We all want to make Christmas magical for our family. But the tricky thing is figuring out how much to spend on Christmas. We're here to answer some tricky questions and help you create a magical Christmas without buying ALL the things.
This time of year I regularly get questions such as, “What should I spend on Christmas?” “How much should I budget for Christmas gifts?” and the kicker, “How much should I spend on my kids for Christmas?” Truth: those are dang hard questions to answer. BUT I take pride in being the resident “I'll talk about things people really don't want to talk about” mama, so here I am to do my best. Be prepared folks, this post is a long one, but it's worth the read!
Today I’m here to help give us all some guidelines for “safe spending” this year! While I focus mostly on gifts for our children (since that tends to be our greatest Christmas expense), these concepts really can apply to any of us, in any situation.
I'm sure we can all agree that the true meaning of Christmas doesn't involve gifts. Amen to that. BUT I'm sure we can also agree that gifts are part of what makes Christmas so magical! I mean, we are human, aren't we? Here are a few ideas that will hopefully help us from going overboard this year, especially for those whom we love to spoil the most…our kids.
I mean, come on, how can we NOT spoil these cute sonofaguns?? Thanks Lizzyography for the beautiful family pic!
ALL ABOUT CHRISTMAS SPENDING
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this epic Christmas post:
- WHAT? Balancing WANTS vs NEEDS, dealing with kids’ wish lists, and giving our kids a fabulous Christmas without spoiling them rotten or getting caught up in the guilt trap!
- WHY? Why we shop the way we do and how to change our mindset to focus on what matters most at Christmas time.
- HOW MUCH? Guidelines and numbers to help you make your Christmas budget work. Boom baby!
HOW MUCH TO SPEND ON CHRISTMAS
Before you even ask your kids to make a Christmas list, you first need to:
DECIDE HOW MUCH YOU CAN AFFORD
Put a number to it. Look at your income, savings, and financial situation. Look at how much you have leftover at the end of the month. You will probably need to be setting aside for several months prior to Christmas, just FYI. We keep that money in our “family regular savings”. If you can afford $1000 this year, then decide if that's what you want to spend $1000 on. If it's $300, there you go. Many of us spend without keeping track. But when you stop and add it up, you might say “$2500 for Christmas? Heck, we could redo our kitchen floor for that! Honey, we're cuttin' back this year!”. Decide this first, then you work backwards from there and everything will be much, much, much easier.
SET CHRISTMAS BUDGETS
Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean you should disregard price tags on things other than gifts. Tracking your budget(s) is super important this time of year. See “how to budget for Christmas” for tons of detail on this. Divide up your budgets to help you!
- Gift budget – This should include neighbor gifts, teacher gifts, stocking stuffers, gifts for your kids…
- Travel budget – Even if it's to Grandma's house for a weekend, add it up!
- Family activities – Concerts, skiing, riding the Polar Express, etc.
- Miscellaneous – Christmas cards, decorations, etc.
Once the preliminary work is done, now it's time to shop for the kiddos! Before I give you numbers and parameters for what a reasonable amount is to spend this Christmas – ask yourself 3 important questions to help you decide how much you should buy for your kids:
DO MY KIDS NEED IT?
When I say need, I mean not giving them more than is reasonable or necessary.
“But my kid isn't asking for socks for Christmas, so nothing on their list is a ‘need' item.”
Smart kid! Trust me, there's nothing wrong with toys, electronics, expensive perfume or other indulgent items. Please! Please do not only buy underwear and toothbrushes for Christmas. That would be, like totally lame, mom.
The mindset I want to change here is…our kids don't need everything they want, and they certainly don't need the nicest, finest things in life. They are kids, for goodness sake! Certainly try to get them what's on their list. Maybe they need T-shirts, but do they need designer brands? No. Maybe they need entertainment. But do they need an iPad mini? Heck no. Maybe they need new shoes, but do they need top-of-the-line hot-off-the-press designer shoes? No. Maybe it's time for a cell phone. But do they need an iPhone? No! Maybe they want a $130 American Girl doll. But do they need it to be American Girl? No! There are knock-off brands that are beautiful and fun that will entertain them all the same. Our kids don't need the things we cater to 99% of the time.
