I started a new tradition in my family a few years ago where I give experiential gifts to most family members who actually live in town. We all have enough stuff, and there’s not one among us who doesn’t struggle with keeping clutter at bay. I started doing this a few years ago with my now young adult sons, but it’s since spread to my mother, sister, niece and husband. I call these my “Birthday Day of Adventures.”
Here’s what that means. The entire day is a surprise to the recipient, as well as all others who are lucky enough to tag along. (This is key, as the anticipation is a key part of the fun.) I generally include an anchor activity, a meal, a treat and one other thing. I’ve learned through the years to group everything to a single area of town, which helps to minimize time spent in the car.
It’s important to point out that the Day of Adventures is designed to be centered around the birthday person’s interests. Not what everyone likes to do, but what the recipient likes to do.
Giving experiential gifts can seem like a big splurge, but with some careful planning it can actually be quite frugal. For example, a few years ago my husband’s day was simply hiking and a lunch at Ikea. (He loves those Swedish meatballs!)
Friday was my mother’s 74th birthday, so I planned a special day of adventures for the two of us. Here’s how our day went.
- We went to see a matinee of the movie Florence Foster Jenkins at a cute second run theater, which set me back just $4 per ticket. I knew she’d been wanting to see this movie, and it was the perfect choice as neither of our husbands would be bummed to have missed this wonderfully hilarious Meryl Streep performance.
- My plan had been to go to lunch after the movie, but my mother wasn’t hungry, so we hit up the closest Goodwill which very much aligned with my mother’s interests. (I get my love of thrifting from her.) My mother bought a 99¢ frame, and I bought a $6.99 vintage Descoware pan to resell.
- We then drove over to a Vietnamese Pho restaurant that had excellent Yelp reviews. Neither of us were disappointed as our delicious bowls of beef pho filled us up at a mere $8.50 apiece. I was tempted to order an appetizer, but I knew that our generous entrees would be more than enough. I highly recommend the Pho Oregon Restaurant on S.E. 82nd Avenue for those looking for an authentic Vietnamese dining experience.
- We then drove down Hawthorne Blvd to The Maple Parlor, which is a gourmet sundae bar owned by my mother’s friend. I accidentally saved a few dollars here, as the owner treated my mom to a free dessert when she learned that we were celebrating her birthday. I chose a small maple flavored ice cream with candied bacon and ginger on top. The owner who is half Vietnamese heritage wanted to know which pho restaurant we’d chosen, and gave her full seal of approval as it happens to be her mother’s favorite. (Thank you, Yelp!!)
- Our last activity was to hit up the main Goodwill on S.E. Grand Avenue, which turned out to be mobbed by costume seekers and general bargain hunters. Neither of us bought anything.
We finally made our way back to my house where I served hot tea while we watched a half episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which is my new favorite TV show. (Seriously, so smart and funny!)
In all I spent $30.00 for the entire Day of Adventures, which is quite a bargain especially since research has shown that experiences make us happier than stuff. My mother and I now have the memories of our time spent together, which is 1000% better than any scarf, candle, teapot or random dust collector.
Here are some example of the other activities from previous Days of Adventure:
- Comedy show
- Behind the scenes tour of Goodwill’s operations
- Trip to the Oregon coast
- Roller skating
Many of these activities were kept frugal using coupons or hoarded gift cards, and a couple of them were simply free.
Experiences really are better than stuff. Happy birthday, Mom!
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
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