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Save money and simplify things by setting a limit on Christmas gifts

Ashley emailed in the following tip:

We give each of our children three, and only three, Christmas gifts. Jesus also received three gifts from the wise men (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), so we figure if it was good enough for Him, then it is good enough for our children! We share with our children that they are receiving three gifts, just as Jesus did, and it makes the holiday more meaningful as well.

We also have set up a “genre” for each of the three gifts our children receive. One gift is always something useful like pajamas; one gift is money for their savings; and one gift is something they want or a “fun gift”. By limiting the number of “fun gifts” to just one per child, we are able to say “no” when we see something they would “just love,” but not love enough to be their “fun gift.” -Ashley

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  • says:

    Unless it’s a necessity we typically don’t buy our kids anything through out the year so we do splurge at Christmas. Our son’s birthday is on the 22nd so we also have a completely separate birthday so he doesn’t get ‘lost’ in the Christmas season. In the years when money has been tight my husband and I don’t exchange gifts so that the kids can have a good Christmas.

    The big thing that bugs me about Christmas is exchanging presents with my in laws. I’ve asked over and over again to stop the exchanging with everyone (we buy for 11 people on that side of the family) but no one else wants to quit. Buying and wrapping for 11 extra people on top of my kids gets pretty overwhelming. We stopped exchanging with my side of the family except for a gift certificate I get for my parents every year. We get a lot of junk that ends up going in the Goodwill pile, even though they ask us to put a list together. The only thing that was bought from my list were bath towels and those were given to my husband! Last year I gave everyone tickets to a play and took them out for dinner. I’ve already told them I’m doing the same again this year so hopefully they’ll come up with something creative too.

    At the end of the day every family needs to do what works for them. If giving three gifts works for one family that’s great, but I’m not going to feel guilty about giving my kids more. On the flip side we need to not be judgemental to people who celebrate differently than us.

    • says:

      I agree, Liz.

      I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments here, even though I know I couldn’t just do three presents.
      I do try to stay reasonable, but I also love that, “Wow!” moment when they come downstairs Christmas morning.

      Most all kids in this country are spoiled compared to the rest of the world. I like to think I’m teaching mine to be grateful as well (though it’s a work in progress)!

      At any rate, I always like posts that make me think!

      • dawn says:

        I could not agree with you more I love the look on my sons face Christmas morning! It is precious and he is growing so fast! I may go overboard but he is a great kid and he knows how to be thankful for everything he has. He also knows that he is very fortunate and he likes to give to others. I want my kid to be a kid and enjoy his childhood and I think that there is no greater time than Christmas to do that as long as he knows the real meaning behind Christmas!

    • jennifer says:

      Our families use to “buy” for everyone also. My husband finally told his mom enough was enough. He told her we were only buying gifts for the kids, and we did not want any adult to buy gifts for us. She was not happy the first year, but we found out his sisters had been wanting to stop the madness but didn’t want to be the “only one”. My side has long ago decided to only buy for the kids. I do get my grandparents, parents and sister something. The kids gifts are limited to around $10 each. I usually make cookies or candy to give to all the adults. This is absorbed into my grocery budget and does not really cost too much.

      • Joy says:

        That’s what my mom and I do; we make cookies for all the “adults” (neighbors, friends, etc.). It’s a dual purpose — cheaper and thoughtful gift, my mom and I get to spend the day together. It’s hard with our hectic schedules.

      • Guest says:

        I would second this. My husband’s parents did not want to limit gifts to adults only and my husband wasn’t willing to say anything. I spoke with my SIL and found out that it was putting a tremendous strain on their family and that Christmas had really just become a source of stress. I didn’t want to do it because we prefer a simpler house. She didn’t want to do it because they were buying things with money they didn’t have.

        My in-laws still send an almost embarrassing amount of gifts but we decided to thank them for it but not feel the need to reciprocate the same amount.