“But the only gift they want costs more than their budget allows.”
Easy. Let them choose. First off, have your kids prioritize their Christmas list. Have them decide if they would rather have one big gift, or multiple little gifts. It's okay to make it clear that you have a Christmas budget. You don't have to tell them what it is, exactly, but if their wish list includes expensive gifts, let them know “Honey, your gift is outside of your Christmas budget (or Santa's budget) this year. Would you like me to surprise you with other things on your list, or do you want the money so you can have almost enough to buy it yourself?”
Or, figure out how to make it fit within the budget! Buy off-season. Buy at a discount (daily deal sites like Groupon have amazing deals on items). Simplify. Buy used. Even if you can afford it… Stick to your Christmas budget! It's a great way to teach your kids to be smart and to appreciate an items' value and not just the price-tag.
“But I can afford it”.
This is the HARDEST one. Trust me, life was much easier when we had no money. Now that we make a steady paycheck, saying no is so hard! But just because we can afford it, doesn't mean we need to. For one, it's not doing our kids any favors. Giving your child everything they want is only setting them up for a hard life. It's setting unrealistic expectations for their future that are incredibly hard to undo. Can you imagine how hard it will be for them to get a job if they don't know how to work for what they need in life? Can you imagine how hard their first…oh…50 years of marriage will be when they're used to getting everything they want? Please don't do that to your child, it's really not fair to them.
You work hard for those dollars so that you can afford it! Don't waste them on an unnecessarily high-end item that your kid won't even like 6 months down the road! Take those extra dollars and pay down debt. Put it toward a family vacation. Build up your savings. Fix up the part of your house you've been putting off for 12 years. Put it away for your kids' college educations. Save those dollars for something greater.
“But it's Christmas.”
I won't deny that Christmas is the one time per year that we should buy our loved ones special things that they want, and wouldn't buy for themselves. But don't lose sight of the bigger picture in your life because of a holiday. Keep focused and make your family a priority. Set goals as a family and work toward greater things. If you aren't careful, a single Christmas can set your family back by several years. No, not exaggerating, and no, I'm not talking about a lavish Christmas either.
By all means, enjoy Christmas! Make it the best one ever! But you don't need to use your dollars to make that happen. Put some thought, heart, and creativity into it and you won't need to spend a dime to create the greatest memories for your loved ones.
“But they'll be so sad to not have it.”
Maybe. I'm sure there were many Christmases in my life where I didn't get everything I wanted on my list. And guess what? I can't remember them. Use it as a learning experience! If they are disappointed, “I'm sorry Santa didn't bring you that present Honey. But guess what? I need help cleaning out the garage this week and I bet you could earn enough money to go buy it yourself!” Just because they don't get it for Christmas doesn't mean they can't have it at all. Teach them how to work for it and save up for it! This lesson will give them a gift far greater than the item they are buying.
WHY WE GIVE GIFTS
Warning, I'm about to go a little Dr. Phil on you. We are digging deeper to the why of the matter. Ultimately, if you can't figure out the root of why we overspend, we will never be able to overcome the issue. So, as hokey as it seems, please take some time to really ponder these questions!
WHY AM I GIVING THIS TO THEM, REALLY?
Most of what we give our kids isn't out of necessity. So why, then? Why are we spending our hard-earned money on this item, that they don't even need. This is an important question to ask yourself because once you get to the bottom of it, it might help make your gift-buying decisions easier.
“Because I love them.”
I don't know about you, but I love my kids with such ferocity that it almost hurts sometimes. As parents, naturally, we want what's best for them. We want to see them happy. We love the look on their faces when they are introduced to something new and exciting. But really, at the end of the day, showering them with gifts is not what will truly-madly-deeply show your love for them? I'm sorry to say but no, no it won't. While gift giving and receiving is in fact a love language, chances are your child won't know you love them more or less, based on the physical items you give them one day a year.
