Three ways to lower children’s Christmas present expectations

A number of you have written in to ask about how to help your children be happy with a lower-key, fewer-presents sort of Christmas, so that’s what we’ll talk about today.

I’m not sure when our current level of gift-giving came to be the norm, but throughout history, children have managed to happily celebrate Christmas with a whole lot less in the way of presents.

Whenever I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I am always struck by how few presents she received. She didn’t have 20 packages to open, and yet, she was still delighted by Christmas. Because her expectations were pretty low, she was thrilled with what she received.

Christmas morning joy

I think a large part of our children’s problem is that their expectations are too high. And when that’s the case, giving more and more every year won’t fix the problem.

Amy Dacyzyn talks about something in The Tightwad Gazette that I think is relevant here. She says if you take your children out for ice cream and they’re not pleased unless they get something bigger and better every time, the solution is not to buy them more ice cream, but to buy them less.

If you get a cone every day, then you’ll start hankering for a larger cone, a banana split or a milkshake. But when the ice cream treats are fewer and farther between, a simple ice cream cone looks quite delectable.

Amy calls this strategic deprivation, and I think it’s applicable to adults as well as children (for instance, if I got a Tazo chai latte every day, it would cease to seem marvelous to me. When I drink them only every now and then, I think they’re crazy delicious.)

So. If your children are quite demanding at Christmastime, don’t buy into the idea that you need to buy them more presents, as that will probably just exacerbate the problem.

1. Practice Strategic Deprivation throughout the year.

I think that practicing some strategic deprivation during the non-Christmas season goes miles towards creating lower Christmas expectations.

Buying your children everything they want (or most of what they want) all year long will create a situation similar to our ice-cream-cone-a-day scenario.

For us, this strategic deprivation has happened sort of naturally, because for most of our children’s lives, our income has not allowed us to buy them everything they want. Mind you, they’ve always had the necessities of life, along with a few extras, but their lives have not been anywhere near extravagant.

Because of this, they’ve been quite happy with the number of presents they’ve received, and they’ve also been delighted with some fairly simple presents.

For instance, a few years back, my girls wanted black pea coats like mine, because they are all still young enough to think that looking like me is a good thing (I know these days are numbered!)

They all owned a winter coat, though, which meant I couldn’t really justify buying the pea coats. So at Christmas, when my mother-in-law gave each of them a cute hooded black pea coat, they were all thrilled to pieces (Zoe especially…”Oh! I’ve been wanting and wanting one of these!”)

If they girls had gotten a pea coat when they first saw them, though, they’d probably have wanted something bigger and better at Christmas.

Please know I’m not advocating a cruel sort of deprivation here. We should do our best to provide for our children’s needs, and buying fun things isn’t always a bad idea.

I’m just saying that it’s good for children to learn what it feels like to not get everything they want right away.

2. Establish low-key gift giving from the beginning.

If your children are really young, you have a golden opportunity. Children are not born with an instinctive set of Christmas expectations, so you can set the bar exactly where you want it. You can decide how many presents you want to give, how practical the presents will be, and how much money you want to spend.

Setting appropriate expectations now is a whole lot easier than changing them later on!

3. Talk to your kids ahead of time.

If your children are older, they’ve already learned what to expect at Christmas, so downsizing will be a little bit more difficult.

I do NOT recommend going cold turkey. If you’ve been giving tons of presents, don’t do a 180 this year and give charitable donations in lieu of all the presents. That’s going to go over like a lead balloon and will give your kids a horrible attitude about simplifying Christmas.

The good thing is that children who are old enough to have firm expectations are also old enough to talk to.* So, if you feel like you need to scale back your gift-giving by a significant amount, sit down and have a chat with them ahead of time.

I recommend keeping it as positive as possible.

-If you’re wanting to scale back so that you can do a better job of living debt-free, then go ahead and tell them that.

(as opposed to saying something like, “We don’t have enough money to buy Christmas presents.”)

-If you’re wanting to scale back so that you can give more to people who are less fortunate, say so.

(Don’t say, “Those children in Haiti would be thrilled to get half of what you get! So, since you’re so ungrateful, we’re giving you half as much as last year.”)

-If you’re wanting to give fewer gifts so that you can have more time and money to spend on fun holiday experiences, then let them know.

*We don’t do Santa Claus here at Chez Frugal Girl, so I haven’t got great recommendations about how to navigate this without telling your children that you’re the one buying the presents. But I’m sure other readers might.

Regardless of how you go about it, changing expectations ahead of time will go miles towards making things go smoothly on Christmas morning.


This is obviously not an exhaustive post on the topic, so I know I’ve missed some other great ways to lower children’s expectations. If you’ve got a helpful tip (or a tip about what NOT to do!), share it in the comments.
Previous posts in this series:

Making Christmas Merry 2


Think more about serving and less about impressing.

Make a priority list.

It’s ok to have an imperfect Christmas. And it’s ok to say no.


  1. says

    Great tips, I love the strategic deprivation idea.

    We have six kids, so last year, we went with a family gift (a Wii), something all the kids could enjoy and then just did a couple of little things on the side. I started setting the expectations low from the get-go, too.

  2. says

    Oh Kristen, I love this post! About a month ago I shared on my blog the story of how I took all my kids’ toys away and what a huge difference it has made in their life….and mine. (

    I have since had so many people ask what we are planning to do for Christmas this year. We normally try to be pretty low-key with gifts as it is, but this year we are making an even bigger effort to focus not on the gifts but the joy of giving & special traditions. We have already been talking to our kids about it, and we are signed up for various volunteer opportunities, such as delivering meals to shut-ins on Thanksgiving, ringing the Salvation Army bell every Saturday, filling Operation Christmas Child boxes, & buying gifts for a local Angel Tree. I have found that they are far more excited about doing stuff they know helps others than talking about things they want.

    Love the Christmas series, keep up the great work! :-)

      • LM says

        Well, now I just have to disagree with KS here. Children most certainly do NOT need toys! I watch my nephew, who is 16 months, play constantly with the pots, pans, lids, boxes, etc. He has other toys, but he prefers those things. Think back to a few centuries ago.. or even one century ago, Laura Ingalls Wilder, as the author mentioned, lived so simply with very little. My father and his six siblings were raised similarly by my poor farming grandparents. They were only able to give their children toys a few times. Most Christmases, they received oranges, apples, and a new pair of shoes for their Christmas gifts. My dad grew into one of the finest, humblest, kindest, generous men I know. Can’t say that about many of the modern children who had all and more than they ever wanted/needed. Marketing has doped society into thinking kids HAVE to have all this crap (toys, gaming devices, etc) to be kids, when that is not true at all. Children will prosper and grow in play with our without toys. In fact, I think they’re more creative and inquisitive when what they find to play with aren’t toys.

        • MK says

          She put them away, more than took them away. She is now practicing toy rotation and only giving them toys to play with one at a time. To each family their own, but when I do that the kids seem much more focused than when they have a pile of toys around them in the room!

    • Pang says

      As someone who is about to have her first child I have been worried about this whole Christmas fiasco since deciding I wanted to have children. I stopped celebrating the ‘present’ part of Christmas about 7 years ago when I realized what it did to people mentally, financially, the whole crock pot.

      I’ve discussed before with my SO that we don’t need to buy anything for our kids, we don’t need to be a part of ‘that’ part of Christmas just because we’re having a little one. Now I can’t stop my parents or my In-Laws from buying junk for our kids but I can definitely stop us. Your article just confirmed my previous belief that all this excess and going broke, and putting things on layaway is as stupid for our kids as it is for us!

