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Who else wants to stop getting (& giving) more STUFF?

Here are 12 great ideas for experience gifts to have you thinking outside the box… literally!

Done, done and done! Crossouts lined my Christmas shopping list until just ONE name loomed large: my husband. With a sigh I thought of the piles of silly socks already in his drawer, the buildup of ties in the closet, and that coin counter from Christmas past gathering dust in his office. I was coming up empty for fresh gift ideas, and dreading just wrapping up another pile of STUFF!

Why should we STOP giving STUFF!? You might wonder…

1. People don’t want it!

Year after year, over $13 billion is wasted on gifts that people don’t even want!? ( I’m sure my hubby would NOT be surprised because he NEVER wants gifts! Gift receiving just is NOT his love language.

2. People don’t need it!

But year after year, I feel the pressure to wrap up something for under the tree. And of course, he’ll never return it! (Although, if he did, he would be among the 27% of Americans who return Christmas gifts each year! (RedStag)).

And to be honest, although I LOVE giving gifts, usually I receive something I already have or don’t need from him, because gift giving just isn’t his forte. My brain hurt trying to justify spending more money on giving (or getting) more STUFF this Christmas.

3. People don’t USE it!

There had to be a better way. And no, gift cards aren’t the answer either! Over $3 BILLION worth of gift cards go unused every year! (CNBC).

There IS a better way. And we found it, and it was fantastic. Ready for it!?

Give a gift that won’t get re-gifted!

Experience gifts let you give a unique gift to your loved one without breaking the bank. They’re great for the last-minute shopper, the person who has everything, and the minimalist at the same time.

That year my brain exploded over too-much-stuff? We tried the experience gifts route… and we loved it! Our family goal was to spend more time together anyway. So giving experience gifts helped us reduce STUFF and spend dedicated time together! (Exception: We still filled stockings with fun treats like candy and mini travel size items).

Cutting a bell pepper witha knife on a cutting board

Ready to store memories instead of stuff?

So what did we give that was so fun!? In the end, we each gave SIX experience gifts under/around $50 to each other, so it was like a DOZEN gifts altogether!

It took a bit of searching to find gifts that worked for us, and you may have a different approach (and budget), but the ideas can be the same!

These affordable ideas for experience gifts under $50 make memories they’ll keep forever! Skip the stores and the stuff altogether!

Our Shopping “Rules” for Experience Gifts Under $50.

  1. A DIY gift of the month club. We each drew 6 months of the year. Our task was to give the other person an “experience” gift that would be do-able in those months (and vice versa). I drew 5 months in a row, so we did one “exchange” to break up the streak.
  2. Date or Family experiences. The experience had to be something we can do together or with family. (Which, sadly, eliminated spa days, but…)
  3. Other-focused. The gift had to focus on what the OTHER person would enjoy most. (So… maybe a spa day?!)
  4. Budget-friendly. We set a cap of $50 per experience but aimed for less (yes, it was hard!). We agreed that any savings on one month’s gift could roll over to another month.
  5. Flexible dates. The experience couldn’t require a SET date since weather and illness might prevent scheduling. (negotiable, but worked for us).

The Ultimate List of Experience Gift Ideas

Indoor Experience Gifts for Rainy or Cold Days

A cooking class or show

Decide whether you want a demo class or a hands-on experience.

I found Romancing the Pan, a live cooking show and class was taping in our area. The event was a class experience with the show’s star, Chef Sandy. She shared her favorite dishes to get the audience involved. We had fun, although I thought there wasn’t enough food served at the family-style tables, and dessert/coffee was minimal and rushed. Google cooking classes in your area, and check Groupon to get the best deals on experiences like this.

Indoor mini-golf

Get a taste of summer fun… any time of year! Indoor mini-golf (often paired with a bowling or other arcade game type fun), is a great option for any age group. Groupon is an excellent place to pre-pay for activities like this.

Escape Room adventure

The ultimate experience mystery lovers and would-be detectives! You’ll piece together clues to gain your final objective (unlocking your room!).

A variety of companies offer “escape room” adventures, and most seem to be played with 2-8 people. Tickets run about $30 / person.