I challenge that there are 10,001 better ways to show love to your child. Ways that will last in their memories far longer than it takes to open a gift.
- Shovel snow with them.
- Take them on a date.
- Go shopping for a Secret Santa family together.
- Read a book together.
- Write a book together.
- Talk to them, making eye contact.
- Take a class together.
- Teach them to cook.
- Find out what their interests are.
- Tell them why you love them.
I hate to say it, but using money to show your kids how much you love them is an easy out. Sure, it can help and it sure is fun! I'm 100% on-board with giving gifts! But if you're going overboard on gifts because you want to show them love, I suggest you put away your wallet, turn off the TV and cell phone, and prove to your child you love them in a way that matters more.
“Because I want to create memories.”
Valid. To me, the most important part of Christmas is traditions and memories. But…I have spent hours upon hours on this post, much of the time racking my brain trying to think back to my own Christmases growing up. To be honest, I can't remember more than 4 or 5 gifts from my childhood. Total. (No, not exaggerating.)
The memories of Christmas that come back to me are of my family driving through the lights, hanging out the windows in our PJ's. Cutting down our own Christmas tree, and complaining the whole time. Hanging our own ornaments. Playing out the nativity at our neighbor's house every Christmas eve, with me always stuck playing a sheep. I can remember a few things I got for Christmas last year, but only because Bubba helped me remember. But the year before? I'm at a complete loss. Please don't rely on gifts to make memories for your family. Because in the end, the gifts just won't stick.
“So they like me more; makes me a cool parent.”
Many of us would have a hard time admitting this one, but isn't it true? I absolutely LOVE when my child thinks I'm the greatest thing on the planet. For those with teenagers, it's harder than heck to get your kid to realize how cool and hip you are! Can I get a whoop whoop and a holler from my fellow uncool parent homies out there?!
We all strive to connect with our kids, especially our teens. Thus, many of us do this by way of giving cool, hip, trendy gifts. And, I'll call it like it is, sometimes buying your kid something really cool, hip, and trendy will in fact endear them to you! (darn it all…)
…giving them everything they want is not what's best for our children. Go back to the “because I love them” point and re-read that. If you want to connect with them, do it. But do it right. You don't need to break the bank and overspend to accomplish an invaluable connection with your kids.
“Because all my other friends bought it for their kids.”
The only way to make a difference in the world is to stop trying to be just like it. Be unique. Be different. If you spend your life living by every one else's standards, you'll look back on your life and have a hard time seeing anything but regret. Social awareness is very important, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, I urge you to let go and decide to not care what everyone else thinks. I promise you'll be all the happier for it!
“Because it's Christmas, and it's special, and I want them to enjoy it.”
The most poignant Christmas I ever had as a child is the one where I was in Middle School. My family all went shopping together and filled a huge moving box full of clothes, food, and gifts for a family in our small town. We were giddy for days leading up to the oh-so-important doorbell ditch mission. We loaded the box onto the back of our truck late one night, turned off the truck lights, and us kids jumped out of the truck and ditched the box on the doorstep of an unsuspecting family. It took all 3 of us to carry it. We snuck quietly to the door, carefully set the box on the doorstep, hearts pounding. We made our oldest brother ring the doorbell because we were all afraid to do it.
We ran like maniacs, jumped into the back of the truck yelling to my parents in the cab, “Drive! Go! Move move move!”. There was a feeling of elation and satisfaction like I had never felt before…and not just from the thrill of not getting caught. It lit a spark in me that had never been before.
I remember seeing some of the “secret Santa family” kids at school, and always feeling a little jolt in my heart while trying to hide a sneaky smile on my face. It felt so good that we anonymously helped someone in need…and pulled it off with McGiver-like execution.
That same Christmas our poor garbage man had to do his round on Christmas morning. When he pulled up to our house, my dad had us sprint out in the snow and hand him $100 and a huge box of chocolates that someone gave our family (one of a bazillion). He choked up as he took the money. I can remember it with intense recollection, even to this day. It was the greatest Christmas of my life…and I don't remember a single present I received that year.
