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Erin Stewart: How to give experiences for Christmas without breaking the bank

Pogo licks her baby, Georgetta, at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. When she was born at 3:33 a.m. Monday, Georgetta weighed 150 pounds, but as of Thursday she weighed in at 163 pounds and 5 feet, 9 inches tall.
Pogo licks her baby, Georgetta, at Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Erin Stewart writes that instead of giving things this year, consider giving an experience, such as a gift card or pass to go to the zoo, aquarium or for classes.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

As the buying season gets into full swing, more and more of my mom and dad friends are turning to the idea of giving experiences rather than jamming more stuff under the tree.

But without fail, most of my friends end up where I did a few years ago, with the realization that experiences often come with much heftier price tags than that piece of molded plastic whatever-it-is on Amazon or the latest must-have animal toy that talks/poops/hangs/transforms from a pillow.

Trips to exciting places add up fast, but don’t give up on the idea of experiences for Christmas just yet. In fact, affordable and life-enriching gifts are all around if you step back and can ignore the idea that the perfect Christmas gift comes with a Disney or Caribbean-cruise size wow factor.

Here are a few ideas to get you started if you’re looking to trade the stuff for memorable moments this year:

1. Classes: What do your children like to do? What interests them? My 11-year-old loves to cook. So she’ll be getting a few cooking classes this year. She’ll also be getting a cake decorating set to open on Christmas morning telling her about the class. Whatever your child is into, there is usually some sort of class or group to go with it. For those in Utah, check out My Little Paintbrush in Lehi for your little artists or Thanksgiving Point for hands-on science classes.

2. Memberships: The great thing about a membership or season tickets is that the fun lasts longer than one week (because come on, we all know those toys lose their allure by New Year’s Eve). Your kids can enjoy visits to the zoo, the aquarium or a local theater until next Christmas. In Utah, check out Hogle Zoo, Hale Center Theatre or Clark Planetarium.

3. Fun activities. Maybe there’s an outing your child has been dying to do. My 8-year-old daughter, for example, wants to go ice skating this year. While I would probably take her anyway, I’m going to give her an invitation to pick three friends and make a night of it with hot chocolate afterward. One year, both girls received an art set and one morning a month learning watercolors with their dad.

4. Trips: Vacations are always a great idea if you can afford them, but they also don’t have to be bank-busters. Not every family is going to be able to whisk their children off to Disneyland on Christmas morning. But consider surprising your kids with a weekend getaway somewhere close. In Utah, check out the Zermatt Resort in Midway that offers tubing, hot springs and skiing nearby.

Giving experiences on Christmas takes some getting used to, especially if your kids are used to opening the big, awe-inspiring package each year. But for our family, trading in the never-ending stuff for memorable moments has made Christmas morning a more personal time with just as much excitement that lasts way longer than that final unwrapping.