If your house is anything like mine, the absolute last thing your children need, is one. more. thing. Barbies, baby dolls, Legos (don’t get me started on those), plastic food from the play kitchen, Hot Wheels tracks, games with pieces that will never be seen again, paper (ooooh the paper), markers, stickers, coloring books, race cars, dress up costumes…. I could go on and on.

Wanna know how much of the stuff gets played with? Maybe 5% of it…. On a good day. Wanna know how many of those Lego sets could still be assembled because all the parts are still together? None of them. The more I think about it, the more crazy angry sad it makes me. All of the money spent on “stuff” that has essentially been wasted.

Ask my kids what they got for Christmas last year, and they may be able to remember one thing. Ask my kids about our trip we took to the Bahamas over Fall Break, and you’ll see their eyes light up as they tell you how they conquered every water slide, got to see sharks and had so much fun with their cousins. Ask my kids to go find that Barbie or Action Figure they “had’ to have for their birthday, you’ll get a blank stare….ask them to draw a picture or tell you a story about our trip to the lake this Summer, and you’ll get the most vivid, precious responses you’ve ever seen or heard.

According to parenting.com, “U.S. parents spend an average of $271 per child on Christmas, according to a 2011 survey by TODAY Moms and Parenting.com. But even as we spend more, its not clear whether the outcomes we get are any more meaningful.” According to Today.com, one in 10 say “they’ll shell out upwards of $500 on gifts for each child.” Add in what grandparents and aunts and uncles spend into the equation—and there’s a good chance you probably could’ve gone on a three day Caribbean Cruise for a family of four, or spent a couple of nights at Disney World.

You can’t put a price tag on family time together, and while taking a family vacation may be out of the question, here are some ideas on how to spend your Christmas budget on experiences instead of junk stuff.

• An overnight stay at Great Wolf Lodge (averages around $250 per night)
• Tickets to a local sporting event
• A membership to the zoo or Children’s museum
• A hot air balloon ride
• A weekend in St. Louis to visit the City Museum.
• A day trip to the American Girl Store in Chicago

As Christmastime approaches, and we find ourselves wondering, “what should we buy the kids this year,” I’ve come to the conclusion that “more stuff” is not the answer. I’m not sure if you’re the same, but I have never regretted the money I’ve spent on travel and experience, but I totally have regretted it on the “stuff.” So, my challenge to you as we enter the holidays is to focus on giving the gift of experience, rather than just giving more “stuff.”