Want the Perfect Present? Think Outside the (Gift) Box

Some of us dread shopping for holiday gifts, while others look forward to the shopping season all year. Whichever category you fall into, the one thing we all share is the desire to give a gift that someone truly wants or needs. Although stores are filled with the latest products and gadgets, often the most memorable gifts are ones you can’t wrap.

Here are some ideas that you may not normally think of to help you think outside the (gift) box this holiday season.

The Gift of Time
Do you have a skill to offer? Perhaps you’re known in the office for your delicious blueberry cheesecake. Or you play a mean guitar, or can grow just about anything in your garden? Offer a gift certificate for lessons or a hands-on “workshop” with you. You can also offer your time to help with yard work, house cleaning, pet sitting for an upcoming vacation, or babysitting so parents can have a much-needed date night. Family and friends will appreciate these gifts if you choose services you know they’d love, or don’t want to do themselves.

If you are not able to donate your own time, consider purchasing a day of house cleaning from a local company, or a few hours from a handyman or professional organizer to help your loved ones get caught up on household projects.

The Gift of Fun
If children are on your gift list, check out CertifiKID. Think of it as Groupon for kids. You can choose from a variety of local family- and kid-friendly activities, like sports events, recreation, festivals, water parks, holiday happenings, theatre, dining and much more. All prices are discounted, with some marked down as much as 80% off the regular price.

A helpful feature of the site is that you can narrow your search by the child’s age category (baby/toddler, elementary school, or preteen/teen) and also find activities for kids with special needs. You can choose activities that fall on a weekday or weekend and specify indoor or outdoor. You can buy a voucher for a specific event or activity, or go with a CertifiKID gift card and let the child choose! E-gift cards are also available, which is great if you live far away.

The Gift of Learning
An educational and fun family gift idea is giving an annual membership to a local museum or zoo. Purchase a gift membership and give a year filled with family time.

Memberships usually also include special perks like food and gift shop discounts, discounted parking, special member-only events, expedited entry, etc. Pricewise, the membership may seem expensive; but when you break it down, you may actually be saving on gifts. For example, an annual family membership at the National Aquarium in Baltimore is $195. For a family of five, that’s about $40 per person for a full year’s worth of learning and family bonding.

Also be sure to check out memberships at your local children’s museum. These museums offer educational hands-on activities for all ages and are often inexpensive.

Bonus for you: Since most museums are non-profits, you can usually deduct part or all of the cost of membership on your taxes. Check with your tax advisor.

The Gift of Necessity
Give a gift certificate for something practical. Maybe your daughter has put off getting a haircut and color due to her college-student budget. Buy a gift certificate to her favorite hair salon. Or your nephew just bought a new car and will now need regular oil changes and car washes. Find a car wash or Jiffy Lube near where he lives, and gift him a one-time visit, or multiple ones. Maybe your sister just started a new job and will be paying tolls on her daily commute. Offer to add money to her EZPass account. Granted, these types of gifts may not be the most glamorous, but they may just end up being the most appreciated!

The Gift of a New Skill
Has your aunt always talked about learning to sew? Does your brother complain that he’s tired of eating fast food all the time? Find a class and sign them up! Even better, sign yourself up, too, and take the class together. You’ll both learn a new skill and spend quality time.

ClickinMoms offers online photography workshops covering everything from beginners guide to photographing newborns. Other class ideas are jewelry-making, scrapbooking, self-defense, yoga, ceramics, or anything else you think they’d enjoy learning to do.

For kids, consider a cooking class to develop those foodie skills early! Kids Cook Real Food is an online cooking course, which is good if you don’t know their schedule and need to stay flexible with days/times.

The Gift of Surprise
Everyone loves surprises, and especially kids. Send a one-time or monthly mystery box that matches the child’s interests. You can find a subscription box for just about anything, from art projects to science experiments. Or, get creative and create your own around a theme or holiday that fits your budget.

Most mystery boxes are tailored for the child’s age. Some of the more popular subscription boxes for kids are Kiwi Crates (hands-on projects for kids who are into science or like to tinker), Little Passports (fictional pen pals who travel the world and teach about different cultures), KidArtLit (hardcover book and related art project), and KidStir (kid-friendly recipes and kid-sized cooking tools).

Because big kids love surprises too, check out the Geek & Gamer Mystery Box at LivingSocial. A $75 value for only $22, customer reviews show the box is a big hit with video game buffs.

Bonus: Although these are technically gifts for kids, parents benefit too because you’re helping keep the kids busy with a new project every month!

The Gift of Special Delivery
Another creative idea is to buy a gift magazine subscription. Although most of the world is electronic, kids still love getting mail addressed to them, and adults love getting mail that’s not bills! Plus, you’re helping build the child’s reading skills, and most magazines also include activity and craft ideas. Some popular titles include Highlights, Ranger Rick, New Moon Girls, Cricket, and Ladybug. For adults, pick a magazine that’s very specific to one of their hobbies or interests, for example, SAIL Magazine, Horse & Rider, Anglers Journal, or Cruising World.

The Gift of Drama
Find out what live shows are coming up at theatres, performing arts colleges, dinner theatres, and other local venues. Buy tickets for an upcoming performance, or purchase season tickets for a full season of entertainment. Many popular Broadway shows, like “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” go on the road each year. Check out Broadway Across America to see what might be coming to a town near those on your gift list.

Resources: The Penny Hoarder, Thrifty Frugal Mom, HappyYouHappyFamily, The Gunny Sack, Attainable-Sustainable