Experiences vs. Things

I know it’s the day before Thanksgiving, but seeing all of the ads for Black Friday and all the PF posts about saving for the holidays…. it just has gotten me in the mood to think Christmas! Plus, I’ve already been putting money towards gifts and tickets for holiday-related things. And that got me thinking about the changes in my holiday spending behavior over the years.

Okay, don’t get me wrong… I love buying things. I’ve worked hard over the past couple years to be less focused on buying things for the fun of it (not easy!), but I’ve made great strides.

Part of my success has been creating (and attempting to stick to) a budget. It’s definitely a challenge, but I’ve mostly broken the habit of buying things because they are there and I want them. I still feel the pull (especially at Christmas time, when all I really want to do is buy Christmas presents for people I love, especially L, who is 5), but I have learned to resist it.

I feel like I’m finally growing up a bit, though, when it comes to what makes ME happy at the holidays. When L and I were talking about what she loves most about Christmas (you can guess what she said), I said, “Guess what I like best about Christmas?”

She rolled her eyes (5 year olds do that?!) and said, “Spending time with your family….” It was pretty hilarious. Because 5-year-old.

“Actually,” I said, “That is part of it, but really, there’s something else even better.”

And I told her how it’s the traditions I like best. (Coincidentally, they do involve being with family!) Here are some of the things we do (depending on what’s happening):

  • Seeing the Nutcracker
    • We’ve been each year since L was 2, I think! We’ve never stayed through the entire performance, because I won’t enjoy myself if L is fussy or having trouble sitting still. We almost made it to the end last year!
  • Going to a small town nearby for the “Luminaries”
    • It’s a little celebration (free to attend) where Santa shows up, there are free games, you can buy hot chocolate, shop (not us, but, you know, for the other people), and do free crafts.
  • Going to the local university’s Holiday Concert
    • We’re not going this year, because it’s expensive and we have some other things on the docket instead!
  • Going to see L in the Nutcracker!
    • Okay, this is new – her ballet class will actually perform in her school’s version of the Nutcracker this year!
    • Her ballet school’s Nutcracker is the one we saw last year, which was great. Sadly, this means that H and I had to buy tickets to see her perform (only one of the two nights – the other night we’ll just wait backstage or something), and that meant that L wouldn’t get to actually SEE the Nutcracker – which is why the three of us going to see a different production of the Nutcracker earlier in the month.
  • Visiting the Arboretum in the small city nearby where they will have a light show
    • It will be like driving around town to see the Christmas lights… only a lot more expensive. And hopefully awesomer.
  • Seeing the Santaland Diaries (by David Sedaris)
    • A community theater in the small town nearby puts this on every year – last year we won free tickets! If you haven’t heard of / seen this, you should check it out. Note: it’s for grown-ups only. 🙂

Some of these are yearly traditions (the Nutcracker, Santaland Diaries), and some we’re picking up this year (Luminaries, Arboretum), but they are all experiences that cost money.

I don’t love spending all the money, but honestly, I don’t flinch the way I would if I were buying a product that cost the same amount as three tickets to one of these events. I almost think of it as an investment in building memories. This time of year is really special to me, and I like to soak up all of it that I can before it’s over!

We do have other holiday traditions that don’t involve spending money, of course:

  • Decorating the house and putting up the tree
  • Making and decorating cookies
  • Watching holiday movies (White Christmas and A Christmas Story are my favorites!)
  • Hot chocolate and popcorn
  • Making gifts for family members (with L’s help!)

There are a couple of things I’d like to add:

  • Buying a gift to donate to Toys for Tots (or something similar)
  • Volunteering somehow (but that’s also something I’d like to do year-round, and in a way that involves L)

I’ve told H that I really don’t want anything for Christmas, because I want money more than anything else I could think of. Don’t get me wrong, I do have an Amazon list with more than 70 items on it. (And contrary to what my mother says, I DO in fact want all of those items, even if they were added in 2011….) But if someone offered me the item or the money, I’d nearly always take the money, because I would put it to saving up for our France trip in July (EXPERIENCE!) or to paying down debt (PAYING OUR FUTURE SELVES!).

What are your holiday traditions? Have your priorities shifted  in a way that affects your traditions?


4 thoughts on “Experiences vs. Things

  1. Our priorities of paying off debt have shifted our traditions slightly We don’t buy gifts for each other and try to spend less on gifts in general. A tradition we’ve enjoyed ever since we started dating was “adopting” children from the Salvation Army tree and do Christmas shopping for them. Your Christmas traditions sound fabulous. After being away from home for a couple Christmas and in England where things are much less extravagant. I can’t wait to get back to the U.S. and enjoy all the over the top Christmas traditions again! 🙂


    • I love your tradition of the Salvation Army tree! I need to find a similar program in our small town. I know I need to be a good role model for my child and I’d like to start with something like that.


  2. These are all awesome holiday experiences to spend money on! I’m much more in favor of spending on experiences than gifts these days, and I also love the traditions that come along with the holidays. When I was younger, my parents would drive around to see the lights on all the houses in the neighborhood, and we would always make a day of decorating the house. There’s also Christmas morning waffles.


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