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How we help curb the ‘I want that!’s during the holidays

Awhile back in a Facebook conversation, there was a common issue with certain family members wanting everything under the sun, particularly during the holidays. It’s not perfect around here by any means, but I’ve found a few keys that help keep the “I wants” a bit at bay.

I’ve revisited this post the past few holiday seasons, so I thought it good to bring this up to the top of the blog again, in case you need or refresher, or if perhaps you’re a new reader.

Here’s how we handle the crazy gimme-itis so prevalent with the kids this time of year.

1. Limited gifts as a tradition

We’ve always done three gifts per person for Christmas, and no more. Our kids know to expect this, which means they know there’s a finite amount to the spoils they can expect.

Many other families do a “want, need, wear, read” tradition, and I dig that, too. Whatever the route you take, I find that setting—and then communicating about—a firm limit on quantity helps keep expectations realistic.

2. Avoid the stores

We very rarely take our kids inside a physical store during the holidays, and when we do, it’s more of an event-with-a-plan and not a casual browsing. Just like keeping junk food out of the house, there’s less craving when you can’t see it.

(We do have an annual tradition of giving each kid ten dollars and taking them to a local toy shop, where they each buy a gift for one of their siblings. That’s fun. We make an event out of it.)

vintage TV ad
Photo source

3. No commercials

We haven’t had regular TV in quite awhile, so our kids rarely see commercials. It’s almost funny when they do—they don’t really know what they are (“Mom, can you skip this so we can watch our movie?”). There’s a difference in their attitudes when they’ve been around commercials; they’re a bit whinier and aren’t as satisfied with their toys.

Do what you can to avoid traditional TV during December, and when you do see commercials, talk about them. Verbally dissect the advertisers’ tricks of the trade and help the kids become more aware with their blatant and intentional manipulation. It seems to diffuse their power a bit.

4. I like vs. I want

Year round, we ask the kids to tell us they like something, not that they want something. So when we’re in a store, or when we’re browsing the Internet, or when we’re flipping through a catalog, or when we’re at a friends’ house, the kids know to say, “I like that car.” “I like that doll.” “I like that game.”

It’s subtle, but there’s a real difference between telling us they want something versus simply stating the fact that they like something. Heck, I’ll even verbally point out to the kids when I like something. It helps them understand that they can appreciate something without necessarily owning it, and it’s a lot easier on my ears, too.

5. Give

We pick a different method of giving each year, and we get the kids involved. Some years, it’s been picking a name from a giving tree at our church, and shopping as a family for a present. We also make Christmas cards for our Compassion kids each year and send them with a little extra contribution. And we enjoy leaving a larger-than-usual tip for an unsuspecting waiter or waitress sometime during the season.

Giving softens their hearts. It softens mine, too. And it’s a tangible reminder that Christmas isn’t all about us.

Ideas to curb the "I want that!"s during the holidays

I also love Brooke McAlary’s guide for having a good, old-fashioned clutter purge leading up to Christmas. If your house could use a bit of toy decluttering, now’s a great time to do it. If you get the kids involved, it’ll help them appreciate the less-is-more approach to toys. Mine always do after a good purging.

None of these ideas are foolproof, of course, but they’ve really helped temper the “I wants” during the holidays. The kids still make a wish list longer than they’ll ever actually receive, but that’s okay with me. Dreaming isn’t the problem, especially when you’re already grateful for your stash of toys.

Alright, your turn—I’d love to know your tricks for keeping the “gimmes” at bay!

This post was originally published on December 3, 2013.

Reading Time:

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  1. Jen M.

    Do you mean that they only get three gifts from Mom and Dad or three total? You mention that they buy a gift for a sibling, but what about gifts from grandparents and other relatives? Just trying to understand.

    • Tsh

      For us, it’s three from Mom & Dad. Then the siblings each give one gift to each other (we have three kids, so we rotate who gives to whom—this year it’s oldest -> middle -> youngest). Then the grandparents give a few to the kids, but no one else in the family does gift exchanges.

      All in all, we’re talking a total of maybe 6-8 gifts. But only three of those are from Mom & Dad.

  2. Chrisy@GoodNorthCoastLife

    Great post Tsh. A really timely reminder about excess and overconsumption. It’s like the whole world goes mad this time of year. This year we’ve instigated a no present rule for adults, that’s really helped reduce the shopping frenzy !!

  3. Sarah

    In addition to no tv, I often recycle the catalogs before the kids see them. My girls have only made lists once or twice. instead we have an elf who sits quietly up high watching over all. he sees what we need and want and reports to santa. Each member of the family makes each member of the family a gift and we open on Christmas Eve. We have done this for over 10 years now and the focus of our entire season is on making and giving. The gifts on Christmas Day are almost inconsequential now.

    • Sharon

      My family has shared home made gifts for many years now and we always all had stockings even the grownups. Then of course the bought gifts were given on Christmas Day. It was unbelievable the amount of gifts we bought each other and the next day we had a a hard time remembering who bought what but what we had in our stockings and what we had made for each other always meant the most. I remember one of the greatest gifts I received as a Mom was my daughter handed me just a very small gift, We always wrapped our “made” gifts in a solid color piece of wrapping paper so we could tell the difference between made and bought, Anyway I opened it to find a small piece of wood. It had a funny looking picture on it that I didn’t recognize until I read the caption “Merry Christmas Nana”! It was a picture of an ultra sound of my very first grandbaby, my grandson, Jake who is now 10. I lost my daughter 5 years ago to cancer and every year we light a candle in her name as our gift in memory of our little angel who lightened our way every day with her smile. Yeah homemade gifts are the best and the most remembered! Mom & Nana with love,

  4. Tracy Alsterlund

    In our home, the list making cannot happen until after we have been thankful (Thanksgiving). I give them 5 days to a week to write down their list which is kept in their stocking. Then I quickly buy what I think is best of their list and tell them the shopping is done, no more need to look and like and want. Save your own money to buy it after Christmas. We also don’t put out presents under the Christmas tree until The Day. It works for us and the cat who when he was young sprayed the tree. Totally gross, but it led to our clean under the tree policy, which takes the focus off of the presents.

