Is it possible to give too many gifts? As parents, could you be over-gifting at Christmas time? Will giving too much spoil your child or set a precedent you can’t keep up?
For our oldest daughter’s first Christmas, like any new mom, I was eager to buy her lots of cute and fun things. Of course I would be sure to get a great deal on everything (because I just can’t help it), so I knew there wouldn’t be a problem with overspending.
My wise husband was not worried about money either, but he was concerned with overgifting.
“She’s 9 months old,” he reasoned. “She already has plenty of toys and books and clothes. She doesn’t need anything.”
I couldn’t disagree. She didn’t need anything, but I wanted to give her something. I wanted her to have presents to open like the other cousins, aunts, and uncles. We all know that kids (and grown-ups) love tearing through colorful paper.
We compromised by making her something. Together we made her a simple sock puppet we ended up calling “Monster.” It wasn’t fancy, didn’t cost anything, didn’t create clutter, and wasn’t excessive. It was made with lots of love by mom and dad.
That was enough. That was what she wanted and needed. And that’s what I needed.
Since then, we’ve been careful not to over-give to our kids at birthdays, Christmas, and everyday occasions.
Because we held back our (my) initial desire to spend and spoil, we have maintained reasonable expectations while keeping enthusiasm high and the true spirit of the holidays strong.
Maintain Reasonable Expectations
We don’t give our kids the latest and greatest of everything, so they aren’t constantly expecting more and more. Not having TV helps, too. Our kids are excited about what they receive even if it isn’t brand new and doesn’t have fancy big box store packaging. We buy some things new, but many of the gifts we give were purchased second-hand. Our kids don’t know the difference. They are also happy to get clothes and necessities at holidays (yes, even socks and underwear).
A few years ago we gave our two older children (then ages 4 and 5) bikes that we got at the thrift store for a few dollars each. With a little cleaning up and adjusting, they were just fine. The kids were thrilled and did not even notice that they weren’t brand new.
Another way we maintain reasonable expectations is by avoiding wish lists. I am not a fan of Christmas wish lists. I don’t ask my kids what they want for Christmas. Because I know my kids, I have a pretty good idea of what they’d like. I want my gifts to be thoughtful and heartfelt, not just checking off someone’s requests.
Keep Excitement High
The natural result of maintaining reasonable expectations is that excitement remains high.
Since my kids don’t have a list of expectations for gifts, they are pleasantly surprised with whatever they get. They are not de-sensitized to true thoughtfulness.
It might seem counter-intuitive (which is why spoiling can be so tempting for parents), but, in my opinion, kids who don’t get everything they want are happier and more grateful than those who do. Does Veruca Salt ring a bell?
It’s actually good for kids to not get everything they want. It teaches them to be content and grateful for what they do have. Kids (and adults) who always get what they want are always wanting more and more (and bigger and better). When kids grow up getting everything they ask for, real life hits pretty hard. Learning gratitude, contentment and compassion comes easier when we start young.
For most of our children’s birthday parties with friends, we have asked guests not to bring gifts, but instead bring donations for the local food bank. The kids were excited to enlist their friends’ help do something important for their birthday, and they LOVE going to the food bank to deliver the food they collected on their birthday. They still got gifts from us and from grandparents, but we didn’t have new toy overload after birthdays.
Keep the True Holiday Spirit Strong
Instead of talking about what we want for Christmas, we talk a lot about what we want to give at Christmas. Our kids love making gifts for others and really pour themselves into it. They are as excited to see us open gifts they made for us as they are to open their own gifts.
When my oldest was 5, she “made” me a shirt by adding some sparkly embellishments. She enlisted Daddy’s help to reach her vision of what she wanted it to look like. She could barely wait for me to open it up. Of course I put it on immediately. Whenever I wear it, it gets a lot of attention. She just glows. I love that.
Focusing on service is another great way to keep the true holiday spirit strong. Instead of focusing on our own wants, we can teach our kids (by word and deed) to give of themselves in service to others. Our family was inspired by this video to be more intentional about serving others this Christmas season.
The Biggest Favor We Did Ourselves
Giving a simple, thoughtful, made-with-love sock puppet to our daughter eight years ago was the perfect gift-giving precedent to set.
I’m thankful that my wise husband steered us away from the slippery slope of extravagant over-gifting.
Of course it helps our budget, but more importantly it is helping us raise grateful, happy, and thoughtful children.
Is it too late to scale back?
I don’t think it’s ever too late to scale back on holiday giving extravagance, no matter how old you or your kids are.
