was my birthday gift from Mike, and I had fun looking through all the different businesses that people had and deciding whom to give money to. Similar sites include Microplace and Global Giving.

Your Words
Last December I was scouring the Internet for gift ideas for my grandmother. She was spending Christmas with us so I had to get her something, but she's at the age where she doesn't need anything, doesn't want anything, and is actively trying to give her things away. I finally hit on this suggestion: Send a postcard a week for all of the next year. I didn't talk with her very often and writing a letter seemed too time-consuming when I never felt I had much to say, but writing a few sentences on a postcard every week, I could do. I ended up ordering some custom ones with our picture from Vistaprint so she'd have something special to open, but just a cheap pack of postcards will do -- it's your time that you're giving. This entire year she never failed to mention to my dad every time she talked to him how much she loved getting my weekly notes, and every holiday when she sent a card she would write a little P.S. about how much she was enjoying the postcards.

I purposely avoided labeling this last section "Your Time," even though that's basically what you're giving, because I often see suggestions to give people homemade coupons for your time, whether you can cook for them or mow the lawn or whatever. I've given and gotten these types of coupons before and, at least in my experience, they don't work because no one actually cashes them in. No one feels comfortable going back to someone a month or two later and saying, "Here, I want you to cook me a meal tonight." Maybe you've had a different experience, which I'd love to hear, but I've never seen this kind of gift work except in a kind of "it's the thought that counts" way (i.e., you are giving the offer of cooking, but not the actual cooking).

I'd love to hear your suggestions for what other ways you can give the gift of experiences rather than physical things. What's the best experiential gift you've received or given?


  1. I love this! Your post on experiences actually gave me an idea about what gift to get for my Big and Little in my honors fraternity. They're both hard people to shop for, and I hateeee giving impersonal gifts, but when you wrote the post on experiences I got the idea to give them a family photo shoot that the three of us could do together with a photographer friend of mine. I'm so excited!

    I've actually never been given an experience gift, but another experience gift I gave was back in 2008 for a combined Christmas/13th birthday gift, I got my little sister and I tickets to see "The Little Mermaid" on Broadway. So about a week and a half before her birthday, we road tripped up to NY and it was so much fun!

  2. @Sarah
    The photo shoot is such an awesome idea! My girlfriends and I used to do black and white photo shoots with each other every year--we'd all take our cameras and go to a park or a playground or downtown and photograph each other. It was so much fun. For my bachelorette party, my matron of honor arranged to have one of our guy friends who's very into photography come and do a photo shoot with our group. It was awesome, like doing engagement photos except with my bridesmaids :)

  3. This is excellent! I think my goal for the new year will be to finally get involved with Kiva. (Also, finding a house.) I've been wanting to for so long, but always came up with an excuse (I just gave to this other charity, etc). Thanks for the reminder! Also, for the shout-out!

  4. @Macha
    I love Kiva! I love the idea that I'm helping someone help themselves, and that the money can be reused indefinitely to help other people as well. Definitely do it--you'll be glad you did :)

  5. Read the fine print on Kiva. The loans are given out before the stories are posted on the web. You don't get any interest, but their "field partners" charge interest rates higher than the default rate on your credit card. They aren't lying about it - it's all on their website, but, as a Christian, I personally am uncomfortable enabling money to be lent out to people at a rate comparable to that of a payday loan joint (Their example loan rate is 36%).


  6. @The Lost Goat
    Could you suggest an alternative way to lend money to entrepreneurs in developing countries?

  7. One year I got my siblings together to do a "family" photo for my mom since she didn't have a recent one. When we gave her the photos, she was so surprised, and she loved them.

    Also, I haven't done this but I read about it earlier this week and thought it was cute. This girl got her dad's family and friends together to write memories they had with him and she put them all together to give to him for his birthday. Here's the post for all the details but I thought it was so cute and a great idea: http://nothingbutbonfires.com/2011/06/sixty-years-memories

    Love all the ideas you gave though. I will definitely keep these in mind for when I'm short on ideas :)

  8. @Brie
    The Christmas before Mike and I got engaged, we got a professional portrait done at Target and gave framed pictures to our parents. It was funny, though, because we'd dyed Mike's hair red to go to a Harry Potter/Halloween party as Ron and Hermione, and it hadn't all washed out yet so if you looked close enough in the picture you could see that his hair was still red :)

    You totally read my mind with that sixty years post--I meant to include it in the "Your Words" section and then completely forgot. So thank you for including the link!

  9. These are *great* ideas - I'm def. going to keep the Kiva one and the 60 years of memories one in mind. While the interest rates aren't ideal with Kiva, they're more transparent than anything else I've found, and I really like the idea that it's a way of giving cash without giving *cash*.

    I actually have used the 'coupons,' though it was still a bit flawed. I think that it worked because they were from my fiance, who I felt comfortable being vulnerable with, and they were tailored to things that we already would do together/for each other. That said, I think that the above ideas are a lot better, especially since I only 'redeemed' a few of the ones he gave me.

    And if you're going to give a coupon, I think it works best if you as the giver keep checking in until the person schedules its redemption - if the massage/date night/whatever is on the calendar, it becomes more real, and having to ask for your present feels awkward.

  10. @alice
    Thanks for sharing your experience with the coupons. I was thinking one way it might work is if it's for your significant other and the gift is something like, "I've lined up a babysitter for this night, just tell me what you want to do" or even have the night planned out if that's the kind of thing they would like. That way, like you said, it's on the calendar, so it actually happens. Your comments also made me think it might work to give a single coupon rather than a whole bunch, so you can follow up on that single one. But I agree that the responsibility should be on the gift-giver to follow up so it's not awkward for the recipient.

  11. A couple of follow-ups:
    I discovered that DonorsChoose.org also allows you to purchase gift cards. This allows the recipient to pick an American classroom that wants funding for a particular project or technology.
    I donated to a Kiva entrepreneur in Bolivia and found out some cool stuff that their local microfinance institution does. They take the interest they earn on the loans they give out to their clients and in turn are able to offer free medical check-ups to all their clients and well as providing training on a variety of health issues. I think that's awesome.


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