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Holiday spending -- what's enough and what do kids REALLY want

Between grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, we've heard "So what do the kids want from Santa this year?" quite a few times.  Worrying that we will have 26 more Matchbox cars to trip over, 17 DVDs and books (well, actually there's no limit on the number of books that can come into this house!), 6 long-haired dolls, another Disney stuffed animal or three, or 4 more massive firetrucks to add to our growing collection of toddler-emergency-vehicles, I have politely asked each person, "Please don't get anything big, and here's an idea or two of something small the kids may like."  

[By the way, I have certainly gone the "Oh, you don't need to get them ANYTHING!" route...but telling this to Nana or a godparent just doesn't fly, I have learned!  I know the kids will get presents from friends and family, so I'm just hoping to limit the toy-explosion in our home.  I am doing the "smaller-gifts-and-less-of-them-please" requests partly out of necessity and practicality (our house isn't very big).  Of course, I personally would love to splurge and buy them 35 toys each -- seriously!   But, we are keeping a tighter budget this year.  Christmas was always about lots of presents under the tree for me -- from $2 hairbrushes, and hand-crocheted blankets to the latest jeans and Barbies.  Opening gifts on Christmas day at my house growing up was like a big "thanks" to our loved ones.  I do like that tradition, personally, and I think my husband and I try to replicate it.  However, the sheer size of gifts -- and hopefully the fact that someone else will be buying many of them -- is a little different for us since we started our own family.]

For sure, I indulged a LOT for each of my kids' first Christmases -- buying too many clothes and a hoard of toys that they could probably play with for a few years.  I think that's normal for many folks;  we all want to spoil our kids sometimes, right?  But this year, with two toddlers with constantly changing likes and dislikes, I personally don't want our house swamped with a ton more toys.  I can't imagine what it's like for parents of older kids (we are not in the "Mom, can you buy me that toy I saw on the commercial?" yet...thankfully!  Good luck to all of you who are!)

All this chatter about holiday gift-giving makes me think "HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?" and "WHAT DO KIDS REALLY WANT FOR CHRISTMAS" (or whatever holiday your family celebrates).  I've noticed it's hard to be in the middle of going overboard with toys and gifts and being practical and asking for gift cards and baby supplies;  among my mom friends, it seems parents are taking one of those two routes.

Local mom Lisa told me:  "We have a 5 week old and we aren't getting her anything. We got her a stocking and an ornament but no real gifts. We wanted to set people straight from the start, practical stuff only.  We live in a tiny condo and are trying to avoid bulky plastic toy build up (jumpers, exersaucers, ball pits, etc.) so if people ask we give practical answers. We also don't want her growing up expecting a huge amount of gifts at every holiday."  Lisa also added cloth diapers to a list she gave her mother in law -- genius!

I would like to say I feel a little guilty this year because my husband and I are spending maybe $40 MAX on each kid for the holidays...but then I think I should be pretty proud that I'm not over-doing the gift-giving (and not breaking the bank)!  I know my kids love playing with educational toys at school and museums, so throughout the year I've paid attention to toys at these places which I know they don't have at home.  I asked my sister to buy them Magnatiles, which are extremely sturdy building tiles that lets them create castles and pretend Hotwheels car garages.   I've asked godparents to buy cheap DVDs that we can use in the car on road trips.  I have picked out $20 toys for each kid for grandparents (though I know they will throw in some extras -- some big, some small, I'm sure).  I also know we will finally be getting an iPad as a gift from one family member.  However, true to my thifty-self, I have researched refurbished older-models and insisted that this be the only gift for the whole family, and not just for one of the kids.  (I also requested a year's membership to one of the NJ children's museums, which they love -- and I know "Santa" is sending that from Florida.  Hee.)

'How much is too much' is essentially a personal choice.  If you can afford a pony for your 10 year old -- fantastic!  If you're going the dollar store route for Santa's elves, that's awesome!  If you're asking your child to donate one of his gifts to a needy child (something we plan on doing), that's great, too.  It doesn't have to be "in moderation" -- gift giving, in my opinion, should be whatever works for your family.  If you had amazing memories of ripping into dozens of presents under the tree growing up -- then you should by all means replicate that for your children if you want to.  

My friend Natasha, who just had her third child, told me she hasn't even started shopping yet -- but she plans to get quite a few things.   "I'm normally overboard with the gifts because Christmas was always a big deal growing up and we always got a lot from my parents, aunties, uncles, grands, etc. My oldest child has only asked for four things -- no big ticket items though."  She says she will probably get her newborn a "little toy";  even though he's a few weeks old and can't play with real toys yet, she says she has to get him something because "although he has no clue, I'll know and that matters to me."  As for her toddler, I can totally see some girlie stuff under the tree!

I know some mom friends who are definitely buying their kids the coolest, top of the line tech gadgets.  I know other parents who are buying a ton of clothes.  Others I know are spending hundreds of dollars on gifts for their kids.  Some people would argue spending time with mom, dad, or grandparents is worth more than any present...and I wouldn't disagree!  Holiday toy-spending is so subjective -- don't feel any pressure that you "must" get this or that!

When you have a child with special needs, says local mom Alyssa, who has a two-year-old with Autism, it's a time to give (and ask for) therapy-related toys and equipment.  "This year we went a little bigger but that is only because we got him stuff he uses in his therapies so we can work on it at home too (with his Autism he doesn't play with much toys anyway)."

Another friend, Colleen, says:  "This year for my daughter's first Christmas we have to do something since my son is three;  so, she'll be getting diapers and formula. We have a family tradition of everyone getting socks and underwear, so that's a given!  My son's big gift this year is the Octopod (mainly because we didn't end up needing it as a bribe gift when we had the baby and already have it waiting in the wings).  We don't want to go overboard in the early years and set a crazy expectation."

Mother of three Jessica agrees, saying "There is never a mountain of toys under our tree...This year through shopping with co-ops we were able to do more than 4-5 gifts (which always includes winter boots). I don't buy junk that's going to be thrown away or little cutesy Christmas things. They get limited toys along with winter clothes, new sheets, and books. We try to do a bigger gift and then a few smaller ones. If there are 4 or 40 gifts under the tree they're just excited that Santa thought of them!"

Other moms use the holidays as a time to stock up on toys for later in the year -- or next year (totally something I do, especially for clothes I always ask for bigger sizes).  Local parent Tricia told me, "We have no expectations for our little one. Since she arrived six months ago, family and friends have been very generous with gifts and quality hand me down toys. Some are choosing to buy her 'first' toys that she won't use until later.  For example, my mother already bought my daughter her first American Girl doll. As for the older kids in the family, we try for 'experience gifts' rather than toys... like tickets to a Broadway show."  Fabulous idea! 

If you think Christmas is too commercialized, and you'd rather buy them stuff that they need when they need it, then that's a common-sense solution, too.  To all the Santa's workshop helpers out there, enjoy the holiday, spend what you can spend, and may your kids enjoy their gifts and time with the family.

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Comment by Chrissy Fleming on December 16, 2013 at 8:50pm

I agree with Beth -- giving experiences for the kids is a great gift!  Plus, I like to buy tickets for events or overnights a few months after Christmas so that the joy of the gift lasts longer :)

Comment by Beth Keklak on December 16, 2013 at 5:27pm
We have started getting more and more experiences for our kids instead of physical gifts. When they were little my parents used to give us family season passes to Storybook Land. Now I give them tickets to sporting events and concerts. It's a great gift that they love, it prevents more stuff coming into the house, and it is a guaranteed day to spend together. It's a win-win-win.


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