Start by changing the expectations. Talk to your family about simplifying Christmas giving this year. You can make it about money if you want, but it’s perfectly fine to simplify for simplicity’s sake.
Help the discussion to be a positive one. Be excited about the opportunity to be more thoughtful and intentional with your gifts, rather than spending and spoiling. Help your children focus on others and use their talents to give meaningful gifts.
There may be some growing pains as you scale back, but I would rather console my child who didn’t receive an iPad like his kindergarten classmates now, than deal with a full-blown Veruca Salt later.
How about you?
- How has your gift-giving precedent helped or hurt your holidays?
- How have you made your gifts more heart-felt or less commercial?
- Is anyone else a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas wish lists?
This probably goes without saying, but just to be clear, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on parenting. Just like you, I’m figuring things out as I go.
This post was originally published Dec 8th, 2014.
I read this all of the comments and reply’s to this text and, as I love to here people socializing and talking, there was onky like 2 people I agrreed with. I feel like were all losing sight of “Christmas spirit” its not about weather you write to santa. I get like 30 presents at christmas time and I am extremly grateful, I take time to thank the person that gave it to me, then I use this item for years and years to come. If its something I dont perticularly enjoy then, I am more than happy to donate it to kids in need. But, as I see what you saying about NO OVERGIFTING! then, your missing the fun memories, laughs, joy finding that perfect present for her/him. I know 2 people that get only 3 presents every year an done is a total brat and the other is the sweetest kid I know. see, it doesnt matter if you give 3 or 30 gifts, its the love behind it that matters.
Sending this to my daughter, we call her Veruca Salt all the time. She such a diva. Made that way by daddy. Thank you for sharing on Merry Monday! Hope to see ya next week!
Amber from Red Two Green says
It can be really tricky to strike a balance here. Gift giving makes the holidays so exciting! Its why the littles can hardly sleep on Christmas eve and it makes waking up on Christmas morning SO FUN. But, at the same time, like you said, it can create sort of a sense of entitlement. Instead of the season being about family and spending time with loved ones, it becomes about “whats in it for me” type of mentality. I’d like to give my kids gifts, and also, the gift of not being entitled. Tough to balance but important to think about. 🙂 This year, while we are paying off our $600k of student loan debt, we have limited our Christmas budget to $100 for our whole family. Time to get creative!
There are so many ways to cut back on gifts for kids! I took a look at your blog and it looks like your daughter is still a baby. Second-hand stores have excellent quality toys, books, and clothes, especially for babies. Often they look brand-new and quite often, with stuffed animals, they actually are brand-new. Make play dough (it’s dead simple to make and lasts forever if you keep it in a ziplock bag) and throw in some old cookie cutters (if you don’t have any you don’t use, ask around; cookie cutters breed.) In future years, stock up on crayons and markers at back-to-school sales or, even better, the clearance sales that come after the back-to-school sales. Think ‘kits’ – a baking kit (make a couple of cookies-in-a-jar, throw in some cookie cutters and a mixing bowl from a yard sale, make an apron – the easiest way to do this is to take an old pillow case, cut off one side, hem it, cut straps from the other side, hem them, and attach to the side you’ve cut off); a craft kit (some cheap crayons, a few pieces of printer paper stickers, and whatever stuff you have laying around from your hobby – bits of fabric, beads when your kid is past the let’s-put-everything-in-my-mouth stage, wooden offcuts that have been sanded to make sure there are no splinters, literally, anything); a “doctor” or “vet” kit (since your husband is a dentist I’m sure he has access to things like plastic syringes and bandages that are past their expiration date and so can’t be used on patients, even though they’re still sterile and have never been used and are perfectly good; throw a few of those in with a well-washed meat tray and a disposable face mask from your husband’s work and you’re good to go; if you really want to go fancy, for a doctor’s kit throw in a second-hand baby doll or for a vet kit throw in a second-hand stuffed toy). You can put together a dress-up kit with some old clothes from your closet or costumes from second-hand shops. Etc. These gifts will look pretty impressive but cost virtually nothing. Babies and toddlers (and let’s face it, older kids too!) LOVE to look at pictures of themselves, and you can often find a coupon for a cheap or free photobook (Artscow often has them for around $5 for a 6×6 book, delivered) so that’s another option. That’s also a great idea for grandparents or parents, because let’s face it, parents and grandparents also love to look at pictures of their kids/grandkids! You can do this!