  5. Jen

    We are implementing the 3 gifts this year. I wish I had been smarter in years past. We do quite a few of your tips already and it does minimize the material excess that Christmas advertisers want for us. The true spirit of the season is abundant when giving to or helping others.

    • Fonda Rush

      Perhaps the “season” of giving should be all year long and not just in December.

  6. Robin from Frugal Family Times

    We do all these same things too, Tsh. We have for our kids whole little lives. It works well for us to have: a gift from us, a gift from their siblings, and a gift from each other. Plus their stocking filled with stuff they use up in the year, like craft supplies. It make for a peaceful, undemanding holiday season.

  7. Rita

    We try and do these things too. Seems like this is the first year I see the fruit in our children. They even came to me last week ready to do their toy purge.

  8. Jenn

    I’ve tried several of these but my daughter would still get the “I Wants”. But this year there is a girl in her class who lives in an orphanage. My daughter got to see in a very physical way the difference between I want and a true need! Her gratitude for her parents and home has increased exponentially. From now on I will seek out opportunities for us not just to serve needs but truly see them first hand.

  9. caroline

    When our children purchase gifts for others at Christmas and during the year they contribute half of the money from their savings/earnings and we contribute the other half. We’ve found this encourages them in their gift giving as it makes their small amounts of money go that little bit further and they put alot of thought and love into choosing their gifts. It also helps them understand the value of the gifts given to them.

  10. Kristin

    I love these ideas! We limit gifts at home, with one or two small items from Santa, and one larger item from mom and dad. I find though that it’s harder to limit gifts from other family members! My side of the family does secret Santa, which keeps it to just one gift. But my husband’s family insists on doing gifts to/from all of the cousins, which ends up being around 20 gifts. It’s out of control! My son is still young, so we end up hiding or donating a large portion of his gifts, but I’m nervous about dealing with this as he gets older. It’s just so excessive. Any tips on dealing with gift giving in large families?

    • JenO

      We had this same problem with tons of cousins when I was a kid. We switched our “gift” time to a game. Everyone buys a present for themselves ($20 or under) and wraps it in newspaper. At the party, there’s a bin at the front door to put them in. (or two, one for kids, one for adults). Then when we get to the time we used to open gifts, the kids each pick one and take turns unwrapping. As each gift is unwrapped, they record who they think bought it. In the end, each kid takes their own toy home, so it’s NOT about giving rather than getting. However, it’s just one toy per kid rather than 20, and they DO spend some time thinking about what their cousins like. the first year we did just the kids, but we had so much fun the adults started their own game the following year.

      • Tsh

        That’s a fun idea!

      • Karen T.

        Great idea, especially for cousins/family who only see each other once or twice a year (sort of a “getting to know you” activity).

    • a mom

      I wish I had some good advice,but since my try to do a name draw failed this year, I really need some ideas too. I have three siblings, and a total of 5 neices and nephews to buy for, and we have two girls. I suggested we draw names, but my suggestion was met with total resistance to the point that my s-i-l was upset and said they were giving gift cards at Thanksgiving to all the kids. We didn’t want gifts at Thanksgiving, as that is a holiday about being thankful, not getting things. So in the end we had to cave and buy for all the kids again. How to we go about changing when 3 out of the 4 want to change, but one is totally unwilling to do so?

      • Fonda Rush

        Stand firm in YOUR beliefs. Eventually, you will feel comfortable with your decision. Where is the fun when you reluctantly follow along? Be grateful for what is given to you, but don’t participate in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. It might be a good idea to let everyone know ahead of time how YOU plan to act, and stick to it. If your SIL wants to give gifts at Thanksgiving, accept them graciously, even if she refuses to listen to your request. No one is required to give a gift, but everyone must accept what they are given graciously. What you decide to do with that gift is also up to you. You could be snarky and announce that your gift card will be donated to such-and-such, but that would not be gracious. Tempting, but not gracious.

    • Tsh

      Kristin, I don’t have first-hand experience dealing with large families who like to give gifts to each other (ours just get together and play games, watch movies, hang out, eat, etc.), but I’m sure someone here does!

      Megan’s post from a few years back does a fantastic job of explaining how to handle the emotional, relational side of all that. Not a practical solution for you, but it may help as you look towards extended family situations this year.

    • melony

      We have family who give excessive gifts and request very long lists each year. The solution we’ve found that has worked the best is that no one is allowed to make their own list, instead they make lists for their siblings. This helps us maintain our values and focus while accommodating a relationship that is important to us but doesn’t hold to the same view of Christmas as we do, plus i think their love language is gifts. Because of the excess from these others, we also stopped giving gifts to our kids at Christmas and instead claimed Valentines day for our gift exchange time. No one else really knows this, and there isn’t any other obligations for Valentines Day, and we enjoy the pace for shopping in January!

      • Karen T.