  • Amy says:

    Growing up, Christmas was never about US. I believe my parents did a wonderful job in teaching me and my siblings about the amazing gift of God’s love in sending His son to die for us. Because of their desire to teach us this great truth, they explained that our birthdays were OUR special days where we would receive gifts, but Christmas was CHRIST’S birthday where we are priviledged to GIVE the gifts in rememberance of the gift God gave. Every year, my family would work together to secretly help meet the needs of a struggling family in our church and leave a surprise box loaded with presents, food and money on the family’s doorstep each Christmas. Even as young children we understood that the reason we didn’t get all the expensive toys was because we had used the money to help another family. We were all quite content with our two small gifts that somehow just always meant so much more.
    This is the same meaning that my husband and I want to be able to teach our boys. Christmas isn’t a huge deal because of the gifts they think they are going to receive. Instead it is a celebration together with family for what God has already done for us. We want to teach them to be thankful for even the smallest gift and to truly understand the meaning of “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
    People all have different ideas as to what is appropriate for Christmas, but I would sincerely hope that the heart behind the excessive giving or lack thereof is not for any sort of self-gain. Whatever avenue helps your family truly worship God and reflect on Jesus being the “Reason for the Season” is the avenue you need to continue using!

  • Martina says:

    we are going to do this year the same, but we had a trial run for our sons birthday, were he was allowed to pick one gift from the store, he didnt want any other than that one gift. Thankfully we moved away from my inlaws caus the used to give gift just for the sake of having the most under the tree… last christmas my son who was 16 month at the time received 30 3-6 month toys just because my MIL taught it be so cute… we moved a couple of month later and donated them all.

  • says:

    That’s funny, because I tell my kids the same “3 Gift” rule for the exact same reason! It may sound harsh to some, but no worries. They have to gift eachother, they get santa gifts and presents from grandparents, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.
    I’ve been doing it for years, and I highly recommend it.

  • Andy says:

    I would like to remind those who complain about the excessive gifts from family that it is important to grateful to have family to annoy you with too many gifts. Not everyone is able to have grandparents to “spoil” them in their childhood. I once complained to my husband I disliked a wedding gift from my grandpa and he kindly reminded me that he had no grandparents to give him anything, not even well wishes. Just a thought.

    • Amanda says:

      I often think about this when I catch myself complaining. Just wish there was a happy medium….

    • says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment. When I hear about all the excessive over-abundance of gifts that most kids get from their grandparents, it makes me so sad that my kids will never get anything from theirs. Mine will be lucky to receive a single gift outside of anything my husband and I get them. Therefore, I tend to overcompensate.. but I do wish they had spoiling grandparents for me to complain about 😉

      • Andy says:

        Dawn…I do hope you dont fret too much about the lack of extended family. my husband says he doesn’t feel like he really missed out on anything by not having grandparents or lots of aunts and uncles….but he was sure surprised when mine took him in as another “grandchild” and spoiled him at christmas!

    • Lauren says:

      Yes! I know so many people whose children don’t have grandparents in their lives, (or they are not very involved) and would love to have some relative spoil the kids with a few gifts or outings. For Christmas my kids get a book from one grandma, and $10 from the other one. I can’t even fathom getting a boatload of presents from extended relatives. But the kids know they are loved, and that is the most important thing.

  • Marie says:

    I also love this idea, my sister-in-law does something similar. Three gifts-something to read, something to wear, and something to play with. I think its fantastic to teach your children that Christmas is not about receiving gifts, but about giving and doing for others. So many parents spoil their children with many presents.

  • Dawn says:

    Along with this Christmas gift giving theme, I am reminded of an email I received one year from and I am determined to make this happen in my family one year. Our society has become completely materialistic about Christmas and aside from the deep debt that we sink ourselves into year after year we seem to have lost the meaning of Christmas; giving and spending time with family.

  • Dawn says:

    A brief overview: don’t buy- find things you already have and swap. It’s such a FUN idea and turns Christmas drudgery into a game to share with your whole family. For mom, dad and kids everyone pools money together and then picks out THEIR OWN gift and acts surprised when they open it on Christmas morning. No more wrong sizes or having to fake a smile because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings because they got you something that you didn’t want or didn’t like. For extended family, everyone brings a few “gifts” from around the house, wrap them up and they all go in a pile. First person picks a gift and the next person can either “steal” that first gift or pick a new gift from the pile. It sounds like SO MUCH FUN!

