The perfect holiday gift doesn’t have to be something you buy from the store, cover in wrapping paper and place under the tree.
Giving friends and family members an experience gift is just as wonderful — and it’ll create memories that last far beyond the holiday season.
Gifting experiences like concert tickets, a trip to a theme park or an overseas vacation, however, can get pricy. This list of affordable experience gifts will give you ideas for everyone on your Christmas list without having to spend a ton of money.
38 Experience Gifts That Won’t Break Your Budget
Move beyond material presents with these affordable experience gift ideas.
1. DIY Spa Treatment
Recreate a spa day experience at home using ingredients you already have on hand. Make a moisturizing face mask with yogurt, honey or oatmeal. Or create a sugar scrub to exfoliate the feet. Really sell the DIY spa experience by lighting candles, putting on some calming music and serving cucumber water.
2. Cook a Gourmet Meal
Take the burden of cooking dinner off your loved one’s plate for the day. Offer to whip up their favorite meal — or the best dish you make. Make it a truly remarkable dinner by adding an appetizer and dessert. Or set it up as a cooking class, and teach them to make your signature dish.
3. Plan a Picnic
Luxury picnics are pretty trendy now, but you can create your own on a budget. Pack a sampling of your gift recipient’s favorite foods, bring a bubbly beverage and use blankets and pillows you have at home. Choose a location with a nice scenery or a place that holds special meaning to your loved one.
4. Make a Charcuterie Board
A charcuterie board is a great gift to bring to your co-worker’s annual Christmas party — or really for anyone who appreciates a nice spread of fancy cheese and meat. This article will show you how to make a nice charcuterie board for under $30.
5. Wine Tasting
Buy a few affordable bottles of wine and invite your friends over for a wine tasting. Share information about each beverage and why you selected it. Serve appetizers or snacks that pair nicely with the wine.
6. Gift a Special Recipe
Share your favorite recipe with a loved one. Bonus points if you give them all the ingredients needed to make the dish.
7. Teach a Skill
Time to tap into your talents and share what you know. If you can play the guitar, decorate cakes, take amazing photos — or whatever your area of expertise is — offer to give free lessons to your loved ones.
8. Teach a Language
DIY your own Rosetta Stone classes. If you’re fluent in another language, offer to teach basic vocabulary words and phrases as a free introductory language class.
9. Clean Their House
Help your friend or family member rid their home of the holiday clutter by offering free house cleaning services. Help them take down all the holiday decor in addition to mopping, vacuuming and dusting.
10. Yard Service
Pitch in to boost the curb appeal of your loved one’s home. Offer to rake leaves, shovel snow, mow the lawn or trim hedges. Your hard work is sure to be appreciated!
11. Beauty Session
If you picked up some styling skills when you couldn’t go to the salon during Covid lockdowns, put them to good use. Offer to give your friend a manicure, style their hair or do their makeup before attending a holiday party.
12. Room Makeover
Play interior designer and offer to renovate or refresh a room in your friend or family member’s house. Check out these tips for how to upgrade a kitchen or bathroom on a budget.
13. Free Babysitting
Give the busy moms and dads in your life a little break by offering to watch their kids. You could give them a coupon book so they can redeem the free babysitting whenever they need. Or set up an arrangement where you take the kids off their hands on a scheduled basis — like every Saturday morning for the next four weeks.
14. Themed Movie Marathon
Whether your friend’s into action flicks, ‘80s rom coms or foreign films, curate a short list of movies in their favorite genre and invite them over for a special screening. Don’t forget the popcorn and soda.
15. Day Trip
Gift a travel experience that doesn’t require plane tickets or a hotel stay. Plan a trip to a nearby city less than a day’s drive away. Research notable landmarks to visit and inexpensive things to do while you’re there.
16. Camping Trip
Camping can be a nice low-budget trip — if you do it right. Depending on where you live in the country, this gift might be one your recipient won’t redeem until the weather’s more conducive to sleeping outdoors.
17. National Parks Pass
Gift outdoor lovers with free entry year round to any of the national parks. An annual National Park pass is $80 — or $20 for those age 62 and up.
18. Free Photo Shoot
If you take nice photos, offer to give a free photography session to a friend or family member. Maybe they could use professional headshots for work or perhaps their last family photo is seriously outdated. Send them digital copies from the photo shoot plus print out a couple favorites they can frame.
