Now and then, it's time for a splurge. Not for that umpteenth American Girl doll, and the mammoth Lego kit, but for the kind of gift that is for all your kids and all their friends, and maybe for the whole family as well.
From a game-on foozball table to Xbox One to a Little Free Library, these gifts will pay for themselves all year long in fun, connection and maybe a bit of community. Add your splurge ideas in the comments!
For techies: Xbox One
For a family of gamers, the $349 Xbox One is one of the must-have holiday big-ticket gifts of 2015. Exclusive blockbuster games your teens will want to play on Xbox One include Halo 5: Guardians, Gears of War and Rise of the Tomb Raiders. Creative families can build elaborate structures and go on to exciting adventures together in the world of Minecraft. The Xbox’s new Elite Controller also allows gamers to play on both the console and on a PC. Available at Best Buy and other locations.
For everyone: A trip to Disneyland
Ask most Northwest kids about their dream vacation, especially on a wet, gray winter day, and they’ll say The Magic Kingdom. Imagine your kids' delight when they open a box on Christmas day with a Mouse Ears hat from the Disney store in Bellevue Square and a note that they will need to wear it soon. Hotel, car and airline ticket packages are available on Alaska Airlines for a family of four for $4,267 that includes staying at the luxurious Disney Grand California Hotel and Spa. Tickets to the park are extra. Look for discounted park tickets at Costco and see our insider's guide to Disneyland.
For game players: Ping-pong or foosball table
Ping-pong is an Olympic sport, you know. And it's hip again. And a decent form of indoor exercise and a way to get your kids to talk to you (the relative lack of exertion facilitates chatting). Your kids will love having their friends over to play ping-pong or foosball in your basement, backyard or garage. Dick’s Sporting Goods carries several models of ping-pong tables ranging from $129 for a model that covers your dining room table to a Stiga Baja Outdoor Table for $600. You can also check Craigslist to find used tables.
As for foosball, a good starter table is a Sounders-themed Mingols Foosball table ($179) that is small and has short legs so kids under age 10 can get into the action. Take the legs off and teens and adults can play the unit on a tabletop. Available online from Sports Unlimited.
For retro gamers: Pinball or arcade video game
Pass on your pinball wizard skills to your kids by purchasing a classic or new machine. The staff at the Seattle Pinball Museum recommends the Firebird Pinball as a great resource for restored top-end pinball machines, such as a refurbished 1992 Gataway machine for $4,000 (if you have an unlimited budget). If you're longing for a classic arcade game of your youth, Adam Pratt of Arcade Heroes says you can purchase classic refurbished machines including a refurbished Pac-Man or Ms. Pac Man for $600–$800 pus shipping or a new Pac Man’s Arcade Party for $3,000 from vendors including TNT Amusements.
For jumpy kids: Outdoor trampoline
If you have active kids who love to jump, a trampoline is a great gift for the whole family, offering a cardio workout and unparalleled fun. Issaquah’s Springfree Trampoline sells outdoor trampolines that are designed to minimize injuries by replacing the hard metal coil springs found in many trampolines with fiber-glass, rods and a soft-edge flexible enclosure. Prices for a Springfree trampoline range from $1,449 for a medium-round model to $2,249 for a jumbo-square model. Once you've got the trampoline, help your kids avoid a trip to the ER with a trampoline-related injury by having a few safety rules in place. Encourage kids to stay in the center of the trampoline to jump, have them avoid flipping and limit use to one jumper at a time. Also, keep hard objects and pets off the trampoline surface.
On a budget? You can buy mini indoor trampolines from local sporting goods stores for $80 to $130. And you may find trampolines for sale on Craiglist, or even for free via your local Buy Nothing Group.
For movie buffs: In-home movie theater
Interested in creating a movie theater in your home. If you have a big budget, check out the options at Magnolia Design Centers in Bellevue and Northgate. Magnolia can create a movie theater in your home, custom-designed to your space. If you have a smaller budget and limited space, enhance your family's movie-viewing experience by upgrading your current television to a Samsung 60-inch LED Ultra HD TV for $2,000, a Toshiba 49 inch LED HD TV ($429), or an Insignia 32-inch LED HD TV ($239). All from Best Buy.
For an even better buy, keep your eye on Craigslist and buy your flat screens and media players used after the holidays when families are often eager to get rid of old systems.
For generous readers: Little Free Library
Does your family of avid readers have piles of books laying around ready to be passed on? Consider building a simple Little Free Library for your street, where neighbors can swap books and build community. Margret Aldrich, author of the Little Free Library Book, says, “Little Free Libraries are rewarding for the whole family. We often hear that opening a Little Free Library feels like opening a present, and children are especially drawn to that piece of it."
You can purchase a prebuilt Little Free Library, ready to be installed (check with your neighorhood HOA regulations first to see if they are allowed) for $150 to $500 dollars online from Little Free Library. The site also sells plans to build one yourself and allows “library stewards” to register their box so borrowers and donors can find it online.
For nature lovers: Outdoor playhouse or treehouse
Dan Britton, owner of Millworks Custom Sheds in Olympia, builds beautiful custom-built wooden playhouses and tree houses that are fit for royalty. His playhouses start at $800 for a custom built 4-by-4-foot structure and go up to $6,000 for a 10-by-12-foot structure (Britton says parents can convert one of these to a swanky garden storage shed or outdoor “pub” for parties once the kids grow up). Britton can add swings to structures for $500 or even a climbing wall for $250. He also custom builds treehouses starting at $2,800 for a 6-by-6-foot structure up to $5,400 for a 6-by-10-foot treehouse sturdy enough for adult Tarzans to swing from. Add a tube-slide exit for $600.
If you are feeling up to it, you can build your own treehouse — it's recommended to first consult with an arborist about the tree you plan to place it in — using a plan from Fall City’s Nelson Tree House and Supply. (If you have an endless budget, Nelson will also build you a luxury backyard treehouse such as the ones on its Treehouse Masters show on Animal Planet.)
For musicians: Everything for a garage band
If you want to keep your musical tweens and teens happily occupied in your basement or garage, then use the holidays to set them up. Guitar Center sells guitars to aspiring rock gods starting at $49 for a beginner acoustic guitar. Keyboards range in price from $199 to $5,000 or more and drums start at $279 for an acoustic; electric drum sets start at $350. Guitar Center also offers lessons. On a budget? Check out your local Buy Nothing Group for free instruments including drum sets, or Craiglist for secondhand items, of course.
For crafty families: Family art studio
Love to get creative together? Lynnwood’s Closet Factory can transform a spare room into a family art studio starting at $2,500 for a basic table and shelves. Stock your studio with art supplies including watercolor sets, color pencils, bookmaking kits, polymer clay and paper at great prices from Artist & Craftsman Supply store in Seattle's University District.
If you're on a budget, you might be able to stock your studio from the University of Washington’s Surplus Store, which is open to the public every Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. You’ll often find great wooden tables here for $30 or less and storage options including the occasional flat file for a fraction of what you would pay new.
For mermaids: Swimming pool
Nothing will keep your kids and their friends at your house like a pool. Kathleen Carlson, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for AquaQuip says that putting a pool in your backyard can start for as little as $999 for a round above-ground pool, while inground pools start around $30,000, complete with a minimal deck. For a smaller space and budget, Carlson says check out a SwimSpa for $15,000 to $40,000. The smaller pools allow year-round swimming in heated water and the jets provide a current to swim against — just enough water so the whole family can have fun.