I think raising grateful children is much deeper than just not overgiving and not writing letters to Santa. Why do I say that? Because we definitely overgive, and we do Santa letters, and my kids are incredibly grateful, not at all entitled, and excited about everything, even a pair of socks. At 10 and 7 (almost 8) they don’t have mile-long wish lists, and never have; when we ask, “What do you want Santa to bring?” they shrug and say, “Whatever he wants.” (Which makes shopping hard! I know my children very well; but they are ridiculously easy to please, so finding the “perfect” gift is incredibly difficult, since they’re happy with anything.) They are in public school but never come home asking for the newest toy. They’ve never been influenced ads. I’m not sure what the secret is; I think having pocket money helps because they understand what things cost and also understand if there is something they really want, they can save up for it and buy it; I also think that having exposed them to fairly deep poverty through travelling also helps. My husband’s strong economic/finance background means that money-talk is a normal part of the household and my strong development background means that talking about poverty and all of the things we have, that we just take for granted (clean water, good schools, etc.) is also a normal part of the household.
We won’t always overgive; and we don’t overspend; many of their gifts are freebies, things I’ve made, or things we’ve bought second-hand. As they get older and their wants start to get more expensive (assuming that they ever start making a wish list) we’ll explain, This is how much we spend on Christmas, it’s up to you how you’d like us to spend it. That’s what my parents did with me, and it kept expectations in-check and never made for less festive Christmases or unhappy birthdays. (Unlike my kids I did always have a mile-long wish list.)
I agree, Becca!
Carolyn @ Raspberries in the Rough says
My great-grandmother loved having an abundance of gifts for her kids. So much so, that she would let them wear hole-y shoes and clothing so that she could save the money and give those necessities as gifts at Christmas. I guess I’m kind of on the same page. I try to put off things that we need or I know we would buy anyway, and wrap them at Christmas time. I try to do one or two “fun” items as well, especially secondhand. Consequently I’m really just regrouping most of the Christmas money from other everyday categories like clothing, hygeine, etc. We commonly received items like toothpaste or hair ties in our stockings as kids, and I have carried on the tradition 🙂 Plus, I know that as the only grandkids on both sides of the family, my children are bound to be spoiled. As far as Christmas lists go, we don’t do them with our kids, but I gave up when it came to extended family. Giving gifts is really important to them and it makes everyone’s lives easier if I furnish a list (this list also includes a lot of items that I know I would need to buy eventually).
I love this post, Stephanie, as it speaks to my heart. I have 3 kids. They are all girls. A 21 year old, 8 year old, and a 4 year old. There is a significant age difference between my kids. When my oldest was young, and the only child, I lavished her with expensive name brand gifts and big parties for birthday and such. I see first hand what this can do. As an adult, she is very into name brands and the cost of everything and how much everyone else can “do” for her. She is a good girl and will learn in time that life is about more than that. I now set a price limit on each child and get everything at a huge discount or use coupons. I have a friend who spends $300 per child and she has 5 kids! I do have a price limit but if I find some great gifts for less than my limit then I stop there. My younger two have never really asked for specifics things. They just ask Santa for surprises and are always happy with whatever they get. They also are unaware of name brands. I know this will change at some point, as they are in public school, but it makes me so happy to see their faces when Santa surprises them with something they didn’t know they would love. My middle child even wraps up her own homemade surprises herself for us to open at Christmas. Thanks again for the great post!
Linda Smith says
My parents were Depression-era children & grew up very poor. They went on to make careers & good money. I was an only child yet I received one main gift (always high quality) and then things such as pjs, slippers, etc. It’s much easier with small children but it’s still possible with older kids. I’m raising teen-aged grandkids now & it’s tough on Social Security, but I never want them to feel “poor”. They are not greedy & both worked summer jobs & saved money for gifts. I’m very proud of them; they’ve never “asked” for anything. I do buy that one quality gift for each.
When my girls were younger I had the same idea’s to keep things simple. For our family xmas has been such a huge holiday with lots of gifts. Still as an adult my parents are very generous as they can afford to be. I am not a home schooling mom so my kids are in a public school. It is very difficult to have to say no to what others have. So a few years ago I started getting my girls their 1 big gift from mom and then about 6-7 other smaller gifts. In our society today it has become much harder to not want this or that,but we always talk about it is not what we have,but what we can give to others. My girls understand this and are very thankful for what they receive.
My kids are in public school too. My kindergarten son, often comes home and tells me about the fancy toys that other kids bring in. Of course he wishes he had some of them sometimes, but that is a precedent we don’t want to set. I think there is greater benefit in not giving kids everything they want. That’s good that you focus on giving to others and that your girls are grateful.