    • Dottieann says

      I am lost…I have six grandsons 24, 22, 20, 10,8…. I am a senior and have just enough to live on..what can I give them for Christmas without spending money I do not have… I also have five grown children…how do I do this..any suggestions would help. Thanks Dottieann

      • Jody says

        How about a coffee gift card to their favorite coffee place? Even if it’s for one or two trips it’s a treat! Put the card in a pair of socks or with a few homemade cookies. Or if they are single make a freeze a yummy homemade soup or casserole. Or a gift card to the local movie theater for a movie ticket or popcorn! Or a small basket or gift bag for movie nite or dinner nite with sparkling cider and microwave popcorn or homemade goodies.

  3. says

    Thanks for this, Kristen. We don’t go overboard at Christmas, but we do go all-out compared to the rest of the year…which I think is kind of your point. ;) As much as we’d like to buy our kids everything they want year-round, we don’t, because we know that’s what’s best for them in the long run. That way, when we do let them stop at the zoo gift shop, it’s a big treat. Our daughter doesn’t expect to stop at the gift shop every time we visit the zoo, so when we do, it’s special.

  4. says

    Thanks for the ideas, we don’t have kids but when we do, we don’t intend to buy them everything they want, for much the same reason you don’t – we won’t have the money, but also we don’t want to spoil them. Similarly, we want to establish low-key gifts from the beginning.

    And speaking of strategic deprivation, I could probably use a bit of that in regards to chocolate :)

  5. says

    An excellent post. These days, many children out there have been taught to ‘ask and you shall receive, no matter how much it costs or whether it is good for you to have everything you want.’

    The strategies described here should work in most instances and will go a long way towards saving money during this consumer-orientated time of the year.

    I’ve shared this post on Facebook so that more parents can have access to it.

  6. Ellen says

    In addition to the above ideas, we’ve always insisted that our 5 kids actively participate (no $ from mom) in preparing gifts for others, especially their siblings. They’ve purchased small gifts such as a favorite pack of gum or candy bar; they’ve made each other gifts or given “coupons” for special favors (“Choose your favorite movie and I’ll watch it with you”; “I’ll make your bed for one week”). They’ve collaborated with each other to do something bigger. Since they didn’t usually have a lot of cash, they had to plan ahead, save, and be creative. This made it very fun for them to watch their siblings open gifts, and it took the focus off themselves. Now, as they are teens and young adults, I’m watching them do a fantastic job of giving creatively to each other with no prompting or help from me. And they really enjoy it. What a blessing!

    • Another Alice says

      Ellen, I was going to come here and say pretty much the same thing! I think that being able to focus on things other than ‘what am I going to get!?!’ is key in reframing the holidays – events and activities can do some of this, but a) it can be a lot of work for parents to organize that on top of the other holiday things going on and b) it doesn’t necessarily help on Christmas morning, during the gift frenzy. I think that this also helps kids develop a sense of how they want to give gifts to others – thinking about what will mean the most to them, planning it out, and really getting invested in the process. It sounds like your family has it down pat!

  7. Becky says

    Our kids, ages 7, 5, & 3, get minimal gifts from us/Santa for birthdays & Christmas. For Christmas, Santa brings one gift, because that’s what we’ve (Mom and Dad) have told him to do; because we don’t need as much & we have lots of family who are generous with gifts. The children each receive a gift from Mom & Dad and a gift from their siblings – so 3 gifts total. Birthdays are similar; but it becomes 2 gifts – one from Mom & Dad, one from siblings. Since this is what we’ve always done, they don’t say much. The 7-year-old is in school now & she’s starting to notice that things are different for different families. I try to stress that we do what’s right for us, and that the most important thing for us is that we have a lot of people who love us & that we enjoy sharing our time with.

    • Deanna says

      We do something similar at our house. Santa brings 3 (very moderate, sometimes thrifted, sometimes homemade) gifts and fills stockings (again very moderately). Then, each of our three children get a somewhat larger gift, price range maybe $30-$60, from Mom and Dad. My oldest is now 12 and does notice that her friends usually get more than she does, but she also understands that, like everything else, different families do things differently. Oh, and the kids still get really excited about making/buying gifts for each other.

  8. says

    I never understood why parents teach kids that gifts come from Santa Claus. They are just setting them up for heartache when they get older and find out the truth.

      • dorthey says

        I wasn’t Heartbroken when I found out no Santa … I
        actually felt more Grown up :) I Love to do Secret Santa Gifts,
        that way I can Give where Need is & Noone knows it’s Me.

        By the Way I Found out Santa wasn’t real when I was 8 My
        Grandpa & My Dad use to play Santa at Grants ( Bk in the mid 70’s
        It was kinda like a K-Mart ) Well I was sitting on Gpa Santa’s Lap while
        Talking to him & looked down & seen his work boots. Santa suits hv
        A plastic that goes on their boots & under the Plastic was My Gpa’s Boots ! ;) I looked at him & asked why he took my Gpas’s boots ? My mom, & my Gpa started laughing then I recognized his laugh & said I caught u Gpa U are Not Santa. He laughed n whispered no honey I’m not I’m just a helper.
        I told him I wanted to be a helper too. So I wasn’t upset I wanted to
        Help too. I still LoVe Helping people enjoy CHRISTmas ! I LoVe the Story of St Nick…. Even the Little House on the Praire has that Story down good ! ;) we Don’t Worship Santa we just think it’s alittle CHRISTmas Cheer.
        My Babies are 17 & 20 yrs old today & when they found out no Santa they weren’t Heart Broken either they Thoth it was a Fun Child thing & they like to Help too to make CHRISTmas Fun & Help People I. need as well.
        This is my opinion & everyone is entitled to their own We all have Fun & own Ways to celebrate CHRISTmas & that’s ok. It’s Baby Jesus’ Birthday
        & we are to Give in LoVe & celebrate Him w/ our Families & Friends. Not
        Go in Debt ! The Story of St Nick taught me to Help Others in Need & to Remember Who’s Birthday we are Celebrating & What would HE really want us to do.
        Happy Early Merry CHRISTmas. Everyone !

        • says

          So from what it sounds like, maybe my mom just took “Santa” to extremes. Maybe other parents did “Santa” better. But, I was crushed…

          • Shannon says

            Mindy, I was crushed too! I held onto the idea of Santa as long as I could (I swear I was practically a teenager) and then it was devastating to find out for sure that he didn’t exist. But, I wouldn’t say it traumatized me, and personally, I think the magic of Santa Claus is so special that I can’t deny my children that. I still remember how that magic felt on Christmas Eve, and I wouldn’t trade it for myself or my kids. The sadness of losing Santa is more than made up for by being able to BE Santa to my children and to others. Hopefully, I will teach my kids to feel that same way when they find out, and I hope the Santa story is helping to teach them the value of giving because they know firsthand what it feels like as the recipient. I struggled with the Santa decision myself and this is what I came up with. :) But, everyone is different.

          • MK says

            My father had a lifelong impression made when as a kindergartener, a friend told him that Santa wasn’t real. My father responded that Santa WAS real, because he KNEW that his dad would not lie to him.

            My solution for our kiddos? Tell them that Santa is pretend, like Elmo. If they want to have fun pretending about Santa, great! But I won’t lie to my kids for the sake of a cultural tradition.

    • Tracy says

      When I found out that Santa wasn’t real I also found out that all the others were not real too. It was very hard at first and I was upset for a bit. Then my mom talked to me more about it and I came to realize that it wasn’t Santa that I missed it was what he represented for me. That magical time of year when people are nicer and think about others instead of themselves. I have taught my son that there is Santa Claus but I have also told him that Santa helps kids in need as well. I hope he will understand why I let him be a child and experience all the Joy and special part about being a kid.

  9. says

    This is a great reminder. I struggle with wanting to buy my children everything they want (I want to, it doesn’t mean that I can) and wanting to let them yearn for things.

    And also, bonus points for bringing up Amy Dacyzyn, I just love those books and find them to be timeless!