That, my friends, is how you make Christmas special. You stop focusing on yourself, and turn the tables to those who need it more. Stop focusing on how much you think you should spend on Christmas. You give your family wonderful, beautiful gifts…within reason...then you focus on giving them gifts (life lessons, memories, and experiences) that will stick with them forever.
I encourage us all to hold back a touch. Focus on what matters most. Save the extra, and give it to others, or use it to provide a better life for ourself and for others. Let us teach our kids the value of sharing with others, the power of delayed gratification, and the reality that we just don't get everything we want handed to us in life.
Give them the best Christmas of their lives, by allowing them the opportunity to give.
And now, the moment you've all been waiting for… “HOW MUCH” you should spend on Christmas and how to do it in an organized way!
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND ON CHRISTMAS?
This is the golden question, isn't it? Unfortunately there's not a magic calculation that works for every family. Age of kids, family income, time of life, traditions, it all factors in. That being said, it's absolutely imperative that you set a calculation for your own family and abide by it!
A few years ago I started budgeting by price. That worked ok, but last year we tried something new that I think we are going to stick to from now on! Instead of budgeting by price, our kids now get 1 gift from us and 1 from Santa.
I know it doesn't sound like a lot, but when you add grandparent gifts, neighbor and friend gifts, aunts, uncles, cousins, even babysitter gifts…our tree is EXPLODING with presents!
We found that when we budgeted by DOLLARS we were more focused on the price of each item, than on what they really needed. Plus, we were overspending on some kids, and underspending on others. By focusing on just ONE gift from us and ONE from Santa, we narrow it down and buy the best gifts for them, and really focus on those.
In our house those two gifts still fall within the budget listed below in our family, but it does level out better because my oldest tends to get more expensive gifts than my 2 year old, so it averages out nicely.
For example: One year, we got our two year old a cute singing picnic basket toy from Target for only $12.99 (plus 20% off using the Cartwheel app), and a princess baby doll between $15-$20. That means we were only spending $31 or less. Our budget for her was $50, so that extra $19 could be put toward another child's gifts.
THOUGHTS ON GIFTS FROM SANTA
Last year on Facebook, a post from a single mother went viral. She was pleading with the world to stop allowing Santa to give the most extravagant, expensive gift for Christmas. She said something to the effect of “How do I explain to my little boy why Santa gives some kids Xboxes, and he get socks? Please mothers, let Santa gift a modest, practical gift, and take credit for the extravagant gift; have it be from mom and dad.”
That really struck me. So now, we give the bigger gift, and Santa brings the smaller or more practical one. A little Freebs food for thought for ya.
CHRISTMAS BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS
The first step is to decide how much you can afford for Christmas (not just gifts), then work backwards, as mentioned before. Let your finances decide your kids' gifts, not the other way around! I recommend setting a budget for your entire family, then dividing out from there, and I recommend doing so by age.
KID'S CHRISTMAS BUDGET
These are simply recommendations and can definitely be modified to fit your family's budget!
- 0-4 years – $50
- 5-10 years – $75-$100
- 10-15 years -$100-$150
- 16-18+ years – $150-$250
FAMILY CHRISTMAS BUDGET
Once again, these are simply recommendations and can definitely be modified to fit your family's budget!
- Grandparents – $35-$50 each
- Parents – $50 each
- Extended family adults – $25-$30
- Extended family kids – $15-$25
- Friends – $5-$10 family gift
- Neighbor gifts – $1-$2 each
When gifting to friends and neighbors, get creative and find ways to cut back on costs while still making them thoughtful and meaningful.
See all my neighbor gift ideas for some great ideas! We give gifts to 100+ neighbors, so we keep it frugal. If you give to only a few, modify your budget. Just make sure that you don't spend over your Christmas budget!
MORE CHRISTMAS BUDGET TIPS
- Be reasonable. Your 9 month old won't need $50 in gifts. In fact, please don't buy them anything! Give them a wrapping paper tube and they'll love you for life. If you are spending more than $50 on a 3 or 4 year old, you are overspending. Enough said! You can find incredible bikes, toys, scooters, games, and even electronics on clearance, online, and in the classifieds. That one's easy. The older kids? $75-$150 is reasonable, doable, and very common! Your 18 year old might need a little more than $150 if you're buying them something they need for high school or college.