        Great idea, Melony! Especially making lists for your siblings instead of yourself . . . that really encourages you to think about THEM and their interests. You’re still thinking about gifts, but not for yourself. Love that.

        • Thora

          My husband and I both come from large families (my side has over thirty nieces and nephews alone). My family has done a rotation for names for years (and it’s by family, so you can then choose to get that family one family gift, or individual gifts for each member of that family), and it has worked really well. We used to draw names, but people always ended up switching, and that didn’t work as well. Given the success with my family my husband and I were motivated to do the same with his family. This was harder, because in his family gifts are very important, and they grew up with a very large number of Christmas presents every year. We sold it to the siblings (All of whom, including us, were in various stages of advanced education or at home at the time) as a way of giving one much better quality gift than many cheap gifts. Also in his family it’s up to the giver whether to give a family gift to the married siblings or give individual gifts to the parents and kids. That has helped a lot with Christmas present overload, both for giving and receiving. One variation on this is where each cousin gets one cousin to give to, rather than doing it family by family.

          The real place we have made no headway in is with my husbands parents. Gift giving is very much how she shows love – it’s very important to her, and not just gifts, but physical gifts, and many of them. Over the years we have tried asking for less, tried talking about how little space we have (which is true, with five kids in a three bedroom house), tried asking for experiences (which they received…along with a lot of physical gifts), and tried everything else I have ever seen recommended. Although she is trying to give less, I have finally come to realize that it is not worth damaging family relationships to demand less, or to only accept a certain number of gifts (not that I have every done either…but I have been tempted.) And so we receive them, graciously. My kids also have great grandparents who send gifts, and a great aunt who always sends (good!) books, and so combined with even the reduced gifts from aunts and uncles and my parents (PJs every year) they still get a LOT from extended family.

          Realizing I can’t change others, my husband and I have started focusing on our own gift giving. Now we emphasize experiences more than anything else – we give an experience gift (last year a family membership to the zoo, for example), a gift that is something wanted or a toy, and then some books we pick up from our quarterly library book sale that we both want in our family library and that we know our kids will like as well. The one final” gift” is money we set aside and that we and our children together focus on giving to others at Christmas. That’s it.

          And with all of the excess presents we receive? We watch what our children actually use, and then we donate whatever is in good condition that is not being used. It’s not my ideal of having less and simplicity, but it works while also preserving family relationships, which is more important.

  11. Erin

    This is the first year we’ve successfully implemented “want need wear read” and I LOVE the simplicity of it. Since the kids were toddlers, we’ve also not put out gifts until Christmas morning, for practical purposes. But it’s a tradition we’re continuing because it keeps the focus off of gifts received, and places it firmly on Advent and gifts to be given. I love the idea of doing a sibling gift exchange – will have to borrow that idea!

  12. Rebecca

    We did the three gift each limit last year and are making it a tradition. Even my husband and I are limiting it to three gifts for each other. It really took the pressure off of not only the kids expecting lots of loot, but I felt liberated in shopping. I knew when I was done and spent less money. Also, it made me be very thoughtful in my shopping, since I wanted those three gifts to really matter and be great. We still do stockings, so they get some small items too that way.

  13. Marcie

    In addition to the things you suggested, we have had years when the children (now 8, 6, 3, and 1) don’t really get anything. Same for our extended family. We focus on Jesus and on giving, not getting. We don’t even have a tree (no space anyway) to put gifts under so that helps too. Instead we have a playable nativity set that comes out in pieces each year, we have simple traditions like dipping candles and putting up lights and a Jesus-focused advent calendar. We’ve never acknowledged the Santa myth except to read accounts of the true St. Nicholas. I love the simplicity and Christ-focus of advent.

  14. Emily

    Nice idea for sure – unless you’ve already started the tradition of giving waaayyy toooo muuuuch and are trying now to scale back with kids who are old enough to notice the difference. I would LOVE to see some suggestions for how to do that! I’ll be following along in the comments for sure.

    • priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

      you might try doing a family event (an amusement park, concert, riding lessons)- take lots of pictures and make a simple photo album to wrap in paper- when we took the family to Disneyland for our son’s sixth birthday, he opened the photo album for his actual birthday- plus 2 matchbox cars

  15. Erin S.

    I absolutely love the idea of limited gifts and we try to practice that but I’m curious what you do about excessive giving from other family members and how do you handle stockings?

    • Tsh

      Stockings are pretty simple for us, filled with both practical and fun. So, a new magazine, a toothbrush, a few art or school supplies, maybe a small toy, a tiny bit of chocolate, nuts, and an orange. That’s more or less it.

  16. Rebecca

    Same question as everyone else: how do you handle excessive grandparent gift-giving?! At our house it’s even worse, because my eldest’s birthday is on December 1st, so we have Thanksgiving, start Advent and begin the holiday season with parties and presents. Add to that that we live overseas so the grandparents compensate for time spent with the kiddos with over-the-top presents.

    • Tsh

      Hi Rebecca – Since I don’t have first-hand experience with this, I typically point people to this post regarding grandparents and excessive gift giving.

      Hope it helps some! 🙂

    • Amy

      Hi Rebecca,
      It always depends on family dynamics. However, in my situation I would request that due to living overseas and the logistics of eventually moving back, restricted space in your current situation, etc. (if any of those apply to you) that you would prefer your parents invest in your children’s future. Look into establishing a college investment fund. Have your parents buy your kids stocks in toy or electronic companies vs. the toys and electronics. Your kids may not be totally jazzed about it now, but when their freshman year of college is paid for it will be way better than any Christmas they could have had as a kid. It is also creates a good opportunity to teach your children about finances and investing.

