Christmas Gift Overload and Your Children: Expectations vs. Reality

| November 19, 2014 | 27 Comments

Christmas presents under the treeThe Christmas shopping season has begun! There’s no denying it. While you may not hear music playing just yet, there are heaps of Christmas trees, ornaments and other sparkly things to draw your attention to the upcoming season. The gift displays are snazzily done up, and toys and gifts for children available are as abundant as ever.

When it comes to buying for your children, you can’t flip through a flyer without seeing pages of toys for sale. For the first time, my five year old has started to notice these ads and the toy sections in stores…not to mention a certain toy store! Since he’s our oldest, this is our first exploration down the “I want” avenue, something very present in this age of materialism and entitlement. Since we have three children and don’t want to encourage the “I want” behaviour, and we have a budget to consider, my husband and I knew we had to create some method for reigning it in. Let’s face it, children get a lot of toys and Christmas is a biggie!

Call me naive, but I never really used a budget in Christmases past. It wasn’t so hard, as the kids were young enough not to really notice what they received. A couple of years ago I scoured Kijiji and bought “like new” toys and supplemented those with a new toy. That’s it. Easy peasy and I was proud of myself for behaving frugally. Last year, we bought new toys but also bought one big used item for our boys to share.  This year, we have three children – one is a baby whose birthday is just days after the big holiday. We also share the joy that is Santa, which means we buy an extra gift or two and fill stocking stuffers for each child.

This year I heard from a few other moms who were following the “WANT, NEED, WEAR, READ” rule of gift giving. Right away I loved that idea! Loved it! I want to spend frugally again and really be aware of what we buy. Getting a new set of PJs and a book to read are so easy, something we do every year. The “need” part of the equation could be something for school, an experience (like swimming lessons or the like), and I’m sure that our five year old at least won’t have a problem telling us what he “wants”. I’ve yet to figure out how to incorporate the Santa end of things into this gift giving routine, but for us, this is a reasonable approach we can follow. We KNOW these won’t be the only gifts our children receive . I’m not someone who shops all year round for Christmas gifts as I generally shop sales during the month of December and hope for the best.

In the end, I want to focus on traditions, both new and old, to make the season fun and alive for our children, not just another venue to get gifts. I want them to feel that “feeling” that I used to have on Christmas mornings and also learn about giving back. I know we have so many more Christmases to come, and hopefully by setting some sort of standard we can continue the joyous season for what it is and not for what we get.

As a parent, do you have a plan for buying gifts for your children this Christmas? What tips do you have for celebrating Christmas and buying gifts within realistic limits? Share your secrets as I might just borrow them for next year.

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

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Category: Family, Holiday, Kids, Living, Shopping, Themes

About the Author ()

Charlene is a mom of three children, two boys and a girl, and recently returned to work following her third maternity leave. When at home she keeps busy meal planning, entertaining a 2.5 year old and 14 month old, meeting up with mommy friends, aka playdates, and attending school events for her 5 year old. When she has spare time, Charlene loves to cook, spend quality time with her husband, hang out on social media platforms and read a good book. In fact, when she’s not at home, Charlene is a professional Librarian. A graduate of McGill University, she’s worked the field as a Public Librarian, Children’s Librarian, and currently as a Health Information Specialist.

Comments (27)

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  1. Judy Cowan says:

    I like the “WANT, NEED, WEAR, READ” rule, I think it is very important to limit how much you are buying because it can get to be too much. Santa can come into it by being the one to do the stockings and to leave a couple toys in front of the tree.

    • Charlene says:

      Exactly. You already have Santa providing the gifts so I try to remember that when I think it’s not enough. And stocking are so much fun!

  2. JaimeeM says:

    I love the W,N,W,R rule. I try to only buy items that he can use and I know he will play with. And only when theyre on sale. I refuse to pay full price for plastic.

    • Charlene says:

      Yes! At least this time of year there are quite a few sales. Buy one, get one free (or half price) seems to be popular this year. Good luck!

  3. We will try to avoid giving many “things”.

  4. Louise says:

    I love the “Want, Need, Wear, Read” idea! We coordinate with family – eg: I know they get clothes from my parents; I know that my mother-in-law will ask for suggestions etc…

    I took have a five-year-old as my eldest and this is really the first Christmas she too has clear wants. So we went to Target to do a tour of the toy section with an aim to figuring out what to ask Santa for. I explained she’d need to pick a few items she really wanted. It gave me a good sense what to get and while it was kind of fun to watch her run around saying she wanted everything – she then figured out the prioritizing bit and narrowed down to what she “really” wanted. We’ll then visit Santa and I’ll see what sticks before “Santa” picks up the gifts :).

    • Charlene says:

      I think it’s hard to understand at such a young age that they can’t have everything they see. We’re dealing with this with our 5 year old as well. And, sure enough, his favourites change daily. That’s exciting your daughter was able to peruse the toy section at Target 🙂

  5. Victoria Ess says:

    I love this sentiment. It’s so important to set this ground rule.

  6. Stephanie LaPlante says:

    Christmas is definitely the most difficult season to be frugal.

  7. Elizabeth Matthiesen says:

    I like the “WANT, NEED, WEAR, READ” rule too. When I look at how many toys children have these days I’m astounded. My son reckons it’s because they didn’t get ‘enough’ when he was a child – no surprise there were 7 of them to buy for. However I do think it’s extremely important to limit how much a child gets. Otherwise it’s a case of overload and gifts don’t get treasured as they should do.

    • Charlene says:

      They have so many toys! We’re purging more and more to get rid of the ones the children don’t play with – which happens because they have too much. It’s tough, because you want their Christmas morning to be fun and with some gifts they want, but there’s a line.

  8. KD says:

    I really don`t have much experience yet, but really enjoyed reading this article. I only have one child so far, and it is tempting to overspend. Thanks for the words of wisdom!

    • Charlene says:

      You’re welcome! I remember that feeling when I had just the one. It didn’t seem too difficult back then, he didn’t have too much so it wasn’t overwhelming. Now with three children…whoa! Good luck and Happy Holidays!

  9. JaimeeM says:

    Ive explained my heart out to my son that he isnt getting everything he wants for christmas, everything costs money, and he will be getting presents, but to not expect a mountain of them from us. He gets it, he still tells me ‘I want..’ when he sees something, but I just say ‘I understand you want it, and it can be a part of your list, but you are only getting a couple things from that list’

    • Charlene says:

      I feel like I’m having the same conversation with oldest as well. The concept of money…a tough one for young kids to grasp, but also another topic that needs to be taught. The old “money doesn’t grow one trees”, but most of all, you can’t have everything you see. That’s not how it works, plain and simple. We also explain that mommy and daddy don’t get to have everything they see either.

  10. JennM says:

    3 gifts. 1 from Santa, 1 from us, 1 from each other. Plus stocking stuffers. Santa doesn’t bring electronics or motorized vehicles.

  11. Charlene says:

    Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment! Happy Holidays everyone 🙂

  12. kathy downey says:

    I love the Holidays,but I also love stressfree

  13. kathy downey says:

    Santa brings the gifts,I bring new slippers and pjs…I always tell them they must remember there are a lot of children out there

  14. kathy downey says:

    This year i bought online something for everyone on my list.

  15. kathy downey says:

    Shopping online took all the stree out of Christmas for me this year

  16. Mrs Debbie White Beattie says:

    I love your ideas but I remember as a little kid my mother spent the same amount on each kid. This way we couldn’t complain and when we got older we could choose what we wanted according to what my mother told us was the spending limit whether it be one large item or a bunch of small items

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