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Save money and simplify things by setting a limit on Christmas gifts

Ashley emailed in the following tip:

We give each of our children three, and only three, Christmas gifts. Jesus also received three gifts from the wise men (gold, frankincense, and myrrh), so we figure if it was good enough for Him, then it is good enough for our children! We share with our children that they are receiving three gifts, just as Jesus did, and it makes the holiday more meaningful as well.

We also have set up a “genre” for each of the three gifts our children receive. One gift is always something useful like pajamas; one gift is money for their savings; and one gift is something they want or a “fun gift”. By limiting the number of “fun gifts” to just one per child, we are able to say “no” when we see something they would “just love,” but not love enough to be their “fun gift.” -Ashley

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  • Ashley, we have done this with our children as well. It does make it meaningful but it also takes the pressure off the family which is a gift in itself. I must say, there were years when I struggled with it but older and wiser moms assured me I would not regret it in the long run. Not just for the significance of it but just to “simplify” what has become a very hectic time of year. A great deal of that pressure is removed. We now have a new Ethiopian princess who is 4 and it will be fun to continue that tradition with her. Thanks for the reminder as the season is quickly approaching.

  • Tonya says:

    We do the same, 3 and only 3. After reading the Christmas story, we give each child 3 gifts, representing the 3 gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men. Buying only 3 gifts for each child, keeps Dale and I in check as we are doing our Christmas shopping, and allows the focus to remain on Christ, not the need for more, more, more.
    Later, as our children get older, we will deepen the significance of these gifts, by assigning a meaning to each one:
    Frankincense: A gift for spiritual growth. (A new devotion book, Bible or Christian CD.)
    Myrrh: A practical gift. (A new pair of jeans, a coat, a laptop for school, a car emergency kit.)
    Gold: A gift that fulfills a want. (An ipod, shopping certificate, jewelry, bike, MP3 player etc.)
    We celebrate Christmas based on God GIVING us His one and only son, who later GIVES His life as a living sacrifice for us! We want giving and not receiving to be the focus of Christmas.
    Glad there are others out there that agree!!! This world we live in has a BAD case of The Greedy Gimmies!!!!!

    • Mickie says:

      Love it! We only do 3 gifts each also but we have never broken it down. I may try that this year!

    • Becky says:

      We’ve always done three gifts as well but I never thought to connect them to the meaning of the three gifts Christ received from the three kings and I really like that idea! Thanks for sharing!

    • Christina says:

      love how you tie in the meaning of each gift given to Christ with the gifts you give. Love the idea of only giving 3 gifts!! Bookmarking this post and the comments for future Christmas’s if the Lord chooses to give us little ones! 🙂

    • I just wrote a post on entitlement, and I just love this idea. We don’t do any gifts right now (having a 18 month old) but I’m excited to discuss this with my husband about maybe doing 3 gifts for our family.

    • Sheena says:

      Absolutely beautiful! I don’t have any children of my own yet either, but I do have a nephew who is like a son to me. I will be doing this with him as well!

    • We have also only given 3 gifts each to each of our kids throughout the years, but more on a practical level as there were 7 kids and thats all we could afford! But I love attaching the gifts that Jesus got-the frankincense-spriritual gift, myrrh-a practical gift, and gold-a fun gift as a guideline to help keep the meaning of giving gifts in front of the kids. Thank you for the idea!!

  • Abigail says:

    This is great! We too only give 3 gifts, for a couple of reasons. My son was born 6 days before Christmas, so that’s a lot of presents in a short time. I want the thought of giving and being grateful for what you receive to always be important. Also, I want more children and I don’t want to spend thousands at Christmas time. However, we don’t exactly have it broken down in to three specific gifts. As he is now getting older it has become and excellent way to explain how Jesus received 3 gifts.

    • Mary says:

      I know the holidays aren’t about gifts, but being born two days before Christmas, it is not really fair if a child is given less gifts, because they were born right near Christmas. You wouldn’t limit the amount of gifts for a child born in June. They would still receive Christmas and birthday gifts. Just a thought. 🙂

      • Jennifer says:

        I agree with you. My son’s birthday is 8 days before Christmas. I have always made sure he did not feel like he was missing out just because his birthday is so close to Christmas. We celebrate his birthday like any other birthday. He gets his party with family, his cake, and all the wrapping paper is birthday themed. I have known people over the years who wrapped children’s birthday gifts in Christmas wrap because they are so close together. Every child needs to feel special on their special day.

