Many people ask how much they should budget for gifts. This way of thinking can be dangerous. If you have a budget, you are likely to spend all that you had planned, and probably more. Instead of making a budget, I found it helpful to make a list and stick to it. A good rule for kids is one thing they want, one they need, one to wear, and one to read.
Presents have been a large part of my family’s holiday celebrations. But I am a minimalist. Stuff (especially stuff I don’t use or love) causes me stress. Not being able to pay my bills in-full also causes me stress. And I tend to go over budget on Christmas gifts.
I don’t express my love by buying things. In fact, more toys may even be doing kids an injustice. They will grow to want and expect more rather than being grateful for and happy with what they have. Furthermore, research has shown that fewer toys is associated with more creative play and longer play time.
I’m not against presents or toys. But I am against excess. Anything not used or loved is a waste of resources, time, and space.
Last year, I tried something new for my kids: one thing they want, one they need, one to wear, and one to read. I was so excited to show someone the gifts I bought my children. But after I showed them their reaction was “That’s it? I think you need to get them more.”
My heart sank.
Between myself and their grandparents, my kids were getting everything on their lists (plus more).
According to Nerd Wallet’s 2017 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report, more than half of people who shop during the holiday season incurred credit card debt. Many people spend all or more than they had budgeted. Only 5% of people who had a holiday shopping budget spent less than their budget.
This makes sense. If you have $650 budgeted (which is what the report found most people planned to spend), you are going to try to divvy it up between the people you love.
Typical Approach to Budget
When I became a parent, I tried setting a dollar amount for a budget: $X total and $Y for each child. The problem was, one kid would want high-priced item while another kid wanted a less expensive item.
So does one child get one big present while the other kids get lots of less expensive presents that add up to the same dollar amount? Or do I try to be “even” on both amount spent and number of gifts?
Either way I’d be spending too much money or buying kids stuff they don’t need or want just to be “even.”
This is how most people budget.
|Average Budget (based on Nerd Wallet’s 2016 figures)||$650|
|Baked treats for family/friends||-$10|
As we all know, it is difficult to find items that are exactly this amount, and chances are we go over budget. Plus, you may notice a number of people missing from this list, such as step-parents, additional children, or teachers.
List the Alternative
Trying to budget an overall dollar amount and also spread it “evenly” across groups of people (e.g., parents, kids) and buy everyone something they truly want is a difficult feat for even the most savvy shopper.
Instead of focusing on creating a budget, experiment with creating a list of one thing each person would want and that you can easily afford without putting it on credit. Then find the best deal on that item.
If you cannot afford to pay cash for all the people on your list, consider substituting store-bought presents with baked treats or hand-made gifts.
For your children, limiting them to 4 gifts each.
Want, Need, Wear, Read List
Instead of creating a budget, last year I tried something different. Instead of creating a budget and buying as many things as I could within that budget, I created a list of 4 things for each child plus stocking stuffers. Then I stuck to the list and looked for the best deal on each item.
Jordan Harrell wrote about this in her 2016 series. The goal, Jordan says, is to take the emphasis away presents and material things when celebrating birthdays and holidays.
The want is something that the child asked for. For the youngest two, I chose their want based on their interests.
The need is something that I thought they needed. Last year, my son had outgrown his bike helmet and my daughter didn’t have one yet. One day while in the store we happened to purposely walk by the bike section. After my son walked by he naturally mentioned which helmet he liked. As my husband took the kids off to get groceries, I snuck back and purchased the helmets (they’re used to me wandering off in stores, so this didn’t raise their curiosity).
All three of my kids get excited about receiving new shoes, so this category was easy.
My house has enough books to fill a library. However, I believe my children need to improve their writing skills. Some teachers are concerned that with so much tablet screen time, young children are not developing the fine motor skills they need to grasp a pencil or hold scissors.
For this category, I chose to get my oldest two kids notebooks ($1 each) and age-appropriate writing instruments.
My youngest child eats books and crayons, so we did not get him anything from this category last year.
The list for my 3 kids looked like this:
|Kid 1: School-aged|
|Read/Write||Notebook & pencils||$2|
|Stocking||Fidget Spinner (on clearance)||$3|
|Candy and Treats||$12|
|Kid 2: Pre-schooler|
|Want||Light-up Doodle Pad||$20|
|Read/Write||Notebook & crayons||$3|
|Electric Toothbrush & Toothpaste||$10|
|Candy and Treats||$12|
|Kid 3: Toddler|
|Want||Stackable O-ball set with toy car||$10|
|Read/Write||N/A – he eats books||$0|
In addition to these gifts from their parents, they also received gifts from their Grandparents and Aunties (including a drone, tablets, walkie-talkies, and their own age-appropriate subscriptions to Highlights magazine).
They received everything they wanted, and more.
Most importantly, they loved and played with everything they received. Nothing was shoved into a drawer or forgotten (well, I haven’t seen the fidget spinner in a while, but we were expecting that).
If you’re wondering about what I do about gifts from Santa, he doesn’t come to my house. But that’s a story for another day. For families that do believe in Santa, he follows the 4 gift rule as well.
How many presents will you be buying? Will you be sticking to your budget, or to your list?