From ParentingPaths by Aki Raymer

Whew! We did it it guys! The holiday season is coming to a close and we are heading into a brand new year!

So. I have to ask…  How much did you spend on holiday gifts?

Money is one word that most families with kids associate with this time of year – lots of it! We love our kids, and it’s easy to feel like a successful holiday can be defined by a big pile of the latest toys, gadgets and experiences. While there is nothing quite like that look of excitement on your little one’s face as they see that big pile of stuff, it can be easy to lose sight of that fact that stuff does not a magical childhood make…

I’m not here to kill your holiday buzz. I’m only suggesting that true holiday greatness is built on the opposite of stuff. Think back to your favorite childhood holiday memories. Sure, you may remember one or two really special gifts, but I’ll bet that it’s the smells, tastes, and rituals that you treasure most.  While there’s no denying that there is something pretty awesome about opening a gift that you really, really want… face it… the majority of presents will be thrown aside after a few minutes of playtime.

When I look back on all of the stocking stuffers, plastic junk, and random doodads that I’ve given my kid over the years (and how much traveling we could have done with that cash- doh!) it makes me cringe. And while I didn’t keep it quite as simple as I could have this year, I thought I’d share some of the ways that I am trying to build memories and build appreciation.

The biggest gift you can give your child is time. Any gifts that we share during this time – whether purchased with money or created by hand, are icing on the cake. So let’s talk for a minute about strengthening our families, creating those unforgettable memories and fostering a feeling gratitude for the things we DO have.

Here are 10 creative ways to create memories without spending a ton of money.

  1. Create an Experience ListDo you ever wish you had more family adventures up your sleeve? Sit down and create a list! Start by bringing everyone together to brainstorm inexpensive options. Some activities like ice skating and taking a drive to check out the holiday decorations might be seasonal. Is there a park, lake, beach, or restaurant you’ve wanted to visit? Great! Put that on the list! Next time boredom strikes check your list and head out the door!
  2. Create a Scavenger Hunt
    Not really sure what to do with all that holiday candy you’ve got lying around? No problem! Create scavenger hunt with clues about where to find the treasure. Not only does solving the clues promote problem-solving skills and teamwork, but it’s also super fun!
  3. Eat = Create Memories
    There’s nothing that brings people together like food. Whether you bake grandma’s challah, assemble a pre-made gingerbread house, or go to dim sum to bring in the New Year, there is something really cool about a family food tradition that happens every year. We have a few of these: chicken and waffles at our favorite diner on Christmas Eve, IHOP early in the morning each year on the first day of school, and going to a friend’s place on New Years Day to eat a traditional Japanese New Year feast!
  4. Model Kindness and Gratitude
    Got old toys and/or clothes lying around? We all do! Go through used items with your kids and ask your child to pick an old item that each new item will replace. Talk about how much someone else might enjoy the things that they’ve outgrown.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen, taking food to elderly neighbors, or giving time to tutor a younger child is a concrete way to show kids just how much power each of us have to make a difference in other people’s lives.
  5. Game Night! 
    For the days leading up to Christmas and after, pick a few games to play that the whole family enjoys. This can include Scrabble, Monopoly, or Charades. This will bring the whole family together and create a sense of healthy competition. Don’t be afraid to try new games either! This can be a wonderful learning activity and a great, new experience for everyone.
  6. Get Out and Get Active
    Go Christmas Caroling, Ice-Skating, or Sledding. Try a new outdoor activity this year that you’ve never tried. It’s easy to be content with staying in and watching movies while enjoying warm-cocoa and/or cider. Try going outside! The warm drink will taste extra special after snowball fight or a leisurely hike.
  7. Movies!! 
    Okay! I know that I just said not to spend the whole holiday watching movies… but we all deserve to veg out with our loved ones and enjoy a show once in a while right?! The theaters are open on big holidays so this can he a fun and easy tradition to put into rotation. If your kiddos are little, you prefer to stay home in your jammies, or you want a more budget-friendly alternative, the movie-watching options are nearly endless online. Pop up some popcorn, break out the fleece blankies, and spread out on the couch!
  8. Goals and GratitudeIf you read my last blog post you know that gratitude not only makes us feel better about our lives, but that it is positively correlated with all sorts of wonderful things. Mind blowing right? Here’s another cool fact: writing down your goals makes you way more likely to accomplish them! Share the benefits with your kids this year by taking the time to talk about what went right this past year. What are each of you thankful for? Now talk about your goals for this coming year. Write down what each of you would like to accomplish and plan out the small steps that will lead to accomplishing your goals!
  9. Take Photos … Lots and Lots of Photos
    What other time of year offers so many photo ops? Craft a bunch of silly props and create a photo booth in your living room, go pose in front of the most lit-up home in your neighborhood, or create a hashtag so that you can share silly photos with friends and family far and wide.Chances are that there’s a tutu, light saber or snazzy outfit was gifted to your kid this season, so why not have them get geared up and ham it up for the camera?
  10. Forget Perfection. 
    Stop beating yourself up because your home isn’t a winter wonderland, your Pinterest-Inspiration turned out to be a Pinterest-Fail, or you lost your temper once or twice. Know that your love is enough, and that the best gift that you can give your kid is compassion, connection, and trying to be the best version of you that you can be. Long after the toys have been abandoned, you are there. And you are what makes every moment feel like home.

So that’s that! The ten ideas above illustrate that there are so many ways to build traditions and magic into our children’s lives that have nothing to do with buying more or keeping up with the neighbors. If there’s one thing that money can’t buy, it’s time. Spend it wisely and with a full heart. Your kids will remember these moments long after the gifts have faded from their minds.