I found the escape room experience so mentally stimulating and thrilling because you work against the clock, and your logic and reasoning are mind-blowingly challenged! We loved our experience SO much we bought another set of tickets.

Indoor (or outdoor) Ropes Courses

An active adventure fun for two or a group! There are indoor, outdoor, treetop, and even in-store ropes and climbing courses all over the place!

Average ticket prices run between $18-30. We did this one with our kids and all had a good time; I did not feel brave enough to take on the upper level course though, so consider whether you’re afraid of heights on this one!

Dinner at a national heritage society

Explore family heritage and culture! We had lunch at the Polish National Club in our capitol city of Hartford.

Look up the local “home” or “society” for your giftee’s nationality. Often these spots offer membership for a reasonable rate, and sometimes hold dinners or have restaurants on-site that feature authentic regional cuisine!

Bring the experience home – literally. At Home Experience Gift Ideas:

Date Night Boxes

Sometimes you can’t go out. When that happens, gift a box that contains an experience to enjoy from the comfort of home. A Date Night Box will usually have some treats, games, and activities centered around a theme for you and your special someone to enjoy together!

Food Tasting Experience

Create your own experience at home with a food tasting night (or find a local artisan farm!). Maybe you try different kinds of cheeses, coffees, chocolates. How about a Honey Tasting Kit? Our family really enjoyed the honey tasting at Red Bee Farm this summer, and it would be an experience gift to remember!

Outdoor Experiences are Fresh and Exciting, and under $50!

 Couple walking together

Go on a walking tour!

Learn a little history in a really different way… go for a Wacky Walk! Wacky Walks turn your city into a giant board game, and you’re the player! Use your smartphone to navigate, visit the checkpoints to answer questions and perform zany tasks. Work together with your team to solve a puzzle using all your answers!

Each walk takes about 2 hours, and it’s a great couples or family experience. There’s no need for a tour guide, so go whenever you like. During certain hours an online tour guide chat is available. You’ll learn more about your city, at your own pace. We toured Hartford on a quiet Monday and had a blast finding various statues and points of interest I didn’t know much about. Wacky Walks has tours available in 100 cities, so this is a great option for a vacation adventure too!

Visit the Wacky Walks website to order tickets (look for a coupon code for an awesome discount!).

Take a boat tour (just not a 3 hour one!)

Do a bit of Googling to look for nearby lakes and islands of notable history. Chances are, there’ll be a boat tour of it! (Google boat tours + your state).

When we went on our honeymoon in the U. S. Virgin Islands, we took an awesome boat tour of Virgin Gorda, a big rock pile island in the middle of the Caribbean! It was lovely! In Connecticut, the Thimble Islands are tiny islands off the coast of Branford that often hold just one house! You can use any of three boat tour companies to take a 1 hour tour and learn about the Islands history and lore! Prices will vary depending on your location.

Have a Water Adventure on a Whale Watch

I have to include this because we are New Englanders. Going on a Whale Watch has been on my bucket list for some time, and if you’re in New England, it’s a great pick. Other states may have their own ocean adventures to explore. Check out Groupon for experiences like this to find great pricing.

Keep Experience Gifts in the Family… or share with Friends!

Bottom Line: Christmas isn’t the only time for an experience gift. Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day… all these gift-giving moments are an opportunity to grant an experience instead! Experience gifts are perfect for couples or adult groups, and most of them are awesome for families with young children or teenagers too!

We’re hoping giving experiences will be a fun new tradition for our family!

What experience gifts have you given or received?

Cutting a bell pepper with a knife on a cutting board

Thanks to Wacky Walks for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own. 


Thursday 29th of November 2018

what ideas did HE come up with?

Dandi D

Thursday 9th of February 2017

These are some great ideas for me to remember for birthdays!

Robin Hunt

Wednesday 1st of February 2017

I am always looking for quality gifts that are inexpensive - thanks for the info!!


Monday 30th of January 2017

Love this idea! I'm sure we could find lots to do around here.

Wendy Browne

Monday 19th of December 2016

This is a great idea! I would gift it to my friend with her 8 and 13 year olds. They live near the walk area and would enjoy being silly.