Managing Gift Expectations with your Kids During the Holidays

Little Girl with Presents around her

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It’s that time of year again! The holiday season is upon us and we’re about to start shopping for gifts for our kids.

Yes, we want to see their faces lit up with joy when they get that new toy they’ve always wanted, but we also want to make sure we’re not going into major credit card debt to get those smiles.

With the “perfect” gifts, you and your kids may both be smiling in December, but come March when you’re still paying down that debt … you won’t be smiling anymore.

According to Magnify Money, shoppers in the US racked up an average of $1,054 of debt during the holidays and more than half of those surveyed expected it would take at least 3 months to pay it back.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy anything for our kids. It just means we should do it responsibly.

Here are 5 strategies for getting through the holidays debt-free and managing your kid’s expectations in the process.

1. Develop a Holiday Budget

By developing a realistic budget for how much you can actually afford for the holidays today, you’ll be saving yourself a world of heartache in the future.

Utilize an automated spreadsheet-based system like Tiller or simply write it out on a piece of paper.

Here’s what you should write down:

  • People you’re considering buying for
  • How much you’d like to spend on each person
  • Your total projected spending for the holidays

Then ask yourself honestly, “Can we afford to pay this amount in November and December?”

Not …

“Can I afford it if I put it on the credit card?”

Instead …

“Can I afford it and will I pay my credit card off in the same month?

If your honest answer to this is “no”, then lower the amount of money for each of the people you want to buy for … including the kids!

Once you find that appropriate number. You’ve got your budget.

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2. Speak to the Kids About Your Budget

According to a research study at Purdue University, as early as 3 years old, your kids can grasp the concept of money. By age 7, their habits for money are pretty set.

Given this, our kids at a very young age are mentally prepared for you to tell them what your budget is for the holidays. This can become a tradition and an excellent learning opportunity for them.

Here’s a sample conversation I had with my 6-year daughter last week …

Andy:  Hi Zoey. This year, Mommy and Daddy have $50 to spend on you for Christmas. When you’re thinking of your favorite toys and games this year, we need to make sure they are all $50 or less.

Zoey: Okay Dad. How do I know if what I want is $50?

Andy:  We can make a list together of your favorite things and then we’ll look up the prices online. If the total list is more than $50, that’s okay. We just need to put a star next to your very favorite ones so we’ll know which are the most important ones. Cool?

Zoey:  Cool.

Yes, limits can be cool!

Now, if Santa is part of your holiday celebration, you can have the same conversation, but tell your child that Santa has the $50 budget.

Setting expectations early will help our children understand that there are limits. The credit card that we use is not an endless money machine.

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3. Get Creative

Let’s say you’ve analyzed that holiday budget of yours and there is NO WAY you can afford $50 per kid without going into debt.

There are limits to everyone’s budget so don’t feel discouraged. Instead, get creative.

Every year, my family and I go to thrift stores to find hidden treasures. Instead of going to Best Buy or Target on Black Friday, we go to Salvation Army or Goodwill. There are great deals on toys, clothes, and games.

One of the best gifts we got for our daughter was a magic trick kit for $3 … she still plays with it a year later!

Zoey and Her New Magic Kit
Zoey and Her Magic Kit

Also, there are some amazing homemade gifts you can make that won’t break the bank as well. A homemade gift can sometimes be more memorable and heartfelt than something that comes out of a plastic box.

4. Break the Habit Today

Let’s say your kids are older than 7 and they are used to the big holiday with dozens of gifts that put you into credit card debt each year. There is no time like the present to change your holiday buying habits.

Sit your family down, put away the devices and tell them that you are making a change this holiday season. Explain that you’re ready to do something incredible for your family like get out of debt completely … and with that change comes some sacrifices.

Be honest with them about the stress that comes from having debt in your life. You’ll be surprised how a family can rally around a mission like debt freedom. Those are the memories and family traditions that last forever.  Interest in the latest video game or toy fades fast.

These serious but important conversations may be a pivotal moment in your kid’s memory. She’ll look back and say, “I remember the day that my Mom told me we were done with debt. We had to scale back a bit during the holidays a few times, but it really wasn’t that bad at all. I’m proud to have helped her get there.”

5. Sell the Old to Get the New

Let’s say the kids aren’t having it. They want their new toys and they are livid that you’re not giving in.

via GIPHY

Take that anger and fire and put it to work.

If they want a bunch of new toys, then as a family, sell some of their current toys. By enlisting your children in on the solution two things will happen:

  • They will help you.
  • They will decide that it’s not really worth the hassle.

Let’s say they are into it. Have each of your kids gather 10 toys, clothes, video games, dolls, board games or really anything they don’t use anymore that can be sold.

Post them on eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace.

You’ll be surprised at how much money you can make from selling the stuff lying around your house! Your kids will be surprised too.

This will help them learn a new skill and help them fund their new holiday toy collection. At least they’ll appreciate the process it takes to earn money!

Whatever you decide, realize that the newest toy doesn’t define your worthiness as a parent. It’s the lessons and skills you impart on your children that really matter.


What holiday traditions do you have with your kids?

Please let us know in the comments below.


 

Author: Andy Hill

Andy Hill, a mid-30’s father of two living in the metro Detroit area, pens the MarriageKidsandMoney.com (MKM) blog taking you through the trials and tribulations of being a young parent and husband who is planning for his family’s future and winning with money.

4 thoughts on “Managing Gift Expectations with your Kids During the Holidays”

  1. Great tips! Because we know the grandparents are on fixed income, we also remind the kids that anything on their wishlist should be $30 or less with at least a few things under $15.

  2. Our family loves to travel and we have spoken to the kids about trading off gifts around the holidays for a better travel experience. They understand that they may not get as many gifts on Christmas morning, but that they then get to enjoy the travel experience all throughout the year.

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