A few years ago, my husband Joe and I were tempted to take advantage of a vacation package to Hawaii that had just gone on sale. It was a fantastic deal, and if it were any other time of the year, we likely would have jumped on it without much thought. But Christmas was just a couple of weeks away, and we already had budgeted a certain amount of money for gifts. Once we purchased the gifts, a trip of any sort—even one that was being offered at a bargain price—would be out of the question.
Then Joe made a proposition: he suggested that we skip the gifts and use the money to book the vacation instead. We crunched the numbers and realized that the cost would be about the same, so it came down to whether we spend it on more stuff that we probably didn’t even really want that much, or on the opportunity to make some new memories.
For us, the choice was obvious.
I don’t remember most of the gifts I’ve received. The ones I do remember are the truly special ones that have sentimental value, or those that are actually useful and help make my everyday life a bit easier. But the memories I have from that trip to Hawaii are worth more to me than any tangible item I’ve ever received.
The whole notion does seem a lot like Christmas with the Kranks—a holiday movie about a couple who decides to skip Christmas and go on a Caribbean cruise instead. It might sound ridiculous at first, but since many studies have revealed that spending money on experiences rather than things actually makes us happier, is it really that outrageous a concept? After all, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones. If being together is what counts, does taking presents out of the equation really subtract that much from your enjoyment? And, as a huge bonus, you’ll be changing up the scenery!
While skipping the holidays completely may not be necessary, cutting out the gifts may be all you need to afford a holiday getaway. Gallup recently reported that the average American will spend $752 on holiday gifts, but this can vary widely based on how many people you’re purchasing gifts for and the size of your holiday spending budget.
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you do spend that amount each year on gifts. With the average round-trip domestic flight costing $363.98 and the cost of a mid-range hotel room at around $200 a night, that $752 can just about cover a weekend of travel expenses. You’ll also have to factor in food and entertainment, but these are things you might be spending money on back at home anyway. If you’re strategic, you could even stretch your vacation beyond the weekend, or figure out ways to spend less on your trip than what you’d normally spend on gifts.
One way to do this is to shop around for airfare that is cheaper than usual, which is easy to do if you can be open-minded about the destination and/or you're flexible with your travel dates. You can also eliminate airfare as a travel expense completely by opting for a road trip instead.
Lodging is another one of those travel expenses that you can easily cut back on. Traveling with a spouse, partner, friends or family can make things more affordable when you factor in shared lodging costs. If everyone agrees not to exchange gifts, and to put that cash towards the trip instead, you’ll save even more money. Another way to cut back on costs is to explore other options than traditional hotel lodging—private rentals, hostels, and even camping are just a few creative alternatives.
Spending money on a vacation, instead of holiday gifts, can be a little trickier if you have children. But by budgeting and planning carefully, it can cost about the same in the end. It might be hard to convince your kids that a vacation would be better than presents, but if you suggest the right destination, there’s a good chance you can get them on board.
In the end, you might decide to splurge a little bit and go above your holiday gift budget in order to make the vacation you want possible. But even though it may cost more, it could mean a lot more, and the amazing memories you create can absolutely be worth it.