    Here is a link to the email I received if anyone is interested:

  • says:

    We do this too! We read about a family who did while we were engaged and decided we would do it too! We did it with each other when it was just us and have continued it on with our children. Now, we do “play Santa” with our kids, so they get 1 gift from Santa, and then 3 from Mommy and Daddy, so we tell them they better make them good! Not necessarily expensive or big, but good! Glad to see others do this as well!

  • Lee says:

    I see a lot of people on here associating a lot of gifts with either a lot of toys or a lot of debt. My children recieve more than 3 gifts but we get no extra debt and not a ton of extra toys (not from us anyway). We usually buy our kids 1 bigger gift that is a toy a lego set for my oldest, a play set for the 5 year old, etc. there are usually a couple of smaller toy gifts but almost always they go with the larger gift. For example extra action figures to go with the playset. Other than that we usually spend our money on non-toy gifts. Books, a game (that is usually educational for homeschooling), cd’s to listen too, crayons, craft supplies, a decorative item for their room. I watched the first few years with my oldest son as most of his toys were overlooked at christmas and usually most of the year. You can have a meaningful christmas and still give your children a few things to look forward to. Also we don’t buy throughout the year. my chidlren get at christmas and birthdays, they wait and save up their allowances for anything else they want.

    As for grandparents I have 1/3 who listen, 1/3 who try to listen, and 1/3 who could care less. We have had unexpected hits from these gifts and big flops. As a parent I can only control what I do not that of others, only ask nicely!

  • Diane says:

    I have found this conversation to be very interesting and helpful. Although my children are all grown I don’t have any grandchildren yet. I have already decided that I will not be buying a lot of gifts for our grandchildren that instead I will get 1 or 2 items and then contribute toward their college fund. I like the idea of lessons, sports cost, and museum memberships. I know a young family living on an extremely limited budget with small children. The first year I purchased gifts for them I made an art box for each child. I now purchase 1 gift and art box supplies. I have also made it clear that my gift can be from them if they don’t have the funds to purchase any . I don’t need any credit.

    • ck says:

      Yes, this is a great idea. There are many families who cannot afford to give any gift(s) to their children. Two years ago, we were able to shop for a family and give the presents to the parents. The parents then gave the gifts to their children. It was a blessing to provide something for these parents who so desperately wanted to have gifts for their children, but couldn’t afford to do so. And of course, it delighted the children. As Diane mentioned above, we didn’t need the credit!

    • ericka says:

      That is a very wonderful thing to do! My children really could do without toys, but they LOVE their art supplies!

    • Guest says:

      You’ll be a wonderful grandmother! 🙂

      Experiences are so much more meaningful!

  • says:

    At my house I am grateful for the check that one of the grandparents gives us every year. I then get to choose how it is spent and it is never questioned. I am very lucky. Some years I have no budget for my children’s clothing and this check fulfills that need. Some years we appreciate new toys and games. At least every other year, I put the money aside for a special trip that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. My children know about this strategy and we look forward to planning our trip together. These memories will far outlast those extra toys that just get donated to our local thrift store. I am grateful.

  • Michele says:

    I have 3 daughters, all of whom are now in their late 20’s.

    For the past ten years, instead of all the Christmas gift pressure, we have a ladies only outing in January or February. As we live in the NYC area, we see either a Broadway matinee or a ballet at Lincoln Center, with brunch before the show. My 83-year-old mom, sister, 2 sisters-in-law and niece come as well. So instead of buying 8 gifts, for less money, we all have a great Saturday or Sunday AFTER Christmas to look forward to. We enjoy this so much that by mid-summer, we are already talking about what we want to see early next year! Last year was Jersey Boys, two years ago White Christmas, etc.

    Things were tight when my kids were little (I have twin boys who are 23 in addition to my 3 girls). The grandparents often bought the expensive toys (one year my late MIL, God rest her soul, bought them all American Girl dolls) and I made home sewn clothes for all the dolls. My daughters still talk about the velvet capes and dresses – one of their dolls actually won first prize for costuming at our local museum’s doll and teddy bear tea that year!

    I do agree that holiday spending is out of hand and takes the joy out of the season. I always had a “Christmas club” savings account, where a few dollars was automatically transferred from my checking account each week, and that check arriving in mid-October was a big help. (Still is – I continue with this even now.)