- Borrowing from budgets is ok. Like I described above, if your 2 year old only needs one toy that's $14, you could use the rest of her budget for your older kids if needed.
- Let them choose! Whether it's one big gift, lots of smaller gifts, or cash to put toward a gift outside their budget. There is absolutely no harm in that. Or, you could do what we are doing and have them tell you their top TWO gifts and just go with those!
- What about clothes? I, personally, am not a believer in buying your kids clothes for Christmas unless that's specifically what they want on their Christmas gift. We use Christmas and birthdays for the two times per year where I can actually give my kids fun-only items. I buy their clothes throughout the year as I see them come on sale, using my weekly “other” budget. I always have more than I need because I buy one year ahead as seasonal items go on clearance.
- Gifts from you are NOT the only ones they will be getting. Grandparents. Cousins. Friends. Gift exchange at school. Aunts and uncles. We don't even live near our family, and each year my kids get more gifts from others than we know what to do with. It can be overwhelming. So here's what we do…
- Rotate the extras out. I took 2/3 of the gifts, hid them in the closet under my stairs. I've given them to the kids for their birthdays, they earned a few on their behavior chart, and they will get more for Christmas this year…but we will STILL have leftovers. Don't tell, but I even re-gifted a few (not the ones from immediate family, though) to other kids' birthdays throughout the year. Our kids just don't need so much! And trust me, I'm not depriving them in any way. My kids have more toys than anyone I know personally, and that's saying a lot.
- Remember VALUE and PRICE are different. When you look at $75 you might think, “but that won't even cover the one bladiblah my kid wants, let alone 3 or 4 presents!” Yeah, probably not…when you pay full-price! Remember, if a gift your child wants costs $50, don't pay $50 for it! Keep your eye on it throughout the year. Online (get some great online shopping tips HERE!), in stores, Zulily, daily deal sites, Amazon (if you add it to your cart it will notify you when the price changes), Black Friday, Hukkster. Buy the gift AFTER Christmas when it's on sale, and give it to them for their birthday! (January and June are the best two months to buy things as explained HERE.) Trust me, it WILL go down in price, I PROMISE!
- Get creative. If your child wants something uber expensive that doesn't ever go on sale (like an American Girl doll or iPad mini) then buy it refurbished. Find a used one. Trade for one. Is your husband a dentist? Plummer? Piano tuner? Are you good at sewing or cleaning houses? Post on the classifieds that you're willing to trade and see what happens! Just. get. creative. Yes, it might mean more work for you. If you don't want to do the work, then don't buy your kids expensive gifts. Easy fix 🙂
- Don't forget the stockings! See THIS POST for stocking recommendations. In all, I don't believe stockings should be for gifts! They should be for simple things like treats, toothbrushes, travel toiletries, a magazine, chapstick, etc.
- Don't do it all on your own. That will just stress you out, honey. Read blogs! Check Pinterest! The work is basically done for you. Don't reinvent the wheel, take advantage of what's out there.
- Push yourself. If you can afford more, I totally understand the challenge. As a rule, just make the budget tight! Challenge yourself! Force yourself to take time to carefully think through, plan ahead, and strategize for their gifts…rather than just waltz into the nearest toy or electronics store and walk out 30 minutes later with Christmas over and done with. Your Christmas will be better for it.
- Make your own traditions. I did a lot of market research before writing this post, and even posted the question on my Facebook wall. I got so many great ideas from readers about how they make their tight Christmas budget special! It's totally possible!
All-in-all, please keep the bigger picture in mind this Christmas. Challenge yourself to hold back on the spending and I promise you, it will be just as great of a Christmas as any other…if not greater.
A Merry Christmas to all!
WHILE YOU'RE HERE…
Don't forget about my Secret Sauce online budgeting program, Budget Boot Camp! Super fun video program that makes money easy to understand. All you need is a screen and you're set!
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