  17. Sharon

    We are set up similar with 3 gifts per kiddo, one of them always being a gift. It has really worked well for us thus far (oldest is 14), especially with our adopted children who tend to get overwhelmed with the excitement and the stress of holidays. I think it helps alieviate some anxiety.
    We started something a few years ago that we all look forward to now. We call it “Jesus’ birthday gift.” We all throw out ideas for a few weeks of who/what organization we would like to bless, make our choice and then we all pitch in together (emphasis on sacrificial giving, not just out of our excess – and it can be giving time, too). One year we were able to give a gift card to a big box store for a newer immigrant friend and last year we contributed to the adoption fund of a family dear to us. Not sure what we’re going to do this year, but ideas are floating around already! I love how our kids have really grabbed on to this and are excited about it (well, most of them anyway!).

    • Fonda Rush

      Why just limit your time of giving to one time a year? Others have needs all year long.

  18. Virginia Gal

    I would like to know how you handle the santa factor, Tsh. Are the 3 gifts separate from Santa gifts, and how do you limit those? I have a hard time coming up with reasons why Santa only gives my kids one or two gifts when their friends get many more than that from Santa. Thoughts? Suggestions?


    • The Prudent Homemaker

      When I lived in France, families gave their children one gift–and it was from Santa. It was a well-thought out and wanted gift. I still remember what the children got that I was visiting on Christmas Eve:

      teenaged boy received a leather jacket

      young girl received a bead jewelry kit

      younger boy with Downs’ syndrome received a harmonica

      Watching the children open their gifts and seeing their excitement (and the parents tender care showing their youngest son how to use his gift) was really touching. I saw that one really loved gift was much more appreciated than a lot of STUFF. That boy wore his leather jacket to church every Sunday after that.

  19. Becky

    I think that this is an issue that seems to resolves itself naturally when the focus in the home year round is permanently on giving of one’s self and serving others. When considering others is a year round “normal” mindset for the family, Christmas isn’t any different. Pointing out the gimmicks in advertising is a great help too.
    In our family, our children don’t get much throughout the year. Gifts are a few wanted/needed items and stockings are filled with much needed under garments and socks with a few trinkets. Not intentionally but because that’s the way our finances allow at this time. Christmas gift-giving is more need than want and after a year of leanness, even the necessary seems extravagant. Because our children have such conservative lives, we as parents are every bit as thrilled as they are when they receive an abundance of blessings from grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

  20. Faigie

    Just reminds me of a text I sent my son who went shopping with my credit card recently. I said “please restrict your purchases to needs as opposed to wants”

  21. Jacque

    I really appreciate the idea of “I like vs I want” !! I need to start pushing that in our house – because “Ask Santa” is not the appropriate answer, yet it’s my go-to.

    • Carol

      Yes, Jacqui! I took the same thing out of the article. I love the “I Like” idea because I tend to say, “ask for it for Christmas”, but that still creates a mind set of aquiring. I am going to work “I like” into our conversations this year.

  22. Alissa

    I have the same question as everyone else – how to limit the abundance from relatives without being seen as a scrouge. (I recognize this is a really a first world problem!)

    We have tried directly asking, “Please keep the gifts under control this year.” and “The kids already have so many toys.” but grandmas are a stubborn bunch! Mostly, I think it’s a difference of perspective – what seems like a little to them is overwhelming to us when multiplied by two grandmas, aunts and uncles, visitors, etc.

    • Tsh

      Same post! 🙂 Such a common frustration, isn’t it?

    • priest's wife (@byzcathwife)

      ask relatives to contribute to the ballet class/art class/Spanish lessons fund! Or ask them to take the kids to a restaurant- experiences are so much more important than things!

  23. mare

    You may have heard this idea before, but we started giving just 3 gifts each to our kids…the same amount that Jesus got. It helps the kids really discern what’s most important to them. It saves money and space and wrapping paper! We also do a service project that gets the family to look outward instead of “it’s about me.” Over time, our holiday has gotten simpler, and I love it!

  24. Catherine

    “I like” instead of “I want” is genius. Simple, but genius. I’ll have to work on that with my daughter.

    We have not been limiting the number of presents and I know I spoil her at Christmas. This year I’m feeling a little more restrained and with a little brother on the scene it’s a good time for me to set boundaries for myself. It also helps to realize that it will help them too.

  25. Jen C

    My 7yo son was into the “Can I get” mode pretty severely last spring and summer. So we talked about the differences between “admire, desire, and acquire” and how to determine “want vs. need” between the desire and acquire stages. It was an instant cure and he uses these words regularly now, although it’s often in the grocery store . . . “I admire red grapes. I admire chocolate. I desire apples.” Other people will overhear and chuckle, but I’m just thankful that he understands and uses the concept in the right way.

    • Tsh


    • Karen T.

      I love that!

  26. Amy

    We do one gift from mom, one from dad, one from sibling. Our gifts are usually hand made, but not always. This year as part of our Advent Calendar I will take the kids out on a date night to discuss what they are going to give for Christmas. This way I can have an intentional discussion with them as to what they want to give and why. We also include a day of donation in our Advent Calendar “Pick three toys and donate them to Goodwill”. My kids ran upstairs and grabbed 3 things without question. In past years when writing our letter to Santa I have guided the kids to ask for one thing by letting them know that they are more likely to get what they ask for if there is only one thing on the list. I then follow through by getting them that gift. My 7 year old son now gives this lesson to his younger sister. I love when a plan comes together! I think one of the things to remember is that your hopes for simplicity may not look picture perfect this year, but with consistency over time you will see results.

