A good friend of mine once asked: "How much do real families budget for Christmas gifts for their children?"
If there was ever a question I didn't want to get into at Christmas, that would be the one.
It did get me thinking though—and after fourteen Christmas mornings with a few of the cutest kids running around our home, our family has learned a thing or two.
Decide early what Christmas will look like for your family.
Goodness, I wish I could tell every momma of a one-year-old that they simply don't need to spend more than $20 to $30 on their sweet baby. Babies have as much fun with the packaging—wrapping paper and boxes—as they do the actual presents . . . and my bet is a few family members will add to their Christmas loot.
By choosing to purchase less when they're little, you're paving the way for your child's future expectations. If you shell out $500 in gifts to a four-year-old, just imagine what their expectations will look like when they're fourteen.
Start simply. Be different. Determine when your kids are young that Christmas will be about more than dozens of gifts under the tree.
Be selective about your child's gifts at Christmas.
As your children get older, continue to keep it simple. You know the thirty-two bins of toys you hauled to the thrift store last summer? That may have been because your kids simply received a few too many gifts on Christmas morning.
Choose a few items that your child will really enjoy throughout the year. Before making a purchase, consider if the gift will end up in the bottom of the toy bin in a week or two. (If so, your child probably doesn't need it to begin with.)
You don't have to keep up with the Joneses. (Really.)
Be okay with doing things differently. Inevitably, on Christmas day when neighbor kids race outside with hundreds (thousands?) of dollars in Christmas treasures, my kids have sometimes felt a wee bit disappointed.“Why did Santa like them better than me?” we've heard a time or two. That, folks, is a tough one.
Our answer has been that Santa checks with parents before he doles out Christmas gifts, and since our children know we choose to live differently, they seem satisfied with our answer. (And trust me, if you saw our home, you'd have no doubt that our kids have plenty.)
Rather than trying to make Christmas special for your child by keeping up with someone else, encourage them to make Christmas special for another child. Adopt an Angel Tree child and let your kid choose gifts for them. Donate food to a local food drive and let your child help do the shopping. And on Christmas morning, be the parent who plops down on the floor to help build that new Lego set.(Your undivided attention will be more valuable to your child than any Christmas gift. I promise!)
Christmas will change as your children change.
What Christmas morning looks like this year in our home is different than what it looked like ten years ago. Our finances have changed and our kids have changed, so we've made adjustments along the way.
For Christmas this year, we'll spend around $100 on my seven-year-old, thanks to some incredible deals I've scored shopping early (and she will have plenty). Christmas for my fourteen-year-old will look a little different, though, and he'll probably get a few things he needs, in addition to some fun gifts. (Gifts for a fourteen-year-old just cost more. I haven't figured out a way around that!)
No matter their ages, set a budget for each child's Christmas. Don't be tempted by a last-minute deal to fill up space underneath the tree. Instead, decide your limits ahead of time, and stick to them this year.
Don't go beyond your budget to make Christmas special for your children.
Instead, make Christmas special by creating memories, choosing unique gifts just for your kids, and making your home just the place your children want to be on Christmas morning. Especially if your children are little, think small because that sets the expectation for the next year. Determine to make Christmas special by enjoying family traditions, and know that the choices you make today pave the way toward financial freedom in the future.
Laurie Hise is a wife and mom of three children, ages 7 to 14. Visit her blog www.passionatepennypincher.com to keep up with online sales, grocery savings, recipes and DIY ideas to help your family live abundantly on less.