  • Kate says:

    I actually do not have children yet, but growing up my parents gave us lots of gifts, within a reasonable budget and placed more of the focus of Christmas on giving. They took us to do our Christmas shopping, and we each used our savings (we usually saved money specifically for Christmas shopping) to buy gifts for each other, our grandparents, etc. We also bought food items with our own money to donate to collections at that time of year. We still enjoyed a big Christmas, with a big pile of presents, but my parents made sure the focus was on giving to others was more important that receiving. My parents wanted us to understand that Christ gave everything for us, and it’s important to do the same for others, even when it’s only giving gifts at Christmas. To this day, i prefer shopping for others than opening my own presents.

  • Abigail says:

    Wow, lots of opinions on this topic…I guess I’ll add mine. 🙂 We have found a blessing in giving largely to our children and expecting/encouraging them to give largely in to others in need. For example when I was growing up, I had ONE special doll, my American girl doll. I would NEVER have given it away to anyone. I loved to give gifts, but I was trained to keep the special things as my own. For our own daughter, we have chosen to give very generously (and we have more means to do so) and she also freely gives away her very special toys. She knows that she is always blessed more in return. For instance, last Christmas, we gave her a reborn baby doll and recently she told me that she desired to give it to a child in need…I kind of gulped because this was a very expensive purchase and she plays with her doll continually. However, we gave her permission to give it away. For her birthday, we decided to give her a twin baby doll set and the first thing a family member said was that we were spoiling her rotten. I disagree. It is possible to give your child nice things, give them many things, but encourage them to give and they will not be selfish. Sometimes I think that severely limiting the amount of gifts given to a child actually can make them MORE selfish because they know that is all they will get.

  • says:

    I’m amazed that people think kids will become bitter and resentful for not recieving enough gifts. How sad!

    We do the 4 gifts.
    Something you need
    Something to read
    Something to play with
    Something you want.

    I know many Christian families do not do a santa gift but we do, and a stocking.

    Last year my child was so overwhelmed with her wealth of presents from us, Santa, Grandparents (2 sets several presents from each), and her aunts that she became cranky! Hubby and I decided this year we will open one present an hour so as not to overwhelm her. To me that sounds like too much. But maybe since we are adopting from an extreemly poor country (Congo) I see things from a different perspective. I’m sure those kids would love to get 3 presents for Christmas. Or even have a nice dinner with their family without any presents.

    • Bobbi Simmons says:

      My parents have 5 grandchildren and what they are doing this year is giving each grandchild a certain amount of money. The parents can do what they want with the money. We are buying one gift for each kid and the rest of the money will go into a saving account. I always tell my parents..spending time with them is better then any gift.

      Let grandparents be grandparents….if they want to buy them something, let them. 🙂

  • says:

    As a brand new Grandparent I would like to do whatever I want to for my grandchildren. That said I have a 26 year old daughter who has never grown up and frankly learned an extremely bad lesson from her father and her grandparents and god parents. They all would say that they would agree to limit and then they would make what I wanted not count for anything. To this day if I tell her No and it is on big things now like can you pay off 8K in credit cards I owe , she will just ask her Dad her Grandparents or her God parents and she always gets what she wants. This is not teaching her anything. When the lesson comes it will be very hard to swallow.

  • Jessica says:

    I try to focus my gifts on experiences, not objects. That way, they lead to more family bonding and more memories, instead of more “stuff.” The idea is always to go TOGETHER.

    Some ideas:
    – Concerts
    – Museum tickets
    – Movie tickets
    – Gift cards to a favorite restaurant
    – Spa day
    – National Park ticket fees / maps / gas cards (to get there)

  • K* says:

    A lot of the comments on this post make me sad. I really agree with the statements about teaching kids denial rather than forcing them to appreciate things. I think kids should be kids, and giving them practical items that parents should provide anyway as gifts seems sad to me. I understand that people have different financial situations, but still. You can love Jesus and keep Him as the very “reason for the season” while still letting some of the “magic” happen!

    My family was poor and very frugal, but my parents socked away $5/week all year in a “Christmas club” account that paid for all of our family’s gifts.