    • Tsh

      Love these ideas, Amy! I think we’ll add that to our Advent calendar, too.

  27. Lisa Grace

    I like the “I like” over “I want” clarification; we used to be pretty good with it and somewhere along the way it disappeared. We are doing four gifts and a book for each child this year, and it’s one more gift than I wanted. So we are actually going to give each child one gift on New Years — and it’s a gift we can all enjoy playing that night together. It has become a New Years Eve tradition to stay home, play games and eat treats, and start the new year as a family.

  28. Carrie Mac

    Great post!
    Further to the like/want, we also point out like/want versus NEED. Helps to specify what ‘need’ really means.
    We stay out of stores in general year round, which is key for us. It helps me not to see all things I myself might like/want or supposedly ‘need’ so that I’m not modeling unhelpful consumer habits.
    We’ve never given in the to ‘gimmes’ so that phase is very short lived, if it happens at all. If they see something they want, we suggest they put it on their birthday or Christmas wishlist, no matter how far off those special days are.
    When those special days come, we ask which ONE of the items on their list they’d most like.
    We also love experiential gifts, which helps lessen the expectation that their will be oodles of gifts under the tree. Our kids know that gifts are also things to DO.
    I think the biggest thing we do to curb all the holiday insanity is to stay home.
    We snuggle in and use this as our most ‘nesting-est’ month.
    Lots to be said for baking cookies for neighbours, turning over the say on our advent calendar, story walks on the deserted beaches, decorating the tree, and generally avoid the Cult of Busy.
    Thanks for the post!

  29. Franziska

    Love the post. Especially the like vs. want part. I’m kind of partial regarding the three gifts. I grew up with this rule and it kind of took the surprise out of Christmas. When we were older, we knew how to tailor our list to get what we “really wanted”. So we had a pretty good idea what we would get – and if we wouldn’t get it we would be disappointed. We definitely limit gifts but we make sure that there are some stocking stuffers that are real surprises 🙂

  30. Visty

    I like what you said about teaching proper dialogue. I have done the same thing with my kids, showing them that we can window shop and catalog shop and like all the pretty stuff we see, but we don’t have to want it in our rooms. Wanting and liking are not the same, for sure.

  31. julie

    I love this post and all of the comments. This may sound nuts but we’ve always just given our kids one Christmas gift (they’re six and four now). They also get one small gift from each set of grandparents, one for each other, and one from my brother’s kids. It’s not like we even originally set out to restrict it, but since it’s what we’ve always done, they don’t expect anything else. They each get about 5 gifts total at Christmas and love it. We’re still getting a lot of “I wants” around this time of year, so your suggestions are so helpful.

    Other ideas: my in-laws’ decided awhile back to stop exchanging Christmas gifts altogether, and on my side of the family we do a fun adult exchange: White Elephant style but we set a price limit and pick out cool gifts for the exchange like a bottle of wine or craft beer, gift cards, etc. The focus of Christmas gatherings is always being together, food, and new memories more than stuff, and I love it.

    I feel thankful to have two sets of extended family who are trying to live simply and I recognize these things can get really tricky if you’re family doesn’t understand that. My only advice is that our family habits have come through several conversations about preferences and expectations over the years, so maybe that conversation would be really freeing for some extended families who are trying to trim up their budget. Maybe you could gently keep at the conversation by asking for a compromise if ideas are polar opposite?

    I have to say my kids are totally happy, love Christmas, have plenty of toys, and just know they won’t get everything on their list. Is there some disappointment? Yes of course, but that’s life.

    • Ina

      We do the same: one gift from the parents. We don’t do gift exchanges with friends, because it tends to get out of hand. Family members do give gifts, but not a ton.
      The gifts we give this year:
      Just-turned-5 year old: a book
      3 year old: a drawing set
      2 year old: a play shop register
      6 month old: nothing (sounds harsh, but what is the point?)
      I have been told that this is child abuse and that my kids will grow up feeling unloved. Imagine that!

  32. Robyn

    In the month of December we have my daughter’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, my neice’s birthday, my dad’s birthday, my SIL’s birthday, and my Grandma’s birthday (she’s 87 this year!). And then there’s Christmas… I could scream. Seriously… And last year I did. And this year we made some major requests and major changes regarding Christmas b/c it’s just all so overwhelming. Lets go ahead and ignore the fact that every weekend day this month is filled with parties and gatherings and gifts. literally. Dealing with JUST CHRISTMAS we’re going pretty radical, and are loving it thus far. We’re doing a project along with our church called “the greater good project”. You take what you normally spend on christmas gifts, cut it in half, spend half on yourselves (as a family) and give the rest to a charity of choice (this year it’s microfinancing local small startup businesses for people whose income is under the poverty level). The children in our congregation voted on this charity and are behind it 100%… They spend a lot of time in Religious Ed. talking about giving and the greater good year round so this is a nice chance to do this). SO. Considering that money’s been tight around here, half of our spending on ourselves is 1 $25 gift per person in the household. Then the kids get stockings with craft stuff and “needs” and probably some candy… and that. is. it.
    My kids are young so I’m anticipating some groans as they get older… but maybe not so much if we set the precident now and back it up with our own and our congregation’s beliefs regarding holiday giving.
    As far as the extended family goes: We really made some family members mad this year by telling them “no gifts”. Period. Of course… I still have the same question regarding excessive grandparents as everyone else… and I’m all ears! Esp. with my Dad who worked an extra MONTH in his seasonal job just so he could buy ALL THE GIFTS IN THE WORLD for us all… and has a hard time expressing himself in any other way…

