Americans enjoy buying things. We also love keeping things, even when we aren’t using them.

This is evident when you take a look at the self-storage industry where revenues are approaching $40 billion per year. By many standards, we already have too much stuff. This is no surprise because, as humans, we are in the constant pursuit of happiness. When we get something new, it brings temporary happiness until we become complacent and need to buy a new “thing” to stimulate happiness again.

With the gift-giving holiday season fast approaching, what can we do to curb this cycle?  The answer: give the gift of experiences. Instead of giving your loved ones stuff they don’t need, you can give them an experience that provides lasting happiness and fond memories.

And, while your loved ones are enjoying the experience, you may also save money. A win-win. Read on to learn about our top experiential gift ideas, broken down by the most affordable to those that might require saving up your hard earned dollars.

Lower Cost Experience Gifts

  • Gift Certificates: These are especially beneficial when you’re giving a gift certificate to a movie theater or a theme park. The recipient will enjoy the experience and create lasting memories. You can typically decide how much you want to spend, especially if you purchase a gift card.
  • Memberships: Memberships to skate parks, gyms, performing arts theaters, museums, or clubs can offer the added benefit of hooking your loved one on a new healthy hobby.
  • Quality Time: If you simply can’t afford to buy an experience, perhaps you can gift someone with your time or skills. For example, if you’re a writer, you can offer to help a friend write a new website bio. You can even create your own homemade gift certificate for a service. Your friend will appreciate both the creativity, thought and, of course, your skills.

Mid-Range Gifts of Experiences

  • A Night or Day Out: Give the gift of an amazing experience, such as a night on the town or a day-trip to a favorite or new hiking spot. Whatever you decide upon, be creative and choose an experience that you think the recipient will always remember and appreciate.
  • A Weekend Away: Short trips don’t have to break the budget. For example, you can use your credit card rewards to book a hotel near a ski resort, and spend a day or two on the slopes.
  • A Hot Air Balloon Ride: If you live close to somewhere that offers balloon rides, you will never forget your trip to the clouds. Many hot air balloon experiences include brunch, pictures, and more. If you’re on a tight budget, be sure to check for deals on sites like Groupon.

Luxury Experiences You Can Give

  • Caribbean Cruise: Most cruises are all-inclusive, so once you’ve paid for it, you won’t typically incur heavy duty expenses once you’ve set sail. But you still have to get there. You can either save up for the experience or perhaps even offset the cost of the trip by using rewards points for your air travel.
  • Cultural Food Experiences: You can give the experience of a food or drink tour no matter where you are. San Diego is known for microbreweries, New Orleans for Cajun cuisine, and the Northeast for everything lobster.
  • European Tour: One of the best ways to learn about the world is to experience it! Choose an area, plan a trip, and give the gift of discovering new ways of living.

Pick the Value of Your Experience

  • Sports Tickets: Regardless of whether you choose a weekend baseball game or season tickets to the recipient’s favorite football team, you can decide how much to spend on this one. No matter what you choose, sports fans simply love this gift.
  • Investments: This is a great option for young children. They may not appreciate it now, but they will when they grow up. Whether it’s a college savings account, whole life insurance, or a funded savings account, investing in the future is always a good idea.

Spend Money on Happiness

As the saying going, money doesn’t make you happy. But the truth is: spending money the right way can actually make you happy.

Spending on experiences is one such way to bring about happiness. From the everyday bonding over lunch and a trip to the museum, to a once-in-a-lifetime cruise around the world, experiences provide happiness and memories that last a lifetime. Give it a shot.

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created OneSmartDollar.com in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. When not working Sean and he wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his daughter Colette and dog Charlie.