Trending: Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts

By Damon Poeter

Giving an experience as a gift can be a more personal and enduring show of appreciation for friends and family than spending money on a “thing.”

It’s a sentiment that’s catching on. The National Retail Federation (NRF) recently reported that experiential gift-giving is on the rise, especially among younger people. Some 45 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed ahead of Mother’s Day said they would be giving gifts like a spa day or concert tickets to their moms.

It’s a trend that makes sense.

“The ‘who’ in our lives will always make us happier than the ‘what’,” says Matthew Angel, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner at USAA. “We tend to spend money on the ‘what’ when we give gifts, but material things wear out and fade in excitement. A night out with friends or a trip with family can create cherished memories.”

There’s science behind this, too. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research notes that gifted experiences can create a stronger bond for relationships, stating that “experiments examining actual gift exchanges in real-life relationships reveal that experiential gifts produce greater improvements in relationship strength than material gifts, regardless of whether the gift-giver and recipient consume the gift together.”

So … how to come up with these gift experiences and how to pay for them?

Unique Ideas for Every Budget

When many people think of gifting an experience, they often imagine an expensive outlay like a splashy vacation or pricey tickets to a sports event. But with some imagination and good planning, anyone can budget for a meaningful, gifted experience to provide their loved ones, Angel says.

Is someone in your life going to graduate from high school or college soon? Check out USAA’s roundup of smart gifts for grads.

From the classic dinner-and-a-movie to picnics in the park to daytrips to local festivals, it’s possible to create a gift that costs primarily your time without putting a huge dent in your wallet – for example, offering free babysitting so a couple can enjoy a date night.

Gifts that provide educational or skill-building benefits can also be a great idea, such as:

  • Cooking classes
  • Music lessons
  • Swimming lessons
  • Arts and crafts workshops
  • Carpentry and other home project lessons

Gift Ideas for Kids to Give

Children can take advantage of giving experiences as well. If they’re not old enough to babysit younger siblings, they can offer to help out around the house to give Mom and Dad a break. In turn, that creates more time for family activities like going to the park or the movies.

One time-honored gift for kids to give their parents is the “coupon book,” redeemable for extra chores like mowing the lawn or doing the dishes.

Planning Is Part of the Gift Experience

Budgeting to gift an experience is similar to budgeting to provide any other sort of gift, but with one big difference, Angel says.

“When you’re planning an experience for family or close friends, you can get everyone involved in the planning and saving for the event,” he says. “When you plan things ahead as a group, the anticipation can actually make the experience richer and more of a shared goal.”

To reach that goal, you and your family and friends can work together to set aside a little money each week or month, depending on when you plan to “experience the experience.”

“First, list some experiences you and your family or group of friends want to share,” Angel says. “Settle on one that’s affordable in the timeframe you’re aiming for, do a little math to see how to get there financially and make sure to separate those savings from your regular checking account and emergency fund to reduce the temptation to dip into those funds.”

Looking for help creating a budget to stay on track with your gift-giving goals? USAA has the tips and tools you need.

Matthew Angel serves as an advice director at USAA, focusing on the personal finance tenets of short-term saving and home advice. Matthew holds professional credentials including a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation, AAMS® and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Matthew’s history at USAA includes seven years serving members as a financial planner and leading teams of financial professionals to help members achieve financial security. Outside of work, Matthew enjoys hunting and riding motorcycles, and is a proud husband and father to four kids.

Investments/Insurance: Not FDIC Insured ∙ Not Bank Issued, Guaranteed or Underwritten ∙ May Lose Value

This material is for informational purposes. Consider your own financial circumstances carefully before making a decision and consult with your tax, legal or estate planning professional.

Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

USAA means United Services Automobile Association and its affiliates. Financial advice provided by USAA Financial Advisors, Inc. (FAI), a registered broker-dealer, USAA Investment Management Company (IMCO), a registered broker-dealer and investment adviser, and for insurance, USAA Financial Planning Services Insurance Agency, Inc. (known as USAA Financial Insurance Agency in California, License # OE36312). Investment products and services offered by IMCO and FAI. Life insurance and annuities provided by USAA Life Insurance Co., San Antonio, TX, and in NY by USAA Life Insurance Co of New York, Highland Falls, NY. Other life and health insurance from select companies offered through USAA Life General Agency, Inc. (known in CA (license #0782231) and in NY as USAA Health and Life Insurance Agency). Banking products offered by USAA Federal Savings Bank and USAA Savings Bank, both FDIC insured. Trust services provided by USAA Federal Savings Bank.


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