    • Thora

      We have family that gives a LOT of gifts as a way of showing love. Finally after years of trying to get them to give less I am realizing that my husband and I will never be the major gift givers at Christmas (and I’m not willing to compete, even if I could afford to), and that family and good family relationships are more important than having less things and having a simpler Christmas. We have tried to shift the focus on extended family gifts away from Christmas by having kids open presents via skype in front of grandparents not on Christmas morning (good for everybody and it lessens the craziness of stuff on Christmas morning). But ultimately we have let them give our kids things, because to force them not to would do real harm with our relationships, which is what is most important. (And then after a while, usually a year, we give away any toys in good condition that our children don’t use, and we also rotate the toys in and out to deal with clutter and mess in the meanwhile).

  33. Archer

    These tips were so awesome that I shared a lot of them with other moms during our preschool kid drop-off. Best One: I like vs. I want. Thanks!

  34. ohamanda

    Love this, Tsh!

    We also don’t make Christmas lists. We like to make lists about what we want to get for others. But not stuff we WANT.


  35. The Prudent Homemaker

    We have talked about likes. One thing I like to do is to be more specific. “Why do you like that?” “What do you like about it?” It helps them break down the elements of the item to recognize what is appealing about the item (and sometimes what isn’t appealing about it). This also helps me to understand their particular style, and because I make gifts, I can get a better understanding of what they really like so that I can give them something that is more their taste.

    I also don’t hand them toy catalogs. Advertisements go in the trash. It helps me and it helps them to be more satisfied with what we have.

  36. Rebecca

    While we don’t limit Christmas gifts per say, they don’t get an excessive amount but we don’t have a number and do Santa, as it is a beginning of believing in something you can’t see, we do go to the dollar store and shop for the family member that we gift exchange with on Christmas. The kids really like shopping and thinking about what others would like and enjoy participating in the wrapping and giving. (they are 5&4). We also during the year sometimes just go to the toy store to look but not buy, we talk about that before in the car, I think it’s good practice for learning you can look at something and not have to have it and we don’t get something every time we go to the store. Usually only on special occasions. Also, they make Christmas lists but usually are not anything they really want, but it’s okay to dream and it’s a good lesson that you don’t always get what you want and that’s okay.

  37. Helen

    Here (Norway) its quite common to only give one gift per child.. So no one is really disappointed if that happens. But then again all grandparents, aunts and uncles also give them gifts..

  38. Marie

    My 5 yr old says I want all year long but as holiday season rolled around I wants turned into temper tantrums. So I downloaded a naughty nice app that let’s me decide whether they are naughty or nice by where you press on the reset button. And me and my mom told him separately that Santa called us both and yelled at us for spoiling him too much. Btw we actually did not plan that.

  39. Meredith

    LOVE the “I like” vs. “I want” distinction! In all the trips I’ve made to the grocery store with my boys (3 and 2), I have never thought of that! You can bet it’s getting brought out the very next time we go shopping anywhere, though. The 3 year-old in particular has a really hard time not asking for everything he sees, and I get so tired of saying “no”, or of constantly reminding him to be grateful. “I like” might just give him a way to talk about what he sees without immediately asking for it. Seriously. I feel like I’ve made an amazing discovery here.

  40. Jacquie@KCEdventures

    Great advice! We also limit the junk mail/toy catalogs – just recycle them before they even come in the house. And yes, the less time in stores the better at this time of the year. We’ve also shifted how we give our gifts. We also follow the ‘limited gifts’ theory and always give our kids books each year. But instead of giving them on Christmas, they receive their books on the first day of their winter break so they can enjoy them longer.

  41. Victoria

    You mentioned my favorite one, which is getting rid of commercials. I noticed a huge difference the year we switched from dish to netflix as our TV source.

  42. Dana

    We do not have kids so a lot does not apply. However, my husband and I practice simplicity with gifts and traditions with each other. We each make a list of books we want and that is what we get each other. We shop at our local indie bookstore which supports our local friends. We also “adopt” children from the bookstore’s Christmas tree and buy books for them. We choose a charity each year to give to….most often the Homeless Shelter or the Soup Kitchen. We go to church on Christmas Eve and out to eat and then get hot chocolates from Starbucks and ride around and look at Christmas lights. Then we watch all the old classic Christmas movies: Holiday Inn, White Christmas, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Muppets Christmas Carol and Elf. On Christmas Day after exchanging gifts we settle down to read our new books while chili or soup cooks in the Crockpot.

    • Karen T.

      Dana, that sounds wonderful! Now that our kids are grown (and we don’t yet have grandkids), that sounds like a holiday celebration my husband and I would love.

      BTW, I do still give my grown daughters (and SIL) Christmas gifts — a package of home-made time-honored Christmas goodies, some clothing or a book I think they might like, and some cash. Someday if we have grandkids, I plan to give only one gift (maybe a toy when they’re little, but craft stuff or books when they’re older) and plan a fun outing they can enjoy with their Grandpa and me.