    I was raised very religious, and we still had Santa in our home. I truly loved the Santa myth! I loved it. I wasn’t hurt or bitter when I found out that it was my parents, I was excited to be part of the “secret” and keep it alive for my younger siblings. I loved and appreciated the gifts either way because we didn’t get much all year. I have amazingly fond memories of Christmas traditions, and of gifts and gift giving.

    • Kay says:

      Im not sure i quite understand your statement that…” giving gifts parents should provide anyway” is what you call sad. parents dont always have to provide new pajamas or a socks when their children have lots of pajamas already… it is still very much a gift and children need to see that.. if not let them take a trip to some place in Africa where they will realize they are rich rich rich! i don’t say that to take away the joy of gift giving of “fun” things seriously i love the “magic and celebration of the season…but that statement threw me off a bit

  • Irene R. says:

    My cousins were raised like this and they were always sad and upset that they did not get any “fun” out of their Christmas. Although I am not saying that this lead to their motivation to move away from their parents and not have such a close relationship. I often stop and wonder. They were very religious often not celebrating any holidays outside of Christmas. Although my parents didn’t have much money they provided just enough. I am having a hard time keeping up with the bills ect in our lives but I know that I must provide for my kids the way I was raised. I want them to feel the joy of opening the presents Christmas morning. Debt is just something we all tend to have. It will get paid off but for now, I want to enjoy my kids and show them some fun! I will try and save and try to find the best deals however my kid’s happy faces come first to me! To each their own though.

  • Meghan says:

    My husband and I just got out of credit card debt, we are going to try and set limits for Christmas gifts this year.

  • Deanna Schiesser says:

    LOVE this idea!!

  • Heather says:

    I am loving all these ideas shared here. I will share ours:
    My husband and I buy for one anothers stocking. We have a $20/per stocking budget and we challenge one another each with who can get the most with that money in our stocking. Now that we have a daughter, I shop for her stocking, but since she is 2 yo its filled with her favorite snacks, a book and a fun toy. As far as gifts go, for us as a couple, we usually buy something we can share…furniture piece or even a weekend getaway for just us two. For our daughter, who is an only child, she gets so much stuff from our family and friends that we the last 2 years just basically “filled in” with her “needs” for gifts as the rest of them just spoiled her rotten. We do have set up a college fund account for her and for christmas and bdays all her grandparents and great-grandmother put money in there for her. One set of grandparents— will only do the college fund—that is it…no extra gift…my mother spoils her rotten and you know what although I know its probably not the best thing….it only happens twice a year and makes my mother very happy and since she is a grandmother and can afford the splurges, we let her. We live in another state and don’t see her that often, so the spoiling is special and for us that is what works. She does ask what our daughter needs/wants (or experiences) and we tell her only 2 to 3 things that she can focus on those, which does help.

  • lisa says:

    While I like the idea of 3 gifts I really enjoy Christmas to that is too limiting imo. We tend to do about 10 each. Usually one bigger thing than the accessories that go with it.

    I also disagree with the ‘gift giving’ takes away from Christ ~ before any presents are opened we always read the Christmas story from the Bible. Now that the boys are bigger they can recite it. Then we pray together as a family.

    We keep Jesus in our homes everyday not just Christmas. My kids are not spoiled by any means they don’t get toys every time we go to the store and they don’t beg/ask for things. It is all about what you teach them along the way. Only doing it one day and Christmas of all days isn’t going to teach them anything but resentment. (I’m not saying that is what is being done I’m just saying make sure the focus is Christ based everyday and make sure you work on the ‘gimmies’ everyday.) 😀

  • Amy says:

    I’ve read through all of these posts, and I’m a little sad. There seems to be an undercurrent of competition and comparison among women these days. We should do what we think is best for our families, and not feel threatened if others make different choices. I see this all the time, even with friends. Why does this happen? I would love to see women support each other and raise each other up instead. We do so much as mothers, spouses, friends, neighbors, employees…let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.

  • Dineen says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading different families’ thoughts here.