  10. says

    Santa does visit Chez Wright, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any limitations. They choose 3 presents for their Christmas list and write to Santa, anything above and beyond is at my discretion. When the Kids are young I go with ‘only so much room on the sleigh and he has to visit a lot of children’, and as they get older I’ve explained budgets. When very young they see quantity of items rather than monetary value.
    One thing we do now before they write their own letter to Santa is to make up an Operation Christmas Child box (they’ll do one each this year as older and can understand it more) and send that off.

  11. Anne Weber-Falk says

    We practice strategic deprivation in our home too. It’s tough sometimes and there are moments when I really wish I could do more throughout the year. I know better though as my son is one of those bigger is better and newer is even greater and he HAS to have it NOW. He is an adult now and lost his job over a year ago. He had to learn the hard way that he just cannot have it all yesterday.
    For Christmas the children each get four gifts. One from each Wise Man and one from Santa. When they were young we would talk about how this was like what Jesus received. We have never had a holiday where the kids asked if this was all there is or were bummed because there wasn’t more.

  12. Carole says

    We used to get Christmas toy catalogs in the mail and our three kids would spend hours copying the names and page numbers of things they liked. We would look at it and get ideas for Christmas presents for them. They soon forgot what they had listed and we never thought we had to get them all, if any. We would get them 3 or 4 items each that may or may not have been on the “list”. Now that they are grown they remember fondly Christmas at our house.

  13. Pamela Smith says

    I’ve always set a limit of 5 gifts for Christmas-4 from Mom and Dad and 1 from Santa, but I never spent very much.. Now that they are teenagers, some of their gifts are getting more expensive. They still get the same amount if gifts, but only the one expensive gift and 4 very small ones. they get enough other gifts from grandparents and others, so they usually get enough of what they want. Thanks for all the great ideas!

  14. Jennifer says

    Hello, great post! Our children are quite young 3 and 1, and from their first Christmas, we set our guidelines in order not to make Christmas about gifts. They each receive four gifts – one from me, one from my husband (their dad), one from their sibling and one from Santa as well as a stocking with small inexpensive items. There is also a dollar value limit. And on Christmas eve they receive pajamas. Finally we include baking a cake to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. It’s really important for us to keep it simple with these traditions and remember the true reason around the holidays.

  15. says

    I am with you 100% on this! I cringe when I hear of parents spending ridiculous amounts on their kids. If a kindergartener gets a laptop, what will he expect at the age of 10?

    We do what my parents did for me: one toy, one book, one clothing outfit, and a stocking with little things. We don’t do Santa and I’m thankful that grandparents are very receptive to suggestions from us!

    • Anne says

      I can validate this as I’m her sister! The other strategy I’ve enjoyed using so far is to give slighly fancy commodities as a gift, like special cereal or toothbrushes, which so far has worked pretty well with my almost 4 year old! I’m still quite happy to get practical gifts that I might not want to spend the money on myself, I think at least in part thanks to my upbringing!

      • Coco says

        I’m new to this site, and I’m still not yet a parent, but gosh do I love all this. I HAD to respond when I saw the “specialty food” as gift item, because when I was young we were, well, spoiled with gifts at birthdays and Christmas. Yet, the only gift I really and truly remember being excited about was a box of Lucky Charms that my grandmother bought for me at my birthday. It was extra large and included a toy, and boy, did I just think that was the BEST! I think it was partially the novelty of getting food as a gift, but mostly that she knew exactly what I loved (hmm, guess that could say something about food issues, but…that’s for another post).

        I guess what I’m saying is that something that would normally be so ordinary can take on new life when it’s given with love in an unexpected way. Even a child can appreciate that.

        • Janna says

          Awwww. I just love your comment. I would have LOVED getting a large box of Lucky Charms as a kid. The fact that your grandma gave that to you….soooo sweet! My oldest child, a teenage son, is always complaining about the women in the house (me and his sister) using all the toilet paper (LOL)…well, he got the shock & laugh of a lifetime last Christmas, when, in addition to his gifts, “SANTA” left for him, a large 12 pack of CHARMIN toilet paper. It was HILARIOUS. I’ve never seen someone laugh so hard in my life. I’m quite sure he’ll never forget that. His baby sister (only 7) cannot believe that “Santa” actually left toilet paper under the tree. We try to incorporate a little humor in our gift giving. It’s fun. It’s those little things that kids remember long after they’ve forgotten all the “stuff”.

  16. Adrienne says

    Any suggestions on how to deal with huge amounts of gifts from grandparents? Any work we do at limiting is immediately erased by the ridiculous amount of stuff they get from grandparents. No amount of talking with them has worked yet but I’m open to new suggestions. Thanks.

    • Jennifer says

      I’m not sure there’s much you can do, really. My mom bought my son a ton of stuff for his first Christmas (he was 6-months old), most of which he wouldn’t be able to use until at least his first birthday. Seriously, she bought him a flap-book so he could learn his colors, which he’s using now, and he’s 3. She even marks some of the gifts from Santa! There’s nothing I could say to her to make her stop. Fortunately, the other grandparents are much more frugal in their gift-giving, my dad preferring to give one large gift and a couple small things.

    • Inga says

      We don’t have a huge problem with over-gifting, but sometimes get very annoying or essentially useless gifts (think bad toys that do nothing but make noise or light up and aren’t really open for imagination and actual play). My son is still young so he doesn’t really care, making it easy to donate unwanted items or sell them at our next garage sale. If you get way too much stuff at Christmastime you could make it a family tradition to donate the surplus to charity. Let them keep a set number of items and share the rest with children who are less fortunate. Depending on your personal beliefs and your children’s ages you could find a way to talk about this in a way that teaches compassion.

    • Katrina says

      Have tried asking for a membership somewhere instead of actual toys/clothes? Not just hinting at it, coming right out and asking for what you want. We have grandparents that get us yearly passes for the zoo and a children’s museum. We have also requested tickets to something that everyone would love, but is out of our price range. We have a limited amount of square footage and prefer experiences to stuff.

      If you are able to convince them to go this route one year, make sure and send a thank you note or email a picture every time you visit to show how much the pass was appreciated. You might be surprised the next year when they ask if you want the same pass or something different:)

      If they still insist on giving too much junk, I don’t feel bad giving things away to someone who can use them.

    • Denise says

      I wish I did. My mother -in-law wrapped up Christmas in a gift-giving competition with both my mother and with US (sadly, my mother-in-law valued things far more than people). I never did find a way to stop it, but this year she passed away so now I can reframe the gift issue. My older two no longer believe in Santa, but my little one still does. Happily, I surveyed all three of them just after the holidays last year as to their ‘three favorite things we do’ to celebrate. Not a single one said gifts! Church, special breakfast, and decorating the house/tree were the top answers. Guess the hubs and I have done something right ;-)

    • Carla says

      Our kids get lots and lots from grandparents. So at Christmas they don’t get a gift from us, parents. Yep, you read that right. They get a stocking with small things like post-it notes, hair elastics and oranges. Why? They have plenty from their grandparents, why more from us? Our gift to them at Christmas is focusing on the cozy family aspects: baking, visiting friends and family, drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in front of the chimney (serious strategic deprivation on this so it’s very exciting), and playing with their gifts. We have realised that our kids do not absolutely need a gift from us to enjoy Christmas, they need our attention and enjoyment. And, since our oldest of 3 is 6, we have created the expectations since the first year and on we go, so this is normal.

      In addition, our kids open one gift at a time. Once they open it, they can play with it, do the craft, wear it and model it or whatever. Once they’ve all enjoyed their gift from that round, then we move on to the next. This takes as long as it takes. So in practice, this meant last year that they opened their gifts at the rate of 2 a day over 3 days I think. This is way more fun for them and less stressful for us. They can appreciate each gift on its own merits and delight in it for a bit. They can give each gift the same attention and be thankful for the person who gave it to them. And that way, having lots of gifts extends the Christmas holiday over several days, which is great, since everyone is home from school and helps to fill the time with fun activities every day rather than feeling the slump of the post-Christmas excitement.

