HO HO HO!
Just like that, the holiday season is upon us!
This year, I intend to do most of my Christmas shopping during a three-week tour of Europe with my cousins. We're deliberately visiting as many Christmas markets as possible, so I hope to find a variety of interesting and unusual gifts for my family and friends. (They need to be small, though. I don't have much space to carry things home.)
While I'm buying new (and possibly expensive) gifts this year, that's not normally my style. I'm a fan of keeping Christmas frugal.
Being a frugal shopper doesn't mean you can't give thoughtful gifts though. In fact, my experience has shown that it's often more fun and rewarding to impose limits on gift-giving. These limits breed creativity and inspiration. “Christmas on a budget” doesn't have to mean “Christmas without fun”.
This article contains some smart ways to save money on Christmas gifts while celebrating the season. (These tips are great for Christmas, for Hanukkah, for Kwanzaa, for Festivus, or for whatever feast you celebrate this time of year.)
It's an amazing frugal Christmas savings spectacular!
What Kids Really Want for Christmas
I have this idea in my head that kids become mercenaries at Christmas, demanding the newest, most popular toys. I'm not sure how I've arrived at this notion because that's certainly not how my brothers and I were when we were younger. Sure, we wanted cool stuff, but we never made demands.
In fact, Dad used to tell the story of how ashamed he was one Christmas when he and Mom were going through a particularly rough patch. They were always poor and struggling with money, but this year was especially bad. They couldn't afford Christmas presents for us three boys. Rather than cry about it, we went through the toys we already had, wrapped them up, and gave them to each other.
I have only a dim memory of this myself, but Dad used to talk about it often.
This bit of personal family history reminds me of Unplug the Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. This book urges readers to escape the commercialism of the holiday season, to make it a “joyful, stress-free” time for the family. In a chapter entitled “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas”, the authors write:
One concern voiced by most parents is that of shielding their children from the excesses of holiday commercialism. While adults can mute the TV when the ads get annoying, children are defenseless against the onslaught of ads. As early as the age of four or five, they can lose the ability to be delighted by the sights and sounds of Christmas, only to gain a two-month-long obsession with brand-name toys. Suddenly, all they seem to care about is how many presents they will be getting and how many days are left until they unwrap them.
Many parents find it a challenge to create a simple value-centered Christmas in the midst of all the commercial pressure. But the task is made much easier when parents keep in mind the four things that children really want for Christmas.
Robinson and Staeheli argue that children don't really want clothes and toys and games. The four things they actually want are:
- A relaxed and loving time with the family. Children need attention. During the holidays, normal family routines are temporarily set aside for parties, shopping, and special events. It's important to slow down and spend quality time with your kids.
- Realistic expectations about gifts. Kids enjoy looking forward to gifts and then having their expectations met. The key is to manage their expectations. You might try, for example, to educate your children about advertising in an attempt to mitigate its effects.
- An evenly paced holiday season. The modern Christmas season starts months before December 25th, when the first store displays go up, then things end with a bang on Christmas day. The authors suggest beginning the season late in the year. Get out the Christmas music on December 15th, then get the tree on the following weekend. Schedule some low-key family events during Christmas week. Stretch the season to New Years Day.
- Reliable family traditions. When I talk to my friends about what Christmas was like when we were children, it's not the gifts that we remember. We recall the things we did as a family. I remember sleeping next to the tree every Christmas eve, but never being able to catch Santa in the act. I remember seeing the cousins. I remember decorating the trailer house. Your kids will remember the traditions, not the gifts.
Because I don't have kids, I don't have first-hand experience with their expectations around the holidays. Other folks in the GRS community do, though. A reader named PB, for instance, emailed some similar thoughts. She writes:
We keep our children's expectations realistic by following an old tradition — that Santa fills the stockings and only the stockings — nothing under the tree. This limits the size and quantity of gifts. Plus, because they're all relatively sure what they can and cannot wheedle out of parents for tree presents, their expectations are kept in check.
We buy one new outfit for each, usually a special piece of clothing that they really want, and spent only about $100 per child. I also shop all year long and get some real bargains.
We also emphasize doing a lot of things with our church — food delivery to the elderly, singing at nursing homes, and service to others. Our ongoing tradition is a big Christmas eve dinner with lots of friends and then the midnight service, where we all play an instrument or sing in the choir. This is what the kids talk about — not about what they receive.
It seems that the key to keeping kids happy at Christmas is to manage their expectations. But what about exchanging gifts with other adults? [Read more…]