        • Stephanie says:

          My birthday was three weeks before Christmas but I still got a party, cake and separate presents. The only time I received a combo present was when I was a teenager and wanted something quite expensive that would have eaten the entire birthday and Christmas present budget- it was my idea to not have anything to open on my birthday and have one gift at Christmas. My parents were not convinced but I begged so they went with it. I was thrilled and used that present for years and years.

      • Carol says:

        I had a friend who’s son was born on Christmas day – so instead of “sharing” his birthday they celebrated Christmas on December 25th and then had a 1/2 year birthday party on June 25. They always had a birthday cake for Jesus on the 25th of December, but there were no birthday presents given in December.

  • Pamela says:

    LOVE IT!

  • Tonya says:

    After reading the Christmas story, we give each child 3 gifts, representing the 3 gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men. Buying only 3 gifts for each child, keeps Dale and I in check, as we are doing our Christmas shopping, and allows the focus to remain on Christ, not the need for more, more, more. Later, as our children get older, we will deepen the significance of these gifts, by assigning a meaning to each one:

    Frankincense: A gift for spiritual growth. (A new devotion book, Bible or Christian CD.)
    Myrrh: A practical gift. (A new pair of jeans, a coat, a laptop for school, a car emergency kit.)
    Gold: A gift that fulfills a want. (An ipod, shopping certificate, jewelry, bike, MP3 player etc.)
    We celebrate Christmas based on God GIVING us His one and only son, who later GIVES His life as a living sacrifice for us! We want giving and not receiving to be the focus of Christmas.
    Glad there are others out there that agree in this world full of “The Greedy Gimmies!”

  • Jenna says:

    What do you do with grandparents gifts, etc? We tried to limit our children’s gifts last year with one from mom, one from dad, and one from the sibling. But, once the grandparent packages started rolling in we still had a bigger christmas than we wanted. Any advice?

    • Tonya says:

      We like to encourage the grandparent’s to go in on something bigger together, like a swing set or a train table. Another smaller scale version of that idea would be 1 gift that all could enjoy, a new board game or a mom approved movie.

    • Emily says:

      I say let grandparents be grandparents. This may sound mean…but they are spending the money on all the things you don’t want to spend money on. You get to spend your money on the necessities and your children are still blessed…

      • Grammie says:

        I agree with Emily! 🙂

      • Shauna says:

        I agree with Emily. I think it is hard to tell grandparents how they can spend their money on your child. I encourage them with different ideas but it is their choice what they want to give.

        • Debi says:

          I agree with Shauna. As a granparent I like hints as to what they need BUT I want to also get them something they don’t need. That is what grandparents are for.

      • Kristine says:

        I agree.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have to respectfully disagree in my situation. The amount of clutter that these items bring to maintain and clean hurt everyone in the household not to mention the grandparents go into debt trying to provide this unnecessary abundance. If the grandparents really cared for us, they would listen to me when I say that the gift giving is overwhelming and causes more problems down the road. Just maintaining the “stuff” my kids have received takes more free time than I have. This is time I could be spending with my kids rather than maintaining their overflow. It also brings hurt feelings when I try to yard sale it.

        I have also seen where my kids think they deserve a ton of toys all the time and don’t truly appreciate any gift they get. It’s just another thing they think they deserve. We try hard to chance this mindset, but when you have family from every angle going against your wishes it becomes challenging.

        • Stephanie says:

          In your case this is a problem because your extended family is not respecting your wishes and values. Would you feel the same way if they were providing experiences and not going into debt for it?
          You are the parent and what you guys say goes.

        • Emily says:

          Thats when you tell them if they want to buy that much stuff, they can keep the stuff at their house. Refuse to bring it home and I guarantee the buying will stop.

          • Helene says:

            I’ve been raising my grandson since he was 19 months old, he is now 6 and started first grade. Being both grandma and “mom” to him I bring another whole host of problems with gift giving. 🙂 Last year he was just as happy with a few things as he was years ago when he had tons to open when I bought and when everyone else was sending. His closet is bursting and its ridiculous.