      • WilliamB says

        “In addition, our kids open one gift at a time. Once they open it, they can play with it, do the craft, wear it and model it or whatever. […] So in practice, this meant last year that they opened their gifts at the rate of 2 a day over 3 days I think. ”

        I’ve seen one gift a day work very well, and better with a few, carefully chosen gifts. Too many gifts = distracted young child who can’t focus on any of them.

      • says

        this is a great idea- when we open gifts at the in-laws, there is a strict, “no playing” rule, as we all take turns opening our gifts in a circle. It is agony for the kids, and almost as tough for me. If we didn’t do Christmas morning at their house, I would surely use this idea.

    • Barb says

      I’m the grandma. A couple years ago, my son said, “Please only one gift for each boy. We do not want them to equate Christmas with gifts for themselves.” Every year at Thanksgiving, we get out the World Vision gift catalogue and the boys pick out things they’d like to give. I still remember Isaiah saying, ” A bee hive! Yes we’ve got to give a bee hive!!” Christmas morning, the first thing we do is open the cards telling about the gifts and pray for the ones receiving them. Then we go to the living room and check out their gifts. It is a very special time for us and I’m very greatful to be a part of it.

    • Jo says

      I think this is a little sad. The question is “What to do about someone loving my kids so much that they spoil them?” My advice is: Be thankful. There are tonnes of us without means to provide our children with outrageous experiences, toys, gifts, or clothes. My children would’ve loved to know their grandparents, and I would love to just be able to talk to my mom about her insights into raising children and have disagreements with her about how many presents are too many! If the best compromise you get is that you do as suggested here, and donate some toys, what a wonderful thing! It appears (through jealous eyes mind you) that you are making up problems and reasons to have conflict. You can only control your behaviour – sadly, you can’t control your parents, or his parents. It does seem like a marvelous opportunity to share some important modelling with your children around charitable donations, as well as how to treat your parents. How you treat them in disagreement, is how they will learn to treat you.

      • Bethy says

        Grandparents must be receptive to boundaries. Just because they can afford to give expensive things to their grandchildren doesn’t mean they should be able to if the parents ask them not to. And there should not be any disagreement in the matter. What parents say should go. And it’s not a matter of being grateful or ungrateful. I am grateful everything I have. I can afford to give my kids for everything they ask for, but I choose not to. Does that mean grandma should give it to them? No.

        I am aware that we all have different problems. I am receptive to those struggling out there and sympathetic to their situation. And I want my kids to be also. If I didn’t think it would cause a huge family fight I would ask my MIL to donate toys, clothes, food to others who need it. Wait, I’ve done that before. It didn’t work…my kids just got more crap they don’t need and I was left trying to find a place to keep them all while answering questions every week on if they’ve played with it all yet.

    • j says

      We used to open all the gifts Grandma gave us before Christmas so we could re-wrap and give away the ones we didn’t want. That sounds pretty awful, but we were farm kids — what did we need with glass dolls, or Avon Night Magic roll-on deodarant?

    • amanda says

      I hear ya! I try to limit the amount of gifts I give to my daughter for Christmas, because I want her to appreciate what she gets. My daughter has 10 other people aside from me that are going to buy her a Christmas present, and they are not 10 frugal gifts. Most of the 10 people are going crazy, buying several gifts! It’s frustrating, but I don’t know how to tell people not to buy for her. It’s made it where I feel like I cant get my own daughter anything because everyone else is going crazy… and buying her big bulky gifts that that I don’t have the room for, or want me 4 year old to have. Grrr HELP!

      • Janna says

        I’m afraid there’s not much you can do if loved ones insist on spoiling your child. You can politely asked them not to, but they will just smile and do it anyway. This is something I learned a long time ago. So the best thing to do is give your child, May be 3 to 5 things they want more than anything in this world then–let everybody else do what they’re going to do. You could even coordinate with grand parents on certain gifts and that would save you some money…for instance, if you plan to give your child an ipad, then let the grand Parent, aunt, uncle, get the case to put it in. Those can be rather expensive. That’s just an example. Be creative with it:-)

  17. Katie says

    I love these posts! We keep Christmas simple too, partly due to budget, partly because we just like it better than going super crazy. (And really, who wants to have MORE toys to clean up?) We have 4 kids, and we do “do Santa” but its easily handled by telling them Santa knows they already have everything they need, and that Mom & Dad are also getting them some things so he only brings a few family gifts for them to share or some stocking stuffers. It also helps that our oldest son has a number of friends who are Jewish, so the whole Santa/no Santa, gifts thing is just really different for them and keeps his expectations more centered.

  18. K D Y says

    We do have Santa visit here at our house every year, but from the very beginning, we told our daughter that Santa can only bring her ONE THING because he couldn’t possibly carry that many things on his sleigh. So far she really hasn’t compared with other children at school or questioned this–maybe we have such a diverse community that the kids just don’t really talk about it. We also don’t watch a whole lot of TV here, mainly b/c there just isn’t time with school, homework and extra-curricular activities–we try to read instead of TV. So she also doesn’t know what the latest/greatest craze is since she doesn’t see a lot of commercials. I use the opportunity to talk about how advertising is meant to make you want to buy things, whether you need them or not. She’s only 7, but she’s got it down at this point. I don’t have high hopes that it will stay that way forever, but I will stand my ground and consistently reinforce our ideas, values and beliefs. As parents we don’t run out and buy a ton of things for ourselves, so I hope we are setting a good example for her.
    My main issue with holidays is family buying gifts–even if we ask them to limit it to one or two things, some come with tons of gifts for her. Not only does that make us feel bad as parents, but it’s not the tone we want to set. When I speak to them, I’m told that I am “denying them the joy of giving her gifts” and the guilt is heavy-laden. I’ve suggested giving the gift of “experiences” versus things, but that doesn’t always work with everyone’s schedules. Anyone have any advice here?

    • WilliamB says

      Dunno if this will fly but … have your kids pick some of these gifts to give away immediately? The “immediately” so that someone else can enjoy the new, in the box gift.

    • Stephanie Piscatelli says

      My mother gives the kids (and us) an overwhelming amount of gifts even though we’ve asked her to dial it back. She tries to lay the same guilt trip about denying her the joy of giving. My mother-in-law tends to give gifts that aren’t quite appropriate (wrong size, wrong reading level, etc.) In both cases the solution is a combination of regifting, exchanging, and donating. Now that my boys are 9 & 11, they know not to open anything they don’t LOVE, but when they were younger, it was quite tricky to keep them from destroying the boxes without insulting the givers. The only line that worked well was, “Don’t open it until we get home. We don’t want to lose any of the parts.”
      The last two years we have spent Christmas morning at an ophanage with my parents and exchanged gifts in their home in the afternoon, now I’m wondering if I can get her to give the boy gifts Christmas Eve. She can’t protest if I suggest they rewrap some of their new things to take to the Boys’ Home in the morning. Can she?

  19. Sharon says

    We did do Santa Clause at our house. BUT, we made sure to never make it a huge deal. Here’s how we kept Santa under control… 1) Santa ONLY brought what could fit into the stocking. Nothing in the stocking was wrapped. 2) Any large (expensive) gift was always from Mom & Dad. 3) We did a few standard gifts in the stocking … an ornament, one small toy, one book or video, $1.00 for each year of life, a new toothbrush, and a bit of candy. I could fill the whole stocking for less than $15.00 most of the time. 4) We did not lie to the kids by saying “you have to be good or Santa will give coal instead of toys. I will confess that we did imply that Santa was real, but we never lied and said, “yes, he’s real”, we never had the kids’ photos taken with Santa, and only after the kids asked did we start putting cookies out for Santa (which we then ate after they went to bed). It didn’t take long for our savvy son to figure out it was us instead of Santa. By the time he was 8, the jig was up.

