How much to spend on your kids for Christmas: Part I…the “WHAT”

Christmas presents

Today I was going to write a post about budgeting for Christmas gifts this year. While that post will still be written (stay tuned), I decided that this post should come first.

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 dang fun!! I mean, we are human, aren't we?? Let me help you make sure you don't go 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??

my kids

After writing this post I decided to break it into 3 parts so it doesn't give you a headache trying to read it all in one sitting! So be sure to check out Part II (helping us figure out why we shop the way we do) and Part III (with actual numbers and budget guidelines) also!

How much to spend on your kids for Christmas: Part I

Before you even ask your kids to make a Christmas list, you fist need to:

  • Decide how much you can afford for Christmas.

    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 budgets.

    Divide it up if you need to. 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.), and miscellaneous (Christmas cards, decorations, etc). Just because it's Christmas doesn't mean you should disregard price tags on things other than gifts. Tracking your budget(s) is the most important this time of year above any other time. (and see “how to budget for Christmas” for tons of detail on this.)

(Read part 3 for kid gift budgets guidelines and suggestions.)

Once that 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 (that will be part III, stay tuned!) I need to “teach you to fish” a bit first. This Christmas I would love you to ask yourself 3 important questions to help you decide how much you should buy for your kids:

Question #1. Do they 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 your kid 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. My parents would always ask us to number the gifts by priority. They would have us decide if they'd rather have one big gift, or multiple little gifts. They made it very clear that we had a Christmas budget. They never told us what it was, but my mom would say “Honey, your gift is outside of your Christmas 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 “Santa's Budget” if they are of age).

toy car

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 a single car for your child that they will absolutely love, rather than an extravagant set). Buy used. One year I needed/wanted a bunch of clothes for Christmas. My mom spent my budget at a thrift store and I got – literally – mounds of clothes! I was well aware they were used, and to this day, it was one of my most memorable Christmases ever. I was giddy with joy! I was wearing new outfits for weeks. For a tween girl, that was heaven on earth. And guess what? My parents made great money and could afford 100x that! But they were smart and it taught us the value of appreciating 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.


For two, 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.

Again, feel free to give them what they want within your budget, but don't go into ‘unnecessary” territory.

“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. 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.

Happy Christmas Santa

By all means, enjoy Christmas! Make it the best one ever! But don't use your dollars as a cop-out for making that happen. Put some thought, heart, and creativity into it and you won't need to spend a dime to create the greatest memories of your, and your child's, life.

“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. So it's safe to say I'm not scarred for life, and it hasn't caused any permanent damage. More importantly, 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.


Again, be sure to check out Part II (helping us figure out why we shop the way we do) and Part III (with actual numbers and budget guidelines) as well. You'll be happy you did 🙂


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  1. AvatarElizabeth says

    For the second year, I will be practicing: one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing to wear, one thing to read. I’ve found this keeps me on budget while still allowing for a fun item.

  2. AvatarWani says

    Thank you for sharing this! I think there is so much pressure out there to spend a lot at Christmas these days. We have gradually been cutting back the past couple of years because its getting harder every year – more nieces and nephews, more inlaws, etc. My siblings and I finally decided to draw names instead of everyone buying for everyone. Once you add up the gifts from mom & dad, two (or more) sets of grandparents, aunts & uncles, etc… it gets a little overwhelming. I think parring down and keeping it simple benefits everyone.

  3. AvatarJenny says

    Great post! I sometimes struggle with overbuying, and am going to try to do better this Christmas. Also wanted to point out that buying used is a great option for American Girl dolls, as long as your daughter isn’t convinced she needs the brand new “girl of the year.” Lots of women have their old dolls packed away in a closet and may be ready to sell if you just ask around. There are plenty of them on eBay too, and while the bids go pretty high, there are some deals to be had. I actually gave my daughter my own childhood Felicity doll for Christmas last year. Then at a yard sale over the summer, we found Julie and Saige plus a wagonload of accessories for $65, being sold by a sportsy young gal who wanted to buy some new athletic gear. I just about fainted. Then when I posted about it on Facebook, my friend offered us her Addy doll for free, and all I had to do was spend a couple of hours getting her hair untangled! All that to say that the market is rather saturated with used AG dolls, and I’d sooner fly to the moon than buy one retail 🙂

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