          • Becky says:

            No it won’t…we tried telling my in-laws that and now they just buy my kids gifts that stay at their house….I kind of don’t care but at the same time we occasionally ask them to calm it down because we think our kids are getting too materialistic. They are generally very respectful of our wishes.

        • Rae says:

          I agree with you. It’s their money that they can spend how they want BUT its OUR house and our children so if we don’t want loads and loads of toys (because of clutter as well as the kids becoming spoiled and materialistic like my husband was as a child which was hard to break!), that is our decision. My husband and I have been struggling with this with his family (my parents are much more practical in general so they completely understand). They buy more toys even when my boys at young ages are saying “we have enough toys”. So this year I am coming up with a long list of experience gifts that they can get if they want to buy the kids a gift (and if they don’t want to, it is perfectly ok). The list will have things as small as movie tickets up to things as big as Disney tickets if they want to go into something like that together as well as many things in between. This is a win/win situation. They still get to pick what they want to give off the list, my kids will be excited over anything on the list, and our house is not going to get any more cluttered. We also made it clear to them that if they do go against our wishes (like past years before we had the list and just asked for no more toys), our kids will have the choice of keeping the toy and having to donate another toy (and they like all of their current toys) or donate the new one.

          • Andrea says:

            This puts your children in a very difficult position…choosing between you and their grandparents. I don’t want to be rude, but I hope you will reconsider manipulating your children in this way.

          • Rae says:

            @Andrea, I don’t think that having a “one in, one out” rule is manipulating my kids. It’s not just in place for the grandparents, it’s for anything that comes in the house. It’s just that they (my inlaws in general not just the grandparents) are the ones that won’t cooperate with not cluttering our house. And clearly stating this policy to them is helping to make them see that we are serious. My boys like getting craft supplies and experience gifts better than toys that they get sick of right away anyway. And my oldest (7) wants to ask people to bring food to donate to a food pantry instead of gifts for his next birthday (which I did not suggest he do, he wants to do it himself) and said that having the birthday party is the fun part anyway and he has enough toys. Anyway, though disagree, I respect your opinion.

        • We are in the same boat. We give small meaningful gifts for our kids. Yet the grandparents give a lot of plastic junk. We have asked that they only send one gift each (we are military and live far away from our family). So, if they send a lot of stuff we let the kids keep one toy and we either take back the rest, or give it away. Solves the problem for us. If the grandparents get hurt that their gifts are given away they have already been told.

      • Whitney says:

        I agree – and though this only works for me because my children are so young, if my kids truly get more than they need, those items are added to the “re-gift” closet.

        I also just don’t let them have everything at once. After the hustle and bustle of opening birthday or Christmas gifts, they can never remember all of what they received. That night I leave out the items that were obviously favorites, and hide the rest away. That way, in the middle of an exceptionally boring day, or when I’m in need of a special reward for a child, I can pull something out. This “spreads the wealth,” so to speak, for the entire year.

        • Sherri says:

          Ooh, been there, done that, too! I would let my kids open the box and play with 1 item at grandma’s. The rest got packed away for our drive home. It’s amazing how some of those other items made a new appearance months later, or as a friend’s birthday gift. You’re right, though, it only worked when they were small. As they get older I try to give my mom and sister suggestions of things that would be truly loved/appreciated. That makes shopping easier for them, too.

          • Brandy says:

            To help manage things we do keep bins that we rotate so that the toys seem new to the kids. It helps, but less is more. 🙂

      • kt says:

        We balance grandparent’s tendencies with our sanity. We let the grandparents buy as many experience gifts, clothes, media (books/DVDs/CDs) items as they wish but items that produce massive clutter like toys are limited. They are asked to buy only 5 toys per child with the hopes of getting them to 3 per child one day. I give them toy ideas as well (though they are welcome to buy as they wish). We only give three gifts per child so Christmas is not too overwhelming.

    • Lindsey says:

      I like the idea of one big gift for all the kids. ie a pool pass for the summer or zoo membership. this is also nice because it is something the grandparents can do with the kids and make some memories!