  20. Sharon says

    Oh, I just remembered something. I heard this quote last year around Christmas from a very wise grandmother. She told her granddaughter, whom she was raising, “Jesus only got 3 gifts, what makes you think you deserve more?”

  21. Jennifer says

    I love the idea of having “Santa” take care of the stocking and Mom and Dad do the gifts. Our son is 3, so we have the benefit of making Christmas what we want it. This will be the first year that the little one will really get it (he’s already talking about Christmas!) and I’m excited. I do plan to do a 5 gift limit, with the idea that the limit will save us when he’s older and gifts are more expensive. It’s hard to do, though, because I’m one of those that loves buying gifts, but I remember when I was young, we always had a ton of presents under the tree, and I think I only truly valued a few of them. We also rarely buy our son toys during the year, and any we do buy are very small.

  22. says

    We’ve been able to handle the gift monster in our house by really focusing hard on giving instead of receiving! Our kids love figuring out the best gifts for relatives, and since they have put so much thought, time and effort into it they are extraordinarily happy at the gifts they receive because they assume that the same has been done by the giver of the gift.

    The biggest issues we face are getting the grandparents to keep the gifts reasonable. Our family is definitely different than the rest of ours in regards to this, some people feel slighted by our gifts, don’t understand why our kids don’t get as much as theirs do….but we’re happy with it, and our kids are definitely grateful for everything they get!

  23. says

    I love Amy Dacyczyn’s deprivation plan. My family usually had a zoo membership when the kids were little. However, that membership only gets you in the gate, but doesn’t pay for the extras like riding the zoo train. I *never* took the kids on the admittedly awesome train because I knew that once I did every single zoo trip would be one long whine-fest about why they weren’t getting to go on the train. There would be no appreciation about being taken to the zoo in the first place.

    This also works for other pricey stuff like going out to dinner. Because we rarely eat out, it’s special and appreciated when we do.

    Great post, Kristen!


  24. says

    Great tips! This year will be interesting for us as we’ll be away from family for the first time. The Hubs & I don’t celebrate Christmas, so we’re quite unsure of what to do this year as our families always went quite overboard on the Xmas train. Our 4 year old is OBSESSED with Xmas & Santa (which we often remind him is not a real person), so we’re not quite sure how to navigate this. We already practice strategic deprivation more often than not. Since we are not religious and minimalists, I’m left in the dark with how to give our boys memorable special occasions without the aid of just doing what our families have done all along. Thanks for the tips!

    • Molly says

      Megyn, we’re not religious either, so we celebrate Christmas in our own way, no kids:
      – We sleep late
      – We snuggle with the kitty (who loves this)
      – We have cinnamon buns (and this is the ONLY day of the year we have them, which makes them super special)
      – We drink coffee – perhaps two cups instead of the usual one
      – We hang out
      – We have lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant (we usually go twice a year – once for my birthday and once for Christmas)
      – We take naps
      – We hang out

      It’s something I now look forward to instead of dreading.

    • says

      There are a lot of people in this country who do not celebrate Xmas. People who are Jewish, for example, as well as Atheists and others who for one reason or another do not choose to do anything in particular that day. My family and I (including the kids) usually get together with friends on Xmas Eve, play games, have a pot-luck meal, and enjoy the fact that we don’t have to get up early the next day. On Xmas Day we treat it as a family day, with a special breakfast, see a movie in the theater, and go out for Asian food. In fact, among the Jewish community it is a joke that Xmas means “a movie and Chinese food.”

      You can absolutely have a wonderful day, since you have no expectations and no requirements, you can make your own family traditions that focus on you and your kids. How many days a year can you just sit and play legos with the kids because you have no place you have to go? My suggestion is to enjoy it as a special family day, with no specific plan. My kids love it.

    • WilliamB says

      Another non-religious person here:
      – Growing up, we did “Commercial Christmas” with gifts and sometimes a tree. Not all of the many gifts were gift-like. My brother once made the mistake of mentioning in mid-December that he was running out of socks. Guess what one of his gifts was!

      – If a child asks me, I say that Santa represents the spirit of generousity and giving. This includes being generous to those who have less or need it more, as well as to friends and family.

      – One year I found myself having dinner on Christmas Eve with the governor of Morocco’s northern third, in his home. Muslims, of course, raised in Arabic and French, with France being the model to follow when they chose to follow a European standard. They had a decorated Christmas tree with wrapped gifts beneath. I had to ask why. The response? “Because children love gifts.” The kids knew this wasn’t their religion or their cultural tradition, and enjoyed it anyway.

  25. says

    I haven’t read any of the other comments yet, so I apologize for any repeat in what I might say.
    We recently established the “four gift rule” in our home for our sons birthdays (in Oct.), and we will be continuing it.
    The rhyme goes:
    Something you want
    Something you need
    Something to wear
    Something to read

    As far as Santa goes, we do Santa (my kids are 1, 4, and 6) and we say they can ask Santa for one thing individually (small) or one big thing all together.

    • Rachel says

      I saw that four gift rule on pinterest, Liz! What a great idea!

      When my parents cut back on Christmas toys, they let us choose which charity to donate the extra money to. We loved it!

      My husband and I already sent out a Christmas email limiting the rest of the family to 2 presents each (except for books–you can never have too many books). Our son will be 9 months at Christmas and he definitely does not need a ton of crap.

  26. Liz says

    I wish my mother would lower her expectations about gift-giving sometimes. She LOVES buying things for her girls (my sister and me) and everyone, generally, and also finds pleasure in the challenge of the Hunt for a good deal. However… (a) she’ll never get me that “just one thing” I want, because it’ll never be on sale or she’ll decide it’s not what I really want, and (b) I’ll always have a major surplus of Burt’s Bees chapsticks, and little beauty tchotchkes that I’ll never use, because those ARE always on sale and she decides I need them and like them.

    (This year my Christmas list consists of “no food”… and that’s the only idea I have, other than that “one thing” she’ll never get me – a sewing machine, which I thought she could coordinate with others to buy.)

    Granted, I appreciate her efforts and that she has fun doing this sort of shopping and gifting, it’s just those “sometimes.” She just might have taught me the strategic deprivation and “always worried about not having enough money” mindset too well. Am I all alone on this one?

    • says

      I struggle with my mom and grandma on this issue as well. I can tell them over and over that I really want “X” or money to put towards purchasing “X”. Instead I will get a bunch of small gifts that I honestly usually end up giving to Goodwill or *gasp* re-gifting because I have no use for them. They think that I will enjoy more small gifts instead of one big gift or cash. Really I would rather see them spend their money in a way that is useful and practical. I hate to sound ungrateful, but I’m not sure how to get this point through to them.

  27. says

    Love this. Thank you for this sane and practical approach to a very BIG problem.
    I’ll be sharing this great advice with my readers.
    PS. Mom to a 3 yr old with another on the way and yes, starting with low expectations now works. My son got one gift on Christmas Day last year and he was thrilled. It was small and he played with it all day.

  28. says

    Fantastic advice and comments. With 2 teenage boys and many years of having to deal with clearing their neglected toys, I would suggest having a clear out before the BIG DAY and ideally getting your child/children involved in donating their toys to charity or friends/family with younger children. Also, limit the number of toys available to them by putting some away and rotating them. If you have very young children and indulgent grandparents put some Christmas gifts away and gradually bring them out throughout the year – many parents and grandparents make the mistake of buying toys that are too old for their offspring anyway.