    My husband I are struggling right now with our about-t0-turn 4 year old daughter and her “gimmees”. For the past few weeks I’ve been working with her on paring down her toys “so that she can have room for her birthday and Christmas gifts”. It’s very challenging for that young mind to understand that need to release things. Her birthday is mid-November and last year it seemed that there was a steady stream of packages that arrived from just before her birthday until the new year. She began to believe that every one of them was for her even when it was not. Having family arrive a few days after Christmas to extend with gifts from our out-of-state family just exaggerated that belief. It’s not hard to see how a small child can pick up the entitlement ideas.

    I guess at this stage of development, it’s a matter of teaching a young one to be really *grateful* for gifts and not just parroting “thank you”. My job as mom approaching her birthday is find out not just what she wants which are often passing whims, but what can really inspire deep abiding gratitude.

    After reading posts here about taming toy clutter, I began talking with my dad about the experience gift of a zoo pass, since our daughter has plenty of “stuff”. He was eager to offer such a delight to his little one and doesn’t want to wait for her birthday! The experience gift idea was much more accepted than I anticipated.

    One thing my husband and I decided when we were first married was that we wanted our children to have the experience of Santa, but we also wanted to separate the secular aspect from the real spiritual birth of Christ that Christmas celebrates. We have Santa visit on St. Nicholas day December 6. The night before he fills her (Mom and Dad’s too) stocking with candies, nuts, and a small toy or two and in the morning she opens it. Our small town tends to have a Christmas parade the first week in December, so she can see St. Nick “arrive” in town.

    We learn all about Christmas with Jesse tree stories, verses and ornaments. On Christmas day, we do not give gifts. We have a birthday dinner. We wait until Twelfth Night or Kings Day, Epiphany January 6 the day that commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men coming to worship the newborn Jesus and give Him gifts. On the day that Jesus got his gifts, we exchange gifts. This is not unlike some other cultures’ celebrations of Christmas; it’s just outside mainstream American.

    • Andrea says:

      She’s really young to fully grasp decluttering so she can get new things. She’s probably confused about having to give her toys away. When my kids were younger, I kept an eye out for the toys that they neglected. If something didn’t get much play time, I moved it to a bin in the garage. If they didn’t ask for it back after six months or so, I sent it to charity.

      Now that they are a bit older, I ask them if there is anything that they’d like to give away or sell in a yard sale. Two of my children freely give away their toys when they feel they are done with them. Two have a more difficult time parting with things.

  • Dineen says:

    I forgot to add that by exchanging gifts on January 6, we can take advantage of after-Christmas sales and save quite a bit. This doesn’t work for the “hottest” kids toys, but for grown-ups it can.

  • Alicia says:

    I have five children, two born in December, one in January, and one in February. (#5 was born in April) The holidays are not only hectic, but full of celebrations and birthdays. Because of our limited space in our home and also our limited finances, we have adopted the following for our Christmas gift-giving guidelines:

    “Something you want, something you need; something to wear, something to read…”

    I’ve seen some mention of this in the hundreds of posts above, but we have a slightly different spin. I love being able to spend the day with my children and extended family, and not make the focus on opening gifts. We also draw a name for the adults and have a $25-$50 guideline. In lieu of giving my children gifts this year, my sister gave us a Family Zoo pass and it is amazing. So, I guess we do a combination of all the above listed suggestions. Our Christmas is amazing and fun and filled with great memories. We also make a homemade treat (usually fudge) for our immediate neighbors.

  • says:

    We started last year with something I read in a magazine, and its very similar to this. Each kid gets the following:
    Something they want
    Something they need
    Something to wear
    Something to read

    Granted, at one and three, they dont express too many wants, so we gave them a toy appropriate for the age, but we followed the basic idea. Obviously as they get older, the wants will be different, but both my husband and I feel like this is a fair and reasonable way to handle Christmas. Especially when there are other family members (grandparents in particular) who buy for the kids as well. Even with our ‘restrictive’ (a friend’s description, not my own) list, neither boy was wanting for toys or presents. I love the idea of having a reason behind the gift giving, rather than buying and buying and buying.

  • Kathy says:

    We give our children “just because” gifts throughout the year instead of overwhelming them with tons of stuff on Christmas. Not that we don’t still go a little overboard, but we try to keep ourselves in check and make sure that we and our children keep the focus on Jesus’ birth.

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