      • Kristine says:

        My MIL buys us a family pool pass each year, which was her idea. I don’t tell her what she should buy for our kids for Christmas or birthdays unless she asks for suggestions. 🙂

      • Joy says:

        My parents always did this, a “family” gift. We received a super nes one year, tv/vcr combo another year, Phillies tickets another year. All things we could enjoy as a family. My parents still do it, even though I’m 23 and my brother is 21.

    • Carla says:

      One idea I’ve heard is to limit it to 4 gift:

      Something to wear
      Something to read
      Something they want
      Something they need

      This will be our first Christmas with a child and I’m hoping to tell both grandmas this rhyme.

      • Karisa says:

        This is the same little “saying” we go by. But we also add one more…Something to share. And somehow we put it all together to rhyme, lol.

      • Darcey says:

        Wow, I love this!!

      • Debi says:

        Great idea!

      • Lyn says:

        we have done this for a couple of years and it is GREAT!!!! What works for our family is the something to wear is new PJs, and the something they want is the item they ask Santa for.

      • Meg says:

        Wow! I think this is a really good idea. My parents have always gone WAY over the top for Christmas. After I got married my husband always got the same amount of “stuff” and even my dogs get a crazy amount of “stuff.” (one year my dog got enough treats to last until June) We currently don’t have Children but I am already concerned with the amount of gifts they will get. I hope this little saying is something we can use as a family and my parents can use as well. Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      We asked for money from each set of Grandparents to go toward an annual membership at our local Rec Center. That was the best gift by far and were have been enjoying these past 9 months!

      • Carol says:

        As grandparents to four grandchildren between two of our four children we have solved the problem, at least for our family. With the economy the way it is today we send our children (the parents) money for them to use to buy the Christmas presents that they feel their children need. It is a win/win situation – the kids get what they want – the parents have a hand with the finances, and we get to see happy grandchildren.

    • Jennifer says:

      When the grandparents asked for suggestions, we asked for money to be used towards swimming lessons and t-ball. They also gave a small “fun” gift. It worked out great and everyone was happy 🙂

      • Helene says:

        That’s a great idea. As the custodial grandparent raising the child and also a single income household, I can’t afford the lessons I would love to give him. I’m sure most parents would love to be able to give the kids lessons rather than fill the house.

    • Blythe says:

      I know how you feel! I was an only child so my mother loves spoiling her grandchildren. I get over whelmed with toys. But feel bad purging them because they are all brand new very nice toys.

      • Jennifer says:

        Would you ever consider donating some of them to Toys for Tots or another organization? That way you’d know someone was benefitting from toys that might otherwise sit untouched at your house. Just a random thought… 🙂

    • Maegen says:

      My husband and I both have divorced parents, and we are blessed to still have one of his grandmothers with us, so that’s a lot of presents right out the shoot.
      My mil usually sends money, which we often apply to our zoo pass. My own mom gives one smaller gift and then money towards ski lessons (which is a hobby she enjoys doing with them) and college. My sister has a mil who just won’t listen, and while it’s aggravating, sometimes you have to pick your battles and remember how lucky your kiddos are to have extra loving people in their lives. I do think it helps to find ways to keep them all feeling connected through out the year-I think a lot of over giving is about trying to be part of their lives, remembered, etc…..

    • Maureen says:

      I had my kids’ grandparents chip in on “experiences”. The past years my kids got a couple months of music lessons, week long soccer camp and tickets to shows at our local Community Arts Center. It’s all the stuff we’d love to do for them, but can’t afford. And the best part is, there is NO CLUTTER. The kids love telling their grandparents about their experiences and most of the experiences don’t happen right at Christmas or birthdays so they may get the ticket (or whatever) now, but they have a couple weeks or even months to anticipate the event!

    • TH says:

      I have encouraged the grandparents to give the kids an experience…like taking them to a museum or to see a play or show. Once we asked for a pass for my daughter to go rock climbing during the year.