  29. says

    Our kids recive one gift each from “Santa”, he leaves them under the bed and they get to open them on christmasmorning. This works for us, when they were younger they´d get a book each but now they usually gets 1 or 2 gifts from us and a lot more from relatives, I try to put their wishlists on my blog so relatives can buy things my children needs instead of even more plastic toys… But it´s hard because everyone wants to show their love for our children by buying them gifts, even though we´ve asked them not to buy a lot of stuff…

  30. Kris says

    Kristen, your family sounds a lot like ours! :)

    There are a lot of comments in here about “what do I do about my extended family giving too many gifts?” My thoughts on this are … you can’t control other’s behavior, only your own. You can request fewer gifts or the gift of experiences, but some people just love to give gifts. I think I would try to express that to my kids–“Honey, there are a lot of ways to say ‘I love you’. Some people like to spend time doing activities to show their love, some do nice things like bake cookies, and some people give gifts.” Then I would encourage them to send a thank-you to the giver and to show love to someone else by giving from their abundance. Try to find the opportunity in the circumstance which is bringing you so much frustration.

    • Denise says

      It is a great explanation, but it isn’t a solution.When you have finite storage space, it becomes an issue. Also, repeated requests to buy fewer things that fall on deaf ears indicates (to me) a lack of respect.

      • Ember says

        Trying to control someone else’s behaviour is also disrespectful. I do not understand the dynamics of each person’s relationship, but it is likely that givers are giving with a sincere love of you and your children, and for the sincere joy of giving. I have 4 knife sets, 4 – I could eat 32 steaks at the same time. I have received 6 bbqs. I know that my dad cannot help himself – I also know that asking him to stop, would really hurt his feelings. Sometimes, you have to be aware of the gift you are giving someone by receiving their gift. Can you imagine how much it would hurt to bring your grandchild something and hope to see them laugh and smile and be rejected at the door? Their is grace and beauty in the art of receiving as well as in giving.

  31. Lindsey says

    I know this will sound weird, but we used to live in a very remote Alaskan village, where toilet paper was so expensive that when you went on a trip you brought an extra suitcase to bring home TP. (That was before they charged for baggage!). It took some doing, but we convinced our relatives that the thing that we would most value as gifts, and that we would think of every time we used it, would be cases of toilet paper. We asked them to send us cases equivalent to what they would have spent on other stuff…when we would get case after case of TP in December, we were the envy of everyone. Now we live in a more urban part of the state, but it has become an established tradition and it certainly saves us money. The in-laws even got a bit competitive about finding unusual TP to send us—black TP anyone? TP with Star Wars characters? Pink TP? We’ve gotten it all. It makes the kids laugh but it is the first thing they mention when we discuss Christmas traditions. Now that one has married, we send HIM TP for Christmas!

  32. says

    My Mom always wanted to give us lots of gifts so we got one big thing then lots of junk to make it look like more. Not worth it, Mom. The year my oldest brother got a transistor radio and my other brother and I each got a used bike and that’s all stands out in my mind as a wonderful year. That bike was a gift of freedom which was worth a lot to a 10 year-old.

  33. says

    Love this! I struggle with wanting to keep it simple and wanting to get things I know my boys want. They are only 1 and 2 and a half so I’m trying to get it low key.

  34. says

    I have always had a tendency to buy more than some people, but we generally have bought most of what the girls need and some of what they want for Christmas. In the past few years we have scaled back gradually as we worked on our debt. Trying not to shock them and do it all at once. Now we are trying to make the holiday more meaningful in the things we do and how we spend our time. Less of a focus on gifts.
    I am so tempted to do what Ruth @ living well spending less has done. Instead I have been removing stuff from their rooms a little bit at a time. They never even notice the stuff I get rid of is gone.

  35. Vicki says

    When our 5 kids were little, we told them that moms and ads have to pay Santa for the gifts he brings. They understood the concept of limited budget for gifts, so they kept their lists to what they most wanted. The funniest thing that ever hapened was the year the 2 oldest kids received bicycles for Christmas. They came out on Christmas morning, and walked right past the bicycles to the bottles of bubbles that were sitting next to their stockings. Obviously cost was not the big factor. lol

  36. says

    Here’s another trick: make a little look like a lot.

    I remember the year that my parents had the “Christmas is going to be smaller this year” talk with us, and at the time – way back in October – I was pretty bummed. But on Christmas day, the floor under the tree was covered with presents! It really wasn’t a lot when everything was unwrapped, but the sheer mass of boxes and bows made it look like an overwhelming Christmas. My mom had wrapped every accessory and split-up-able part separately, so even a few presents looked impressive. The extra money she spent on wrapping paper and bows (and the extra time spent wrapping!) paid off in spades.

    {actually, she was super frugal with the wrapping paper and bows – keeping the good pieces from year to year – so I doubt it was really that much of an expense}.

  37. Wendy says

    We never ask them what they want. We listen to them throughout the year and make decisions then. That way, if we ask them what they want, they come up with the expectation, and if we don’t give it to them they get disapointed. So, there you go. They get excited just to open gifts from people who really know and love them.

  38. says

    Christmas really is a time of excess and greed. To the loyal Christian, this must seem vulgar.

    I think point #2 is a very good: establish low-key gift giving from the beginning. Also, bringing the children onside and understanding the origins of Christmas and the questionableness of excess and greed.

  39. Battra92 says

    We’re not going to invite Santa into our house outside of his appearance in Christmas Comes to Pac-Land. I know some family members say that our future kids will somehow be harmed by this (you should hear the things people say when I tell them we will not be recognizing Halloween in our house!)

    • Stephanie Piscatelli says

      I get the same reaction from coworkers and neighbors who think it’s cruel to deprive children of Halloween for religious principles they don’t understand, but when I explain the practical aspects, they get it.
      (Practical aspects–safety and good manners. Crossing streets with limited vision, demanding treats that are not offered, taking candy from strangers, and loading up on sugar are all such bad ideas. Yes-you could work around these issues, but why?) I didn’t deprive my kids of the best part, which is playing dress up. One year, the boys’ Christmas gift was a trunkful of costumes, bought on clearance after Halloween.

      • Elena says

        My parents did not let us dress up for Halloween due to religious reasons. I really feel like we missed out and I wish they would not have deprived us of this tradition. I have two children who absolutely LOVE dressing up and our neighbors love having them come to the door. They don’t dress in evil scary costumes and we limit the candy they eat and put most of it away for later. Also, my parents told me Santa was not real when I was 3 or 4. I hated knowing he wasn’t real while all my classmates still believed. There is something magical about believing in Santa. I felt I was missing out. These are just my opinions about my experiences as a child. From these experiences I knew I would do things differently with my children.

  40. MK says

    We’re focusing on celebrating the Advent Christmas season – and building our family traditions – instead of just focusing on Christmas day, this year. In addition to an Advent calendar (where they get to open one piece of a nativity scene each morning and then play with it throughout the month as it grows), we are planning a special family event each weekend in December (i.e. making holiday cookies as a family one week, watching a holiday movie as a family another week, driving to see light displays and a live nativity another weekend). We are also picking a new holiday book for each week which will be read at bedtime (with a surprise “Twas the Night Before Christmas” book for Christmas Eve). There will be presents on Christmas Day, although we honestly haven’t decided how many and we are not going to worry about it too much. Whether the kiddos receive 2 or 20, we will be focusing on the season and I think (hope!) that focus will be what remains with them as they grow.

  41. Stephanie Piscatelli says

    When my older son was eight, he came home from school worried about the kids in his class who were wrestling with whether or not to believe in Santa. He actually said, “Mom, I’m sure glad I can trust that you always tell me the truth about stuff.”
    One good reason to avoid Santa is that he takes focus away from Jesus and puts it on presents, but the deciding factor for me was that I didn’t want a disilusioned 8 yr old to grow into a 13 yr old who might think that his parents had exaggerated the dangers of drug use or premarital sex. That conversation confirmed our early choice to let the boys know that Santa, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy were fun pretend characters.

