By Krystal Hardy Contributor Published Dec 20, 2019 at 11:40 AM

Each year, parents brave malls and big box retailers looking for the perfect Christmas toys to place under the tree. The more savvy parents likely logged on to their favorite site and ordered from the comfort of their couches.

I’ve certainly been in both positions – but this year, I wanted to do something different. I’ve become more conscious of all of the "stuff" my daughter has that ends up in the basement, a toy box or being sent to Goodwill during spring cleaning, and I’m taking mental tabs of just how much money I was spending. Like many parents, I wanted to have something more lasting to give to my daughter, to create memories and feel like more of an investment than a splurge.

This prompted me to make a list of the things she seems to enjoy the most that I could build upon – and pass along to you as potential ideas for your own families.

1. Movie passes or memberships

My daughter loves the movie theater experience, especially at the Marcus BistroPlex or dinner theater locations. We can order delicious entrees and theater favorites like popcorn or Icees while earning points through Magical Movie Rewards. As the points accumulate, they can be redeemed for concessions, on tickets and more. Other perks includes free popcorn on select days, early access to movie screenings and free refills on fountain drinks.  

If you’re more of a DIYer and want to give this idea a personal touch, you can create your own movie date passes to put in their Christmas stockings or wrap for under the tree.

2. Music lessons

I am a music lover, and the benefits of introducing your children to music education extend beyond their youth. Studies have shown that learning music helps children boost their levels of confidence and patience, improves memory, encourages self-expression and advances social skills. One of my fondest childhood memories is studying the violin, and although I no longer play, those memories have been a catalyst to seeking lessons as an adult.

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music is a good resource for music programs and education, while Milwaukee Recreation recently announced Saturday music lessons at Hamilton and Marshall high schools at $24 for residents and $36 for non-residents for youth ages 7-18. Another option would be supporting a local musician and entrepreneur by hiring them as a musical instructor. Many offer in-home lessons for convenience.

3. Theatrical/artistic experiences

Milwaukee has been fortunate to host some amazing theatrical productions. We are just coming off of a "Hamilton" high – but Milwaukee’s artistic community has much more to offer. 

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater is staging the Charles Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol," which has become an annual family tradition of ours. We look forward to dressing up, having hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn and enjoying pre-show carolers. More shows to look for – and potentially gift – in the 2019-20 season includes Milwaukee Ballet’s "The Nutcracker" this December and "Peter Pan" this spring. Disney’s "The Lion King" will also come to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this February, which will surely leave your kiddos singing some of its catchy tunes, like "Hakuna Matata" and "I Just Can’t Wait to Be King."

4. Savings Plan Accounts

Parents are becoming more conscious of saving and planning for their children’s futures, as many of us are financially disadvantaged with our own student loan debt. A Savings Plan Account ensures your children won’t deal with a similar financial burden. Sure, this isn’t a gift that children might appreciate right this moment – but they will be appreciative later as they realize the head start you’ve provided them with as they embark on their college journey.

The Edvest College Savings Plan is a 529 college savings plan you can create now to combat student loans with high interest rates and cover the costs of needed items such as books. Uniquely, Edvest allows Gift Contributions, which means starting this Christmas, you can create an account, and with each special occasion, your friends and family can contribute to the fund.

Another perk of investing with Edvest are the federal and state-specific tax advantages. Find them here at  

5. A vacation

Vacations can seem overwhelming to plan in terms of financing, travel and then some, but a great vacation will have your little ones asking when the next trip will be.

My daughter once saw an ad for the Nickelodeon resorts while watching cartoons. Upon further research, I found that one of the resorts is in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which would be perfect as we have family there. We can have a great time at the resort and visit with family in one trip. Even if you don't have family nearby, though, the resort has activities such as Character Dining, where your family can have breakfast as well as a meet and greet with their most loved Nick characters. There are also an assortment of splash pads, slides, pools for all of your aqua activities and a clubhouse for more artistic, laidback fun. Learn more at

Gifting "an experience" has a more lasting impression and can be more fun for your children than adding toys to their rooms. Experiences offer your children entertainment, beautiful memories and teaches them important lessons about family and quality time. They will come to value more than just material goods, and investments – such as the Edvest Savings Plan – will show your children that it’s never too early to plan for the future, a gift that will continue on for hopefully generations to come.

Krystal is a Milwaukee native, Marquette University alum (Go Marquette!) and has been a freelance writer for over ten years.  With KDH_Creative, she continues to focus on being a multi-disciplinary creative in the areas of journalism, literature, film, marketing and public relations.  

In her free time, she likes to explore the city as if she is a new transplant, to fall in love with Milwaukee all over again. She loves all things artistic such as theatrical productions, art galleries, film festivals and more. Her hobbies include playing in makeup, gardening, blogging, endlessly scrolling on Pinterest, taking romantic strolls through our public libraries and trying to learn guitar.  

She's a #MamaBee of one, #MPSproud, #MontessoriAdvocate and thinks teachers are the real superheroes of the world.

Krystal is currently working on self-publishing her first book.