      • Katie says:

        I like asking them to help with the experience ideas. Maybe ask if they could buy a special pass to a play and take the grandkids with them for a special day. My in-laws are very extravagant, but also very respectful of our wishes–the last few years they have boughtless gifts but still gave quite a few clothes. This year, I am thinking of asking them to buy a small gift per child and maybe a gift certificate towards lessons of some sort. We also have a great family in our church who blesses our kids each year, not with gifts, but with a set amount in savings. That might be an option to request as well. Some day when the kids are college-bound, this will be an amazing blessing! Again, it totally depends on your relationship with the grandparents as to whether this might tactfully be suggested.

    • I’ve always given the in-laws a list of “approved” things. It’s not a list of specific items, but things like sizes for clothes, which licensed characters we allow, our preference for non-electronic toys, and any color preferences we (or the kids) have.

      We were fortunate to be able to tell people our first four years with kids that we just didn’t have space for stuff. We don’t have quite the same restrictions anymore, but we’re still trying to limit what’s brought in. It’s hard though. I’m not sure how much clearer my list could have been (and my MIL at least _acts_ like she’s trying to respect our wishes), but we still get things that we specifically requested NOT to have. When we open the gifts, I do my best to be gracious, but it’s really hard when I have asked specifically that they NOT give certain things and those are the things that they buy.

  • danielle says:

    that is a great idea….we did little things for our kiddos and we only spent about $50 each on them ( we have 2) but the number is a really neat idea!

  • Tonya says:

    Ok, hopefully this comment will go through this time. 3rd times the charm? After reading the Christmas story, we give each child 3 gifts, representing the 3 gifts given to baby Jesus by the wise men. Buying only 3 gifts for each child, keeps Dale and I in check, as we are doing our Christmas shopping, and allows the focus to remain on Christ, not the need for more, more, more. Later, as our children get older, we will deepen the significance of these gifts, by assigning a meaning to each one:

    Frankincense: A gift for spiritual growth. (A new devotion book, Bible or Christian CD.)
    Myrrh: A practical gift. (A new pair of jeans, a coat, a laptop for school, a car emergency kit.)
    Gold: A gift that fulfills a want. (An ipod, shopping certificate, jewelry, bike, MP3 player etc.)
    We celebrate Christmas based on God GIVING us His one and only son, who later GIVES His life as a living sacrifice for us! We want giving and not receiving to be the focus of Christmas. I am thankful there are others out there that do this, our world is so full of “The Greedy Gimmies” its disgusting!

  • Erin says:

    Where I appreciate the sentiment, I think it’s too extreme for most people. Sometimes I wonder, not to say that the writer’s intentions are these, but do some people put such extreme limitations on themselves and families just to “stand out”? Is it more of making a big point out of something than just because the feel it is right? That’s where I struggle with things like this. Not saying that three gifts is either good or bad, I just think one has to be careful that it does not come across as a “holier than thou” concept.

    • Siobhan @MoneyDearest says:

      I agree that its really extreme! Christmas and birthdays were always huge in my house growing up- but I didn’t get many things throughout the year. Not because of money reasons but because my parents didnt want me to be spoiled and just expect something every time we went out. But I knew that what I wanted for Christmas or my birthday I would get. (within reason of course)

    • Tonya says:

      I honestly think it comes from trying to keep the focus where it should be, Christ’s birth. Sometimes the “Stuff” keeps us from remembering that, or at very least, waters it down.

      • Emily says:

        You can still make Jeason the reason for the season and make your child feel special at the same time.

        • Emily says:


          Gee, I cannot spell with a 7 month in my lap trying to bang keys.

        • Tonya says:

          What does the number of gifts have to do with feeling special or not? I have never had a child say, Oh mom, I am not special since I don’t have 35 gifts to open this morning. No, they are SO thankful for their 3.

          • Emily says:

            No one is saying spoil your kid and buy them 35 gifts! I’m saying that there are extremes both ways. I don’t think that you should buy, buy, buy for your child all the time BUT I think Christmas is a big deal to children and I have such great memories of Christmas. My dad was a single parent and never really spent much on us throughout the year (and not a lot at Christmas either but he saved up for this holiday) but Christmas was still nice. I look back on it and think that my dad did a great job and really gave from the heart. It wasn’t about being frugal at Christmas or limiting what he wanted to do for us because Jesus only got 3 gifts. If he chose to align his Christmas giving with a biblical story, I would have been grateful regardless and I am always grateful for everything he did. I still KNOW the TRUE meaning of CHRISTmas and remember Christmas as my favorite holiday because of the family time and the meaning of the season.