I don’t have kids (yet).. but I like the idea of NOT over giving. I see a lot of families who just give their kids everything they want.. I don’t think that is necessary!
I think it’s not only not necessary, but giving your kids everything they want does more harm than good in the long (and often the short) run.
[email protected] says
My family has been all over the map as far as gifts go. We’ve had huge Christmases and meager ones. One of my favorite Christmases was when instead of presents for our family, we “adopted” a local family that was down on their luck for Christmas. It was all anonymous, but with enough generic information and a few of their requests, we were able to make a difference. I remember we bought the mom a coat and that made me really happy.
Just like they say in the in Grinch- Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Perhaps Christmas means a little bit more.
It definitely brings an exciting and meaningful dynamic to Christmas when you’re focused on giving and really trying to make another family’s Christmas special. The Grinch figured it out! 🙂
We’ve tried to keep the Christmas expectations down, but it has become much harder since our son got old enough to compare his presents to those of other children. What doesn’t help is other family members, random strangers, and song lyrics overheard in the store that proclaim (paraphrased) “Santa is watching, if you’re good you’ll get lots of presents.”
We do accept a wish list – our son has several sets of things that he likes to collect, and it would be very hard to know which specific items he’d most like to have. We try to be very clear that he won’t get everything on the list.
We do have his major present(s) come from us, with a small gift and some stocking stuffers from Santa. This has helped keep the focus on family and less on Santa’s largesse.
Just the other day, a stranger in the grocery store was asking my kids what they were asking Santa for for Christmas. I just smiled and politely said that they will be thrilled with whatever Santa decides to give them.
I think it does get harder as children get older and compare with other kids. It’s a fact of life that some people have more and some have less, so it’s fine for kids to notice and learn that everything isn’t even and fair. But it is hard. I think it’s easier to teach contentment to children than to spoiled teenagers or adults.
Thank you for this post! We love making handmade gifts for our daughter (okay, for everyone! :))…We’ve been blessed to receive a lot of items as hand-me-downs from her older cousins so she doesn’t need very much. That being said, I still want to give her something for her birthday and Christmas! 🙂 For her birthday this year we had fun making an ABC book–I illustrated it and my husband designed in–and then we used a great coupon for Shutterfly to have it printed. Makes me happy to see her running around with the book we made for her. All that to say, I agree that you don’t have to give your kid(s) piles of things. 🙂
That’s awesome Jennie! We made a photo ABC book with pics of our kids (most candid) about 3 years ago and they still LOVE it! We had copies printed for grandparents and cousins families too. Since we all live far apart, it’s fun for them to see lots of pictures. Handmade gifts are great! 🙂
sarah @ little bus on the prairie says
I loved this! The battle between gratitude and expectations is one worth fighting!
Agreed Sarah! It comes up in life again and again. It’s really sad to see adults who haven’t learned to be grateful and expect to get everything they want all of the time.
Thank you so much for this post! I have been trying to think of a way to not have presents at our daughters parties. Asking for food bank donations is perfect. I want to instill the ideas of charity in my 2 and 1 year old and this is a wonderful solution.
It has worked nicely. When people say “no gifts please” on the invitation, lots of people invariably bring gifts. Asking for food donations allows people to still be generous and bring something, but it goes to a much better cause than cluttering up the house with toys.
I love this article! I would love to start this sort of tradition with my future children, though it will be challenging since gift giving is definitely a “love language” for both my parents and my husband.
It will be a challenge, but I think if you really focus on thoughtful and meaningful gifts and don’t over-do it on quantity and giving them everything they want you will be just fine. 🙂
Emily @ Simple Cheap Mom says
So far I think we’ve been pretty good about keeping the stuff we give our daughter pretty low. She’s only two though now. Plus she’s spoiled by the grandparents.
I like to be surprised at Christmas, so I’m ont he fence about lists. This year my parents and in-laws kept asking for our list, so I sent them a list of about 100 things. I’ve tried to tell them I don’t need anything, they press on, so this is where we’re at. Now I’ll get a surprise and they won’t feel pressured to buy everything on the list. If they don’t send me a list back in return… never again.
For our daughter, she’s two, so she’ll get excited about any gift and just be happy to be around her big family.
My in-laws always used to ask for lists, but I think they’ve given up on us since we never made them. 🙂 That’s fun that you asked for a list in return though! Parents and in-laws are always so hard to shop for (at least for me).