19. Score Cheap Tickets to a Local Attraction
Offer to take your loved one to a museum, indoor skydiving, an escape room or another local attraction as an experience gift. But you don’t have to pay full price. Sites like Groupon offer discounted admission to local activities and attractions. Your local library may even provide free museum passes to library card holders.
20. ClassPass Gift Card
A ClassPass gift card is a perfect gift for a friend who likes to keep active and try different fitness classes. ClassPass gives people access to thousands of gyms, fitness studios, spas and salons all over the country. It also offers virtual classes.
21. Sign Up for a Race
Surprise a pal who’s into fitness by signing them — and yourself — up for a 5K, 10K and another upcoming race and paying for their registration fees. Make it more of an experience by scheduling time to train with them before the event.
22. Dance Lessons
If you know how to waltz, swing dance or can master all the latest TikTok moves, dance lessons can make for a nice experience gift.
23. Perform a Song
If you’re musically inclined, sing or play a song for your loved one as a gift. Pick a song that has meaningful lyrics or is one of their favorites — or write a song of your own!
The best gifts are the ones that are meaningful and personal. Create a scrapbook for your loved one to reflect on all the memories you’ve had together. Personalize it with photos, mementos, handwritten notes and more.
25. Create Your Own Guided Journal
Buy a blank journal and customize it with daily writing prompts or encouraging words to reflect on each day. This is a gift the recipient can use all throughout the year.
26. Positive Thoughts Jar
Purchase a bunch of popsicle sticks from your local craft store and write positive thoughts, well wishes or affirmations on each one. Decorate the outside of an empty clear jar and then add the popsicle sticks inside. Gift to a loved one with instructions to read the message from one stick each day.
27. Cameo Video
Cameo lets you arrange for your loved one’s favorite celebrity to send them a personal video message. Depending on which celebrity you choose, this gift could get pretty expensive. However, there are some actors, influencers and reality TV stars available to create messages for $50 or less.
28. The Adventure Challenge
The Adventure Challenge is a book filled with prompts to encourage couples, friends, family members or individuals to go on random, fun-filled adventures. It’s scratch-off style, so you won’t know what gift experiences you’ve signed yourself up for until you scratch off the adventure prompt. Each book costs under $50.
29. Scavenger Hunt
This idea makes a great experience gift for kids. Set up clues all around the house eventually leading to a treat or small gift as the treasure. Bonus points if you incorporate a pirate theme.
30. Yes Day
Based on the book and subsequent movie “Yes Day,” you can create your own Yes Day where you agree to do whatever the recipient asks of you for an entire day. This would be a perfect gift for the kiddos who are used to having to follow the rules and do what they’re told. For 24 hours, the tables will be turned!
31. Craft Kit
This is a great idea for an artsy or creative person. Gather together materials to create a craft project — like yarn and knitting needles for making a scarf or beads and string for jewelry making — or purchase a craft kit online or at an arts and crafts store. The experience is making it together.
32. Paint by Number Kit
A paint-by-numbers kit is great for someone who is artistic but needs a little assistance to create the masterpiece they imagine. You can find one online or at arts and crafts stores for under $20.
33. Herb Garden Starter Kit
Nurture someone’s green thumb by giving them an herb garden starter kit — a couple of nice pots, potting soil, seed packets and a small watering can. Rather than assembling your own kit, you could purchase one online or from a local home and garden store.
34. Subscription Box
With so many different subscription boxes out there, you can find something for anyone on your Christmas list. There are subscription boxes for foodies, beauty addicts, travel fiends and even murder mystery fans. An annual subscription can get costly, but many subscription box companies will let you purchase one box as a gift or sign up for a shorter subscription, like three months.
35. Mini Golf
You don’t need any real golfing skills to play — and enjoy — a round of mini golf. This activity is typically low-budget. Prices vary depending on location, but you can often play for less than $20 per person — making it a pretty affordable experience gift.
Bowling is another low-budget experience that’s good for the whole family. Costs vary, but you can usually play a game for less than $20 per person.
‘Tis the season for ice skating — but a trip to the roller skating rink would also be nice.
38. Airbnb Experiences
Airbnb experiences help visitors and locals alike explore something new or interesting in any given city. The prices of these experiences vary by location and type of activity, but you can find options for under $50.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at Codetic.