According to the most recent survey, the average American spends $271 per kid. This time of year, even last minute shoppers have begun to think about Christmas gifts for their kids. And a common question I hear among parents is, “How much are you spending on your kids for Christmas?”
I have 6 children, ranging from infant to middle schooler. It’s always difficult to specify an amount we spend on our kids because it varies greatly. We don’t always spend the same amount on each kid but we try to make the number of gifts and the excitement level they will have for them as equal as possible. To ballpark it, for the babies and toddlers we spend maybe $50-$75 each. For the elementary age kids we spend $100-$150 each. And the teenager? That’s tougher, because all the gadgets and clothes she wants are expensive but we never spend more than $200 on her, thanks to some strategic maneuvers.
Even if I had an unlimited budget, I wouldn’t spend nearly what a lot of other parents do on their kids. I see many middle class parents easily spending $400+ on each kid, and that’s not counting in another $100+ for additional gifts the whole family can enjoy. There is an immense pressure to give our kids a major gift to brag about to their friends or when they return to school from the winter break.
In my family, we are not completely immune from this pressure but we tend to take a slightly different approach. We put most of our emphasis on the excitement level, not the money spent. It turns out a $10 Thomas train for a 4-year old can be just as exciting as an iPad Mini for a teenager. It sounds crazy but it’s true. One Christmas, my third-grader wanted an Xbox One and with some probing, Santa came through. Obviously that was a big expense and we had this moment of pressure to spend another $300+ on his first-grader brother. But we didn’t. Our first-grader loves tools and mechanical things so we got him his own tool bag and a start set of real screwdrivers, hammers, sockets, and the like. We spend 80% less on his big gift that Christmas but his excitement for the new tools was actually greater than his brother’s for the Xbox.
The Xbox year was a bit anomalous for us – we typically spend half that amount on each of the kids that age. We have even had Christmases where we got away with only $300 total for the 5 kids we had at the time. In the end, our kids still love us! It turns out, kids don’t actually care about how much you spend. Ever spent $100+ on an American Girl doll or 500-piece Lego set that lost its appeal just days after the expectant unboxing? That’s why I generally spend less money and place the emphasis on the experience of unwrapping and playing together and matching their excitement levels for the gifts.
Here are 8 tips we use to make the excitement factor high but keep the expenses from lingering on a credit card balance:
1. We tend to save up things we would usually buy for them anyway and put them under the tree.
The experience of unwrapping is the most exciting part anyway. For instance, these gifts may include snow pants, boots, shoes, socks or outdoor winter toys. You may also think about items that need replaced for the kids (for instance, we need to replace the rechargeable batteries for the Xbox controllers) or think even smaller like festive snacks, hot chocolate, or other favorite pantry items.
2. We buy way in advance of Christmas.
We survey the toy aisle and clearance sections throughout the year and most importantly, we resist the urge to give all those cheap finds to our kids immediately. The most valuable finds oftentimes come during the summer – garage sale season. In fact, we unashamedly use garage sales as a primary Christmas source. The same goes for consignment shops and thrift stores. Some parents feel guilty about a second-hand Christmas gift, as it somehow negatively reflects on how much they care for their kids. Don’t believe it. It’s worth it when you can get your kid $300 worth of stuff for maybe $75 or less. Try eliminating those ill feelings by making these gifts “display items” instead of wrapping them, solving the problem of not having original packaging.
3. Stocking stuffers can be very affordable.
Stocking stuffers are almost always less than $5 items in our house and more often they are $1 items. The Target dollar spot and stores like Dollar Tree are your friend. We will even buy multi-packs of fun snacks from Costco and divvy them up into each stocking (cookies, candy, Larabars). Scratch-off lotto tickets are great too (one year my toddler won $100 and she bought the family a nice dinner!).
4. Babies love experiences more than expensive gifts
Babies are always tricky because we don’t want the older kids to think Santa forgot about them, but we also recognize that the babies don’t understand gift-giving yet. In our house, babies always get a few fun items (board books, small toys, stuffed animals) but they also get some filler items – baby food pouches, baby snacks, pajamas, a few loose diapers, teethers, tooth brush, and staple clothing or accessories like pajamas or hair bows. Truth be told, we’ve pulled some of these items directly from our own pantry! The name of the game is to make the quantity somewhat match the older kids but at the same time not waste your money on more than one major gift for an infant. Don’t discount the joy the older siblings will get from helping the baby open her gifts too!
5. Teenagers are always more expensive.
To help curb the cost with our teenager, we cash in our Discover card points for gift cards. Perhaps you have a similar credit card reward system where you can cash in $40 worth of rewards and get $50 in store gift cards. We have used this system for TOMS shoes, Gap, Old Navy and other stores she loves. There have been many Christmases where she has received $100+ in gifts and we paid nothing.
6. Don’t forget the grandparents!
When budgeting for Christmas, I also keep in mind that our kids have generous grandparents. Remember to share the kids’ Christmas lists with others. Sometime Santa delivers to Grandma‘s house – it’s a miracle! Also, with more expensive items like tech purchases, we have even shared in the costs with relatives.
7. We wrap family gifts to add to each kid’s stock.
This might include memberships to our local science museum or the zoo, movie theater gift cards, restaurant gift cards, board games or accessories to other wrapped items. Don’t underestimate how impactful a handmade coupon for “Donuts with Dad” can be as well.
8. Save on wrapping.
Even after you’re finished purchasing the gifts, you still have to buy wrapping paper, tape, labels and maybe some bows or ribbon to add a little flair. We always leave the biggest items (not necessarily the most expensive) unwrapped to save time and money on wrapping supplies. We also unbox almost every toy before we wrap too. I estimate this saves 30% of the wrapping paper for many gifts, plus unboxing them first leads to faster playing on Christmas morning, not to mention a more relaxing day with the frustration of tie strings and zip ties behind you.
Make this Christmas one to remember without breaking the bank. Keep your gift-giving focused on the experience of Christmas for your kids. You can find ways to enjoy the holiday season without spending so much.