  42. says

    I love this. For the first few years of my children’s lives we, as parents, didn’t buy them Christmas or birthday presents, because they get more than enough from relatives and friends. The extended family scaled back on the gift-giving when the recession hit, though, which is a good thing. And actually I still have never bought them birthday presents. #1Child did ask last year, “What did you get me?” and I said, “Your party. Hope you enjoyed it.”

    I come from a small family and we’re not that close, emotionally or geographically, to the inlaws, so there’s no obligation to visit. It’s too hectic, expensive and complicated to fly across the country during the holiday season, so we just don’t. This lets us have peaceful holidays at home, and since we’re not feeding 15+ people, we just make a special meal of dishes we really like.

    Thanks for reminding me that I’m not alone in wanting to scale holidays down/back.

  43. says

    I just love these posts! Thank you so much for writing them. Our family does not do Santa Clause as well. I like to try to keep Christmas about Jesus. However, we tend to overspend on Christmas, so this post is such a blessing. Thanks again, I love your blog and all that you share. Juli

  44. Alexia says

    The way we dealt with Santa was to have him fill her stocking only. Then she gets presents from her grandparents and uncle’s family, plus a couple of books and/or an item of clothing from us (this latter is usually something fun but not strictly necessary, like the Gymboree velour hoodie with cat ears I got off eBay a few years ago). We also usually try to get the fam to make at least one of her gifts experiential, like tickets to the aquarium w/special shows & parking thrown in (which could cost $50+).

    Our explanation for why some kids get lots of presents from Santa but she doesn’t is that other kids don’t get so many presents from their family. So far this seems to be working (she’s almost 7) but obviously a strategy you have to employ from the beginning.

  45. says

    I love this post. Thank you. I was just talking to my husband about this today–about how its important that our kids not get everything they want right away, so that they will actually appreciate the things they do get. Of course it makes it easier to have a scaled back Christmas, which is important to me, because I don’t want my kids to think that Christmas = stuff. But additionally, I think the tips in this post help with raising children who are not materialistic, appreciate quality over quantity, and are truly excited to receive a thoughtful gift.

    My mother grew up in Jamaica and her and her siblings always tell stories of their ONE doll that they all played with, having a blast playing down at the river while everyone did their laundry (by hand! outdoors!), climbing trees to pick fruit, etc. They had a great childhood and never felt deprived despite not having lots of stuff. And truly, I think that too many toys actually takes away from children having what I consider to be an idyllic childhood. Our kids should be outside playing, making mud pies, throwing snowballs, and getting dirty–not hanging around indoors with all of their stuff.

  46. Tina says

    Great idea, and I also agree that children don’t NEED toys.
    A few years ago we decided to jump off the “made in China” train.
    Any time I saw something cute that I thought my children would like for Christmas, I checked the label… if it wasn’t made domestically I wouldn’t buy it. Did we ever save money that year! We did give my son a Lego set, so that was the one exception, but still, they aren’t made in China. We did a lot of experiences that year as gifts. We took my son to an expert Lego building event nearby, took them ice skating in NYC with their new domestically made ice skates, went sledding and skiing as a family,
    I made a lot of homemade treats for them etc. They were fine, and they support the buying domestically goal.

  47. says

    Love your tips! A tactic I use is that we do not watch TV, so my kids never see advertisements for toys. They don’t ask for stuff they doesn’t know exists! Also, keep the toy-store junk-mail ads and toy-and-junk-related catalogs out of sight of children. For the most part, I toss them straight in the recycle bin. I love that my kids’ Christmas wish ideas come from their imaginations and not from an ad.

    • Tonya says

      wish I would have started the no tv thing when mine were smaller. We haven’t done tv for a year and boy I love the changes in my kids. No influence from tv ads or stupid cartoons. They know what is in and what is not though because of friends and such.

    • Rebecca says

      This is definitely something I’m thankful to have done as well. When we traveled and she’d ask me to “pause” the show she’s watching on the television (like you can on Netflix or a dvd). And to her, commercials meant the show was over.

      One time she was having a playdate with a friend of hers who was appalled that she didn’t have a television in her bedroom! I explained we didn’t have television anywhere in the house but would watch certain shows on the computer now and then. This way we don’t need to watch commercials. “But if she doesn’t watch commercials, how does she know what toys she wants?” Uh, well, we go to the toy store and she picks them out.

  48. Victoria says

    We are going to try this this year. I love the idea and simplicity of it.
    For Gift-Giving To Our Kids
    1 thing they want
    1 thing they need
    1 thing they wear
    1 thing they read

  49. says

    So, what I’ve done since my boys were babies has a name, and it’s “strategic deprivation”? I LOVE it! I invite you to visit my blog, Mean Moms Rule. You might like chapter 6 of my book, by the same name, which is all about the sweet, sweet power of “no.” because as I see it, a kid who hears yes all the time … expects to hear yes all the time. Same principle as the gift thing; you keep escalating the expectations. Nicely done!


  50. Tonya says

    Great advice! I have been fussed at over the years for not buying my kids bigger and more expensive gifts. I feel bad that my kids know Gramma gives better gifts than Santa. Christmas morning at our house is 2 gifts from Santa (one always being pajamas) and 2 or 3 small gifts from mom. My oldest is given new things all year long from Gramma so her expectations are high. Too high for me to achieve. My question for you, or anyone else, is how do I handle the first Christmas my daughter will spend without her father? ( he died 5months ago) I am very worried Gramma will go way beyond her means to spoil her this Christmas to ease her grief and to compensate for “Daddy” being gone.

    • says

      I’m so sorry about the loss of your daughter’s father (your husband?). This will be a tough Christmas, for sure. I’m not sure what to do about grandma wanting to overcompensate by showering your daughter with gifts, but I think that on your end you can just allow her to talk about and remember him, maybe let her make a donation to charity in his name or make a special ornament for the tree to remember him by. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss.

      • Tonya says

        He was my ex husband…and thank you for the advice. I like the making a special ornament idea. She is very artistic and creative…it was one of the things she shared with her dad. Christmas was his favorite holiday and he acted like a 5yr old on Christmas

  51. April says

    Great tips! I forwarded this to my husband before I had even finished the article. I look forward to starting young with our infant son (who will be just a year old this Christmas.) One question though…how do you get others on board with this? My in-laws are well off and simply LOVE going overboard!! They are always buying our son gifts no matter what the occasion. My mother-in-law simply sees this as just another way to be involved with our son. (Not that she isn’t involved emotionally!! My son loves his grandparents.)

    I know that Christmas will be even more gifts than normal. This year won’t be a big deal since he is so young, but how do I deal with his expectations in this situation as he gets older?

    • says

      Great post! We don’t celebrate Christmas, but my 4-year-old is starting to pick up on holidays (he asked for a Halloween Party this year — and we threw him one, just the 4 of us and he loved it!) and I think he might like a little Christmas celebration of some sort this year. If the subject of presents comes up, I’m going to explain to him that Christmas is about spending time with your family and eating good food and not about presents — although his tastes are so simple, I could give him a handmade card and some fruit and he would be over the moon, so I might do that. :D

  52. Mom of 4 says

    The way we’ve dealt with the “Santa can bring anything” issue is by explaining that Santa knows Mommy and Daddy really well, and understands what our feelings are on what is too much and what is just right. Santa would never give something that Mom and Dad feel is inappropriate, and that’s why some kids get different or more expensive gifts – NOT because Santa likes those kids better, or thinks they deserve more! It’s worked well for us!

  53. Betsy C. says

    Wonderful ideas, here! As far as Santa Claus goes, if your children are young, have Santa bring one, memorable gift. If Santa brings everything in your house, telling your children something like, “Santa decided it would be more fair if he brought one gift to every child, so this year, he wants you to make a very special list with a few items for him to choose from.” Design Mom had a great idea of giving each child something to read, something they need, and something fun. That sounds quite balanced to me!