  43. Linda Sand

    I will always remember Christmas 1970. We had one toddler and my husband’s siblings were teenagers. Their mom decided it was time for them to all be givers. So she said everyone was to give a gift to everyone else but she set a limit of $1 plus tax for gifts and free was good. Our daughter got a plastic accordion with two whistles in the handle; I got ear plugs to go with that. The popular teenager got a Hallmark Datebook. The new skier got a free bumper sticker that said, “Ski; you run into the nicest people.” And everyone got a freshly baked cinnamon roll and a pair of hand knit slippers. The mother got a set of jacks and we all sat on the kitchen floor and played with them. We laughed more that year than any other year.

  44. Patricia Harvey

    Hi! I just posted a blog that might come in useful at this time of year. It’s titled, “A Parent’s Guide to Saying No.”

    Society has changed much over the past twenty-five years. It used to be that we gave gifts that meant something to our loved ones. I remember shopping for hours just to find the perfect head-scarf for my mother.

    These days, commercial advertising tells people what they “must have.”

    Big-ticket electronic items – even for babies – have edged out flannel pajamas, puzzles, building blocks and wagons.

    Read my post, and see if you don’t agree: how kids respond to disappointment, and not getting everything they want, is determined by the parent-child relationship.

  45. Jody

    With 5 married siblings, 1 not, 10 nieces and 3 nephews our giving has changed a lot of the years. Currently we do family bags (each adult brings 1 thing to put into each siblings family bag. The neices and nephews draw names and buy one gift for that person wtih a specific dollar amount.
    The adults love the homemade treats, ornaments, notepads, etc. and the kids get one gift.

    In addition the adults pool some money together to donate to a charity in memory of our deceased parents.

  46. Fonda Rush

    It isn’t a gift if it is requested. It isn’t a gift if it is expected. It isn’t a gift if there is reluctance involved. A gift is something given from the heart. A gift is on-going and never-ending. A gift is sending energy into the world so that it continues, like a monthly contribution to a food bank or animal shelter. I am so glad I don’t have young children. I have 1 daughter, her husband and 8 grandchildren. From early on, their needs were not great. I can tell from the comments, that we are not the norm, and I am thankful for it. We treasure time spent together, because we live so far apart. I just have to shake my head at the excess that happens at this time of the year. I question why so many people are seduced into spending money they don’t have on things they don’t need for a religious holiday in which they don’t believe. There is no such thing as true altruism. Giving should make you feel good, so do it often!

  47. Deborah

    Last year I had the kids look at different websites for what they wanted to write on their Christmas lists to grandparents. So much I want this and that happened last December that I decided this year not doing that again. No lists unless asked. We looked very little like you don’t have cable so never see commercials. Love that. We also don’t go shopping to the stores the kids would like much. So the I wants were really curbed this year. I love how you rephrased the I want to I like. I really think it will change it’s meaning. Now you have inspired me to do a purge!! Love purging. Thanks for this article. Great read.

  48. Priscilla

    With having 5 children 3-13, we have tried multiple things. This year we will be purchasing them one gift to go alongside a gift certificate to be used later on.

    For my oldest we will be giving him a thermos with a gift certificate to a cooking class. This is something he has interest in and he enjoys taking lunches to school so it is a “need” that can assist him. I will take the cooking class with him which will allow us some one on one time which is limited having a large family.

    Out 6 year old really like cars/trucks etc. so he will be receiving a gift of a designing your car with stencils and such and then get a gift certificate for a monster truck show.

  49. Amy

    We have a set budget. With the kiddos being teens it is sometimes easier and sometimes more difficult getting their Christmas Wish. This budget includes new PJs (a tradition that they still look forward to), stocking stuffers, and the main gift. Sometimes their main gift will take up the rest of the budget. Sometimes other family members pony in on the main gift. In our family its about giving useful and thoughtful gifts. When they were younger we had them write/draw up a short wish list. This also helped them see the value of what they were asking for. It is also a great keepsake for me!

  50. Ashley Prendergast

    I really liked this article and the old fashioned pic of the family. I hope we can take the selfish out of Christmas soon and bring back its true meaning.

  51. Lina

    My parents really succeeded in that. Now it´s me telling them that I want less stuff. And what I have found to work quite well with myself is to give in once to have the experience. For example I had always wondered how luxurious it would be to get a manicure. And when I finally did, I realized it just wasn´t for me. I had wasted time and money on something that wasn´t important to me at all. But I am still glad I got that one, otherwise I would have continued to want it.

  52. Thera

    Having five children, we have always had limits. With Santa it was three gifts totaling no more than $100 per child, as he had other children all over the world to give to. There was a limit from Mom and Dad, also $100.00 per child and we ourselves limited grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. No more than $25 per child and less was always more than acceptable (kinda sorta forcing them subtly to pick quality over quantity. We also always encouraged them to pick things that would last, keep their interest etc. So the stuff they did get was truly wanted and treasured.

  53. Carol

    We had a bit of a financial crisis about 4 years ago and when Christmas rolled around we had very little money for gifts. (We have one son, he’s 9 now.) Thankfully, we were reading the “Little House On The Prairie” series and my son loved the Christmas chapters. So, we implemented “Little House Christmas” and we scaled our gift giving way back. Cookies and homemade gifts to family, no gifts to each other for hubby and me, and the “want, need, wear, read” gifts for our son. We also told family that not only were we scaling back or not giving gifts to extended family, but we wanted them to do the same for us. We have all we need and most of what we want, so we’d rather just be together and enjoy each other’s company and not fool with a bunch of gifts. Now that we are nearly out of our financial crisis, we will continue to enjoy a “Little House Christmas” and hope that our son will adopt that for his family in the future. It’s less stressful, less expensive, and keeps our priorities in line.

