Have you wanted to stop buying gifts and start having experiences as a family at Christmas time? Here is an easy transition plan!

How to Transition from a Gift Giving Christmas to an Experience Christmas

As far back as I can remember I have loved the idea of waking up Christmas morning and announcing to our family that we are flying out somewhere amazing. I think it all stemmed from seeing another mom do this with her kids. Without realizing it, I have always been someone who leaned more toward experiences over things. Now that our kids are getting older, and are less interested in toys, I’m feeling the pull toward big experiences more than ever. In fact, last year, we opted for a hotel up north and played games and ate sushi in our PJs. It was awesome and the kids loved it. So, if you are hoping to shift away from the endless stream of presents and toys, here is a starter guide for making the shift into ditching the gifts for the getaways.

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Know your experiences

For years I had this idea in my mind of a big, grand getaway with my family — ya know, because of the whole Disneyland thing. Well, this kind of kept me stuck in my own head because if Christmas came around and I didn’t have $5,000+ to spend on vacation (which is never), I instantly assumed it was a bust.

Getting more clever about what having an experience together as a family actually means really helped me realize it didn’t have to be as complicated as I imagined.

Read: 28 Unique Experience Gifts to Give Instead of Buying Stuff

Simple experience ideas:

Recognize toy overload

Back when we only had one kid in the house and two to buy gifts for, Tom and I used to go a little, well, crazy. We would easily spend over $1,000 on Christmas gifts for 2 kids who basically already had everything they could ever need. You know that whole, “I bought them an Xbox and all they play with are the toys they get from McDonald’s?” Yeah, that was basically the story of our lives.

The thing is, I think this happens so often with kids who are flooded with gifts and toys all the time. When there are so many options, it can become overwhelming, or maybe they just become numb to all of it.

In fact, if we pay attention, I think most of us would realize that kids are dropping subtle hints all of the time letting us know that they don’t need as many toys as we think they do. Even if they don’t know that we know they know we know. (Any Friends fans in the house?)

Test out a cut-back

When Tom and I first began to recognize our insane Christmas spending wasn’t sustainable, especially with a growing family, we committed to reducing our budget per child. We limited ourselves to $50 on gifts and tried to keep stocking stuffers minimal.

Our kids have always been ones to receive an overload of gifts from grandparents too, and instead of battling grandma and grandpa, we decided limiting our budget would help us save money and also reduce the amount of toy clutter that was coming into the house each year.

Read: What To Consider If Grandparents Are Buying Too Many Toys

By testing the waters when it comes to how many toys come in, you slowly make that transition away from toys so your kids don’t take as big of a hit when you are ready to head out on an experience instead.

Have you wanted to stop buying gifts and start having experiences as a family at Christmas time? Here is an easy transition plan!

Disguise necessities as gifties

If you are planning on heading out on a getaway, why not include the necessities for travel as your gifts.

For example:

  • New swimsuit
  • Suitcase
  • Passport
  • Hiking boots

Depending on what type of excursion you are planning on going on, you can easily include some of the necessary buys in your gift wrapping!

Start re-focusing on experiences now

If you are in the habit of scooping up toys or candy each time you head to the store, try to shift that habit into more of an experience.

Maybe that means taking little cart rides through the store, or dressing up and taking silly pictures in the fitting room. For us, that sometimes means getting cake pops at Starbucks whenever we stop at Target (OK, not every time).

Instead of rushing through the store (which, let’s face it, sometimes you have to do), we sit down, chat and laugh together as a family and we gently let the kids know that this cake pop is all that we will be purchasing.

Another great option is to just find free things to do in your area. We found so many amazing free places when we were in the midst of debt payoff!

Read How We Paid Off $6,000 in 6 Months

TikTok your kids into travel

Maybe you’re not as big of a TikToker as I am, that’s cool. If you are…we should totally be friends!

Whenever I see someone share a cool place to travel or local ideas in our area, I save them and share the videos with my family later.

You can find videos like these on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest. Here are some family vacation ideas I have planned! Just about anywhere. Whenever you come across a place you think would be super fun to visit or would be an awesome experience to have, bring the whole family in on it!

Whenever we find an awesome place, I always try to share that information with other families so they can better plan vacations!


We literally drive through here and said, “oh my gosh, I would love to stay here sometime!” #dreamvacations #kayakingadventures #familieswhotravel #kayakinglife #flatheadlake #montanatravel

♬ Sea Shanty Medley – Home Free

Let everyone have a say

Trust me, I get how exciting it can be to totally surprise everyone with a big getaway, but I think the best way to encourage experiences over things is to allow everyone to have a say.

For example, we did our traditional cross country road trip back to Glacier National Park (here’s our itinerary) our daughter requested that our next trip not include hiking.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have a lot of fun on these trips, and I always try to balance hiking with resting, but she made it clear that she’s dreaming of a beachier vacation. Now I have it in the back of my mind that even though I prefer the mountains, maybe my kiddos would enjoy the ocean.

Read Ditching All Inclusive Resorts for a Bigger World View

At the end of the day, it’s all about fun and togetherness whether you are gathered around a tree, or soaking up the sun on a beach. No matter what your Christmas looks like, let me encourage you to focus on presence above all else. That’s the key to really appreciating time together.

Stock your savings

Of course, before we part, I think it’s crucial that I remind you to make sure you’re planning all year long for your experience Christmas (even if it’s a small one).

One of the best ways to make sure you have all the funds you need is to apply Sinking Funds to your monthly budget (AKA save a little bit every month).

Good practices for saving:

  • Have an account separate from your bank
  • Budget the same amount every month (or week)
  • Open a high-yield savings that pays you interest!

The Savings Builder account through CITBank is a great one to start with because it checks off all of these boxes and you can get started with as little as $100! Click here to apply.

What are you ideas for experiences over things? I’d love to hear! Feel free to drop them in the comments!

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Have you wanted to stop buying gifts and start having experiences as a family at Christmas time? Here is an easy transition plan!

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