  54. Jennifer says

    I have two girls, ages 5 and 2.5. I guess we practice “strategic deprivation,” on a regular basis, although I did not know what to call it till now! =) I like Design Mom’s way of doing Christmas and we have followed the same principle for a while now. Something to read, something to wear, and something to play with are the gifts from Santa/Parents. At our house the “something to wear,” is usually the special Christmas Dress. Santa brings a toy of some kind, and then there is a special book for each child. Stockings are a way that we get some smaller, “add to the collection,” types of toys in. For example, a new small train, or a new box of crayons.
    We encourage the Grandparents to give consumable items or experiences that can be enjoyed again and again (zoo membership). One set of Grandparents has enjoyed the challenge of figuring out what to give since we also live in a small space. Last year Grandma made the girls a puppet theatre that hangs on a tension rod in the doorway. It can be rolled up and stored when not in use. A few soft puppets went with it and they are also easy to store. The girls love it so much!
    I guess, most of all when I am giving gifts to my family (immediate or extended) I like to think about what would be the most special to that person. It may be very inexpensive, but if it is something they will really enjoy or cherish, it is a good gift.

  55. Debra says

    We’ve been scaling back on the presents for a couple of years now. Ever since the kids got completely overwhelmed with gifts, spent several hours opening them, and turned into raging little monsters about how they didn’t get what they REALLY wanted. I will NOT have that again.

    For us, it’s more about quality than quantity, and the kids set the quality bar: my daughter’s favorite gift (to this day) was the little $2.00 shawl my mom found her at a Goodwill store 3 years ago. She still wears it, and wants another. My sons favorite gift has been the wooden sword my grandpa made him out of scrap wood. He’s had that sword for 5 years.

    We always do a family gift as well, which for the last several years has been new board games and movies for game/movie nights.

    It doesn’t have to be big to be good.

  56. Lisa says

    We give 3 gifts because that is what Baby Jesus got. Then go out and take a Christmas light tour of our small town (in pjs).

  57. Sarall says

    My kids are 11 and 8… The one thing they look so forward to every year is opening new pajamas and a book Christmas Eve…. To them that is the best part of christmas… Snuggling up by the fire Christmas Eve in new pjs, good food, and good books. I love it:)

  58. says

    This is so true my father and mom use to fill up our dining room with presents and it was magical.But recently my sisters and I were all talking about how we feel the need to always buy more gifts.My daughter piped up and said she feels the same way,that it never seems to feel like enough for her little girl.Thanks mom and dad you’ve created christmas monsters! lol

  59. EJ says

    I like this idea very much, but as a childless single woman with a niece and nephews, I wonder if I have room to instill even a part of this in the kids. My niece is the one I especially worry about, because she has always been drowned in a load of presents each year, and I think she’s completely desensitized to the whole idea of a gift being meaningful and thoughtful. It’s not my place to change how she’s raised, but I have neither the budget nor the heart to perpetuate that sort of materialistic mentality I see developing. I have always just given one, hopefully thoughtful, gift, but it gets lost in the mountain of stuff every year.

  60. Hazel says

    Love your ideas.
    Last year a friend told me about something her gran had shared with her and was incorporating it with her kids.
    They would get 4 gifts.
    The gifts were as follows:
    Something they want,
    Something they need,
    Something to wear and
    Something to read.

    As for Santa gifts, in our home Santa brings one small, reasonably priced gift (no xboxes around here). But we started that from the start so the expectations of gifts from that source were always reasonable.

  61. says

    I love this post–I saw it linked on Apartment Therapy. I’d like to add another point of modeling “strategic deprivation” for yourself and also keeping gifts between the parents modest.

    • says

      This is a wonderful series of posts. My kids are in their twenties now (eek!) and we have been dealing with this for years. When they were younger we lived in a town that was quite wealthy, though we weren’t, and we allowed ourselves to be influenced by others until Christmas became swallowed up in this huge machine of shopping, going into debt, wrapping till 3:00 AM on Christmas Eve, and an absolute sea of paper and gifts the next day! And, now that I look back on it, some pretty overwhelmed little kids. They were confused, as we were, because the rest of the year we were pretty good at the strategic deprivation, or more like it, “extremely strategic desire-fulfillment. Now I’ve been gradually cutting back for years, and this year we are finally down to about $40 per person, wrapped as one gift whether its actually one, or several smaller ones. We also got them all together to talk about the financial reality we’re facing this year, and they are all bringing part of dinner and everyone is bringing one tiny thing for each person’s stocking. I hope this trip back to reality will help them sort things out when they have kids of their own. Thank you to all the commenters too, for such a variety of perspectives!

  62. Susan says

    Totally agree. I bought the new $60 Call of Duty game for my son (to be given for a Christmas gift.) I explained to my son that he could wait 6 more weeks to get it because he really didn’t want much for Christmas anyway. My son agreed to wait and then my husband comes home with a copy of the game…for no reason at all. What does lesson does this teach except husband and wife can’t agree on parenting issues?

  63. Cyndie says

    I love reading your thoughts…I don’t have children…and it has taken years to get my husband trained to the fact that we don’t have a bunch of stuff at Christmas…
    I worked with a girl years ago, and she just seemed to be onto a great idea..
    Her children got 4 was a fun thing..toy, game etc..
    then there was an article of clothing…like the pea coat..
    One educational item…book, game, etc..
    and one to celebrate the season….a little manger scene or just whatever you prefer…I just thought this was such a good and simple solution…
    Thanks for sharing your great ideas..

  64. Jennifer says

    My kids can barely put together a wish list. There is just very little that they actually want. I think this is because they aren’t really exposed to commercials or advertisements.

    I do have to share this story: I would not buy my daughter the fuzzy synthetic bathrobe she wanted because I didn’t trust the fabric not to be treated with potentially hazardous chemicals. As usual, I explained to her my reasons. So, at Christmas time, she gets a chance to sit on Santa’s lap. Picture this little girl, so delicate with big shining eyes, and she looks straight at Santa and tells him that she would like an organic cotton bath robe with no flame retardant chemicals. I don’t think he’d heard that one before.

    She did get one for Christmas that year!

  65. Mandi says

    I’ve seen lots of great ideas in the comments, but most of those have been for people whose children are very young. I would really like some advice on my particular situation.

    I have three kids, but only the youngest (age 10) still believes in Santa. In the past, we were able to buy the majority of things from their wish lists (which were never crazy anyway), but this year, due to some job losses, we are struggling with just keeping a roof over our head. My older kids understand that we won’t be able to do much for Christmas and know not to ask for much (or anything, really), but how do I get around having no money for the youngest without spoiling the Santa myth. I can’t say, “Santa’s out of money this year” or make any dramatic changes without my daughter catching on. And I can’t just give HER presents from Santa because she’ll wonder why he didn’t give her brothers anything.

    Starting out with minimal gifts would have been the smart thing to do, but what do I do now, after our traditions have already been established?

    • Kristen says

      We’ve never done Santa at our house, so I’m not really a good person to answer this question! Hopefully someone else will have some ideas for you.

      Do you think that perhaps your 10 year old could handle learning that Santa is real? I’m not sure when most kids stop believing, but I do know a lot of 8-10 year olds that know he’s not real, even if they believed earlier.

    • Tracy says

      One year for my family things were really tight as well. I explained to my son that Christmas that year needed to be smaller. And as Santa is all knowing, that year Santa brought one fun thing my son wanted and he also gave my son some useful things like socks and underwear. My son really needed these. I gave my son a couple really small things like 2 $5 DVD’s. When he asked about why Santa gave him those things; I explained that Santa knew he really needed them and that was why he didn’t get a ton of toys. My son thought that was so cool that Santa knew we needed a bit of help.

      Also you could say to your youngest daughter that when you are older like your two oldest children. That Santa stops giving them gifts as there are so many young children in the world. And that your family wants Santa to be able to give gifts to the young children. Hope this helps.

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