Every holiday season seems to bring the same challenge of balancing between thoughtful gifts, versus high end and just plain expensive gifts, which is probably why you are reading this. I’ve searched “gift ideas for your dad…boyfriend.. best friend,” you name it and have honestly not been impressed with what I have found.
Giving a gift card to a loved one has also never brought me much joy because it doesn’t feel personal. Unfortunately, personal gifts can get expensive and no search engine knows your loved ones like you do.
Here are five gift ideas that will show your thoughtfulness without blowing your holiday budget.
Ok, so you're probably already rolling your eyes, because once you book a flight, hotel, spend on food drinks, and activities, you're pushing a couple thousand dollars for one gift. When I stumbled upon one of our favorite artists’ tour dates and found that he was performing in St. Louis (where our good friends live), my initial thought was this gift idea for my significant other would be way over my budget.
At this point I was struggling to find something creative for his birthday, now just a few weeks away. After checking flight prices, I was able to use our American Airlines flyer miles to cover one flight, which cut that cost in half. Everything aligned when our St. Louis friends said they were available, and we were welcome to stay with them. We also got to explore the city, resulting in an obligatory photo in front of the Gateway Arch and an awesome experience at the St. Louis Zoo, which was free to our surprise!
The moral of this gift idea - leverage flyer miles, affordable concert or event tickets, and friends who have room for you to crash. I say affordable concert tickets, because popular artists can be costly to see. The concert we attended only cost $22 per ticket.
When shopping online, you might find the perfect shoes or housewares that you wish you was a lower price. This is where my favorite web browser extension comes in -- I never shop online without using the Honey plugin. This free extension scans all the relevant coupon codes for the items in your shopping cart, then automatically enters them and shows you the best total at checkout. You can also manually enter the codes as well. Unfortunately, Amazon mostly shows the lowest deal, but Honey is effective on so many other popular websites.
Whitewater rafting is often pricey, but I wanted to take my boyfriend since he hadn’t tried it before. My friend suggested a popular place for rafting in Tennessee, and I was happy to find an awesome deal on Groupon for the exact place that was suggested. My friends and I unintentionally trade off giving each other Groupon gifts. Over the years we have enjoyed paint & sips, a trolley pub, attended concerts, and many more fun activities, all through Groupon. The e-commerce marketplace has lots to offer from local things to do, travel getaways, to electronic goods. It’s always a good place to start when searching for an affordable and memorable gift.
We all have that one person on our list who is super tough to shop for. For me, that's my mom. She gets so much joy out of giving to others… until we figured out what actually gets her excited. It started with the rest of my family splitting a zip-lining excursion on our trip to the mountains, then the next year we took her horseback riding, then a girls' trip to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC.
My mom and sister also love Broadway, so when I saw "Cats" was coming to town, my mom and I decided to split the cost of tickets for my sister’s birthday. Moral of this experience gift idea - choose fun things you and your loved ones can enjoy together and split the costs. The idea of giving a gift should never be selfish, but you also get to experience the gift if you so choose. We all decided we never have to see "Cats" again, but we still had a great time grabbing brunch together and hanging out before the show.
Now when we reminisce on those memories, my mom always asks, “Where are we going next?”
Now that I’ve shared many ideas for experiences and finding deals online, you can also extend your experience by capturing it forever in print. One of the best gifts I've received was a photo of a town in Cinque Terre, Italy blown up on a canvas from Shutterfly. This wasn’t just any photo of the five beautiful seaside villages you've probably seen on Instagram or a travel website -- it was a photo taken by a friend who was on a study abroad trip with me. Months after the trip, my boyfriend reached out to her to ask for the photo so he could print it, and he surprised me with a canvas of the place where we met. This gift, high on value, low on cost, has become a beautiful piece I love to show off in my home. See the canvas below!
As you can see, I am a huge proponent of giving experiences to my loved ones. Not only do I sometimes get to enjoy them, too (a bonus) but experiences last much longer than material things. From planning the whole trip to go whitewater rafting, to reminiscing about the hilarious kids who kept purposely falling into the water, the time together is so precious.
When you're not giving experiences but material items, remember to check for the online or in-person deals. The cost of the gift is not what is important, and discounts can help you give thoughtful gifts, while staying within your budget.
Watch Shane Tenny, CFP®'s video below to start your budget for the holidays, wedding season, or another expensive time of year.
Molly was the marketing director at SDT from October 2017 through November 2020. She is passionate about connecting with people, digital marketing, and serving her community.
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