  54. Andrea Ewer

    Thanks so much for these tips! I have a 2.5 year old and we haven’t yet reached the “I want that!” craziness, but I’m sure we are getting very close. I love the idea of just 3 gifts from Mom and Dad, and the “want, need, wear, read” idea is brilliant! It helps me, as the main shopper, stay focused and intentional about my gift buying. I will definitely be teaching my son the “I like that vs. I want that” strategy the next time we go to Chapters! Such a good point to model this ourselves, too. Thanks again!

  55. Karen

    Excellent ideas.
    We have no children, except for our furry
    ones, We do give to a family in need
    and give through out the year.

    We do tend to go over board at
    Christmas, as we love going to the
    stores, seeing all the beautiful
    decorations, etc.

    We always have carried the tradition
    of gift giving to one another and of course
    from Ho Ho/ Santa.

    As we get older it becomes more difficult
    as to what to gift, it has become you
    need it just go buy it.
    Ex/ toaster, watch, etc ohhhh please
    no toaster under the tree.

  56. Rebecca

    I’m amazed by the number of families where the children don’t give each other gifts.
    I’m from a family of 8 kids and we always gave each sibling and our parents a gift. These were handmade or purchased using our pocket money – at 50c to $2 a week pocket money we earned, you learned to be creative.
    The fun was in the thinking and planning and trying to come up with something special for everyone. Mum always made sure the youngest were involved – many years we got chewing gum or a mini chocolate bar wrapped and given by the littlest kid.
    On top of that we got one special present from our parents. All these gifts were under the tree.
    Santa also came and delivered a pillowcase full of stuff to the end of our bed in the middle of the night. Santa was very smart and gave us stuff we needed or never got at any other time – new clothes, books, things we needed for school, lollies and some small special things.
    For the rest of the year we got a present on our birthday from parents and grandparents and an egg from the Easter Bunny at Easter.

    The most important thing my parents gave us is that lesson on saving up for a reason, and teaching us how to focus on each other rather than ourselves.

    I only have one child but I introduced him to pocket money at about age 4. He is 8 now and gets $2 a week plus gifts of money from others at birthdays. When ever he gets an attack of the ‘I wants’ I can calmly say ‘you can buy it with your own money’ and he has been learning to save for the things he really wants. His first big purchase was Skylanders which he really, really wanted and I really didn’t want. He saved for months and decided against spending money on other stuff to get there.
    It is brilliant for the supermarket because when he picks up something I just ask if he has his money with him. If he does he can buy whatever he wants. If he doesn’t then he can’t whinge because his money is his responsibility.
    At Christmas he handmakes cards and gifts for teachers. For birthdays he sends a drawing to each cousin and aunt/uncle and that teaches about putting time and effort into recognising that person and making them feel special, rather than just spending money on something they might not need/want/appreciate. He also makes a card to go with a gift we purchase together when he goes to birthday parties, although we are starting to move towards giving money rather than toys.

  57. Jessica

    We’ve used your “want” vs “need” tip fora few years now! Sometimes they forget but often correct themselves.

    One year, I bought a bunch of $5 Starbucks gift cards and let the kids pass them out to people they selected (Lowe’s cashier, postman, etc…). It was a lot of fun. It’s on our list of things to do for our “unwrapped” Christmas this year.

  58. Jlynn

    No Elf on the Shelf here. The kids know that Jesus and Santa love everyone and that everyone makes mistakes. No naughty or nice either. The expectation is they try to be kind and loving every day and that Jesus and Santa know this.

    Each child gets 2 presents from mom and dad and 1 from a sibling. The emphasis is doing things as a family for those who are less fortunate. Grandparents, cousins, aunts/uncles etc. still give gifts but they and the children know that for every gift the children receive they need to go through their toy box after Christmas and donate one. 1 x1 ratio. The children decide what toys to donate. Sometimes they’ve chosen to donate a just received toy instead of a favorite from their toy box.

    The kids are now 5, 7, and 9 and this has been their life since birth. When they were too young to make the donation choices themselves then mom and dad did it for them.

    As a family we buy gifts for a less fortunate family through a local charity. We also make random meals to share with neighbors throughout the year. Love is shown all year long, not just through gifts and not just at Christmas.

    That’s how we do it. Others do it the way that it works best for them. No judgements from us.

  59. Susan

    Two really great books that have helped my kids (boys age 5 and 7) learn the difference between wants and needs and how to approach the holidays are the Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes and Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear. It’s very easy for the kids to empathize with Brother and Sister bear and it helps me – when they get the gimmes I simply point that out, and they know what I’m talking about!

    For those of you inundated with toy catalogs, I recommend using I started using it a few years back and now we don’t get a single catalog in the mail.


  60. Allisson @ Paul's Window Cleaning Melbourne

    Cool advice, thanks for sharing it! Christmas is a very difficult time for every parent of a small child, because they want everything shiny they see on their way. We also have a tradition, but with us it’s only two presents. Commercials always find a way to make even the biggest piece of garbage attractive, so I don’t allow my son to watch them.

  61. Jacqueline

    i just gave my kids what i could afford, and some years are better than others, my kids are grown up and they are balanced they understand they can,t have it all, christmas is one day only, also with adults we usually go for a nice coffee and cake not too expensive and just have a laugh and spend time together, might be different with family haha, i just chose selective things and stop buying tosh just for the sake of it, i just can,t stand the waste and unwanted gifts it makes me cringe, also vouchers allow you to buy when you want and get what you want, i can,t stand pressure so the above works for me, love Jacqueline

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