I’m in complete agreement with you, Stephanie! It has always been very important to me that we keep gift expectations low, but the excitement high, in our house, so that they our children are content and appreciative of what they do receive.
That is so lovely that your daughter ‘made’ you a shirt last year, and is so delighted when she sees you wearing it! My 5 year old son is always so happy when I wear the gorgeous pasta necklace that he made me last year. It just melts your heart to see their lovely, happy little faces….
YES! My mother-in-law regularly wears pasta necklaces that the kids have given her. I really makes them feel special and loved!
We just had our first child a few weeks ago. I know she will get gifts from family and friends, but we are holding back from most gifts this first year for sure. We do have a stocking for her and I’ve crocheted her a couple of gifts that I wanted to make for her anyways. We are planning to do three gifts and a stocking with her for future Christmases – a way to tie together with Jesus’s birth and keep the gifts more reasonable inside our home.
I love that you’re crocheting for her Meredith! Handmade gifts are wonderful. Even at 6 1/2 and 5, my older two still prize the things I make for them above store bought things.
We set the precedent of giving 3 gifts, because that’s how many gifts Jesus received + 1 Santa gift. Right now we keep it SUPER simple because our kids (4 and almost 2) have no monetary comparison. Most gifts are $1-5 and something we know they want/need. I also try to avoid wish lists and TV influence.
That’s a fun 3-gift tradition Jody! It’s nice when kids are too young to compare and don’t care about monetary value.
My sister shared a saying that helps ME to stop looking, and sets up reasonable expectations for the kids. “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” The saying is not original to our family…I’m not sure who shared it with my sister.
I’ve heard that saying before too and I think it’s great! I think it’s perfectly fine that gifts are useful and needful, and not just extra “nice things.”
Stacey @ creatingmyhappiness.com says
My daughter is 3 (almost 4) and hasn’t started asking for things yet. When we’re walking through a store she’ll get excited by what she sees, but she’s easy to get back on track by telling her that that’s not what we’re there to buy. You’re right that it comes down to setting the right tone. I do buy her gifts at Christmas and for her birthday, but I limit myself to 2-3 things I know she’ll get a lot of use from and spark her creativity. I also make a point not to buy anything advertised on Sprout because I don’t want her to realize she can have the things she sees in ads. 🙂
Now if only I could get my parents to stop giving mounds and mounds of stuff…
I love the innocence of content kids! Thanks for sharing Stacey!
[email protected] says
With our first, I swear we didn’t even make him a birthday cake until he was 3. With each kid, the expectation goes up a little because they see what their older siblings are getting. But I agree that it’s nice to have kids with reasonable expectations. One thing we did last year was take them to them to the dollar store to get sibling gifts. Then they anticipate seeing the siblings open their presents almost as much as they anticipate getting their own!
At birthday’s we started a “party with friend’s one year/ family party the next” cycle. Our kids don’t mind and they really like having both. We’ve also started when they do have friends for a birthday party (and we keep that number manageable) having what we call a Toonie party (that’s a two dollar coin here in Canada!) Instead of a gift, their friends bring 2 Toonies – one for the birthday child and one for the birthday child to donate to the charity of their choice. My child usually gets around $10 – 16 to spend, but they LOVE giving the charity money, and often just end up donating the whole lot. It prevents needless spending for their friend’s families, brings less clutter into our house with things we don’t need, and keeps the emphasis on celebrating their special day with friends.
What a fun tradition with the Toonie giving and giving to charity! Thanks for sharing Sarah!
Sarah – I LOVE this idea and I’m totally going to steal it (I also live in Canada). My kids are 5 & 7 and when we’ve done the friends parties I’ve requested no gifts but rather a $5 or $10 contribution towards a group gift. This was always well received by the parents and then I was able to purchase 1 large ticket item i.e. bike which reduces clutter and is practical. But I love the donation idea. Thanks for sharing!
Nichole @Budget Loving Military Wife says
I love the idea of not having a wish list because it sets up expectations and possible disappointment instead of contentment and gratitude. My mom is a big (over) gift giver and to explain our desire for less “stuff” in this way… she will “get it.”
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective and how your family keeps gift giving simple and heart felt!
I hope it helps to explain over-gifting to your mom like this. It can be a hard topic to address with family because they are just trying to show love and be generous. Good luck! 🙂
We have always had a set limit on each of our kids. They are grown now and have spouses. We only give 1 big gift to the couples and a couple of smaller gifts.
That’s great that you set a limit from the beginning!