With Christmas looming, everyone is thinking about gifts – and kids will naturally spend a lot of time thinking about gifts they’ll be receiving. Now that our kids are older, they’re taking a lot of time and energy thinking about the gifts they’d like to give, as well. With the way their budget works, they’ve each managed to accumulate a nice pot of money to buy those gifts, and they enjoy having the freedom to go out and do their own Christmas shopping for Mom, brothers and sisters, and (of course) me!
It’s great to be generous, but gift-giving also has to be kept within reasonable limits to avoid blowing the Christmas budget. Here are some of the ideas that we’ve shared with them over the years, and some of the lessons that we’re struggling with still today:
- Don’t go into debt to give someone else a gift. This one should be obvious, given the other planks in our platform. It’s a good lesson for adults, though, as well. When you don’t have the money to buy a gift, it doesn’t make much sense to put yourself into debt, just to give it away. The recipient would probably not enjoy knowing the sacrifice you’d just made.
- Don’t be afraid to let your kids know when you can’t afford to buy them what they want. Really this should be true anytime of the year, but sometimes we try a bit too hard to shield our kids from the reality of our finances. While it isn’t necessary to worry them if money is especially tight, it is a good idea that they have a realistic idea of what a Christmas gift is – and what is just too much to ask for. By setting up that expectation before presents are unwrapped, you avoid disappointment Christmas morning.
- It makes sense to save up some money to buy gifts later. This is a natural consequence of the first idea. Our kids save up $10 per month into a “gifts” budget envelope. This funds their gift-giving for birthdays and Valentine’s Day, with enough left over to buy some Christmas presents as well.
- Giving is sacrificial. One of the things that makes a gift special is when the recipient knows that you’ve sacrificed to give it. Giving away something you got for free doesn’t make a big impression, if everyone knows it cost you nothing. Similarly, when the recipient knows that you had limited funds to start with, even a $10 or $20 gift will make a big impression. Some of the most effective gifts are those which have no value – but include the commitment of a lot of time of effort on the part of the giver. It’s more important to focus on the act of giving, and the sacrifice on the part of the giver, than the impact on the receiver.
- Don’t give yourself gifts. Think about it – it makes no sense to say you’re giving yourself something. Who’s the giver, and who’s the receiver? What was the sacrifice? Sometimes it’s nice to be able to buy something you want – and that’s fine. Just understand that’s all it is. It’s particularly hard this time of the year, when buying gifts for others, to resist the urge to buy something for yourself. Black Friday sales and Door Buster Deals make the temptation to buy something now for yourself because it’s such a good price especially hard. In truth, this is probably the time of year you can least afford it. And we tell our kids, “If you buy that for yourself now, nobody will be able to give that to you as a gift for Christmas.” That usually works.
Christmas is definitely my favorite season. It’s so wonderful to see it all through the eyes of children, watching them grow and change – and seeing them learn the joys of giving and sharing. I can’t wait to see what they got me this year!
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