      • Erin says:

        Stuff can “water down” Jesus throughout the year. Why limit it only to Christmas? The more stuff you have in general, the more you that will take your attention away from Christ. I don’t think limiting gifts to just during a Holiday will suddenly put things back into perspective. I wonder if any of the children that have Christmas mornings like this become bitter? Or resentful? There’s definitely a line between too much and not enough, and raising spoiled children, etc… but this just seems too extreme for me. That’s all I’m saying.

        • Tonya says:

          Wonder instead about the child given 40 gifts each Christmas, growing up with an air of entitlement and a sense of need for more more more…..
          You can’t hear my smile as I write this. I still stand by what I wrote earlier, just playing devils advocate now. 🙂

      • Brandy says:

        Yes, I know people who spend all of their time during Christmas shopping and chasing deals to provide these gifts for the families. I can think of family members who will spend all Christmas eve chasing these deals, stay up half the night wrapping the gifts, then be grouchy on Christmas day. I’d rather have time spent together than time and money focused elsewhere.

    • Emily says:

      I see what you mean. I think you can save money throughout the year by purchasing items that are marked down or clearanced or purchasing items at the end of season sales and still give your child or children a “big” Christmas.

      Right now, with Swagbucks, my husband and I have got our daughter a lot of Christmas and Birthday presents for free. The only cost to us is the time spent using SwagBucks.

      • sarah says:

        I agree – Pretty disappointing to receive three gifts, only one of which most children would be excited about – the toy! But the concept is good – establish a sensible tradition for Christmas gifts – whatever works for you. It’s tricky deciding what your gift giving tradition will be. My parents did a big Christmas (not compared to a lot of families, though). We never got anything special throughout the year, which I had a hard time with, but it helped me learn about saving, etc.

        • Tonya says:

          We are waiting until they are older to implement the 3 gifts as listed above Frankincense, Myrrh & Gold. For now its 3 toys each, then we adopt a family and go get them items they need so the focus can remain on giving, not recieving. The ultimate goal being Christs birthday, we make it a fun party day for Jesus.

    • FishyGirl says:

      I don’t think it’s extreme at all. We personally do four gifts: something to read, new pajamas, a game or something they can share, and one toy or item that is theirs and theirs alone. We only do gifts for the children, we don’t exchange gifts with any of the adults in our lives. To us we would much rather spend time doing something fun with our loved ones than have more material items. It got so ridiculous, we felt obligated to give gifts to people who gave us gifts, even if we didn’t feel we had that level of relationship with them and we didn’t have the budget to do so. Our society as a whole is far too consumer driven, and kids REALLY don’t need all that Stuff. I think this approach helps teach our kids how to have moderation between our wants and our needs and how we have to meet our obligations in life first and foremost. We did learn this over time, we used to go overboard when the kids were younger, but we learned that most of what we gave ended up broken or lost or forgotten fairly rapidly. With our more limited approach, our kids value the gifts they receive more AND put more thought into the gifts they give.

      • Kathy says:


        How did your kids react/handle the first Christmas or two with the scaled back approach?

        • FishyGirl says:

          My kids are almost 12, 10, 7, and 4 – when we scaled back three years ago, the little ones were really too little to understand the difference. We sat the bigger two down and talked to them about the change and the reasons why, one of them being the sheer volume of stuff in our house and how we felt we were losing focus on what was important. The kids were fine with it, and in fact after Christmas was over that first year, I noticed that we had fewer disagreements and the kids seemed to be in a better mood, I think because they weren’t overwhelmed with all the Stuff. They all participate in picking out the gifts for their siblings and seem to get as much enjoyment out of picking them out as they do receiving their own, which was part of what we were hoping to achieve. We’re mindful that they are only getting a few gifts and go out of our ways to make sure we choose carefully to make them really special. So far it’s worked really well. My husband and I had more trouble with our adult families when we tried to tell them we’d much rather spend time with them than receive any material gift, than we did with our own kids.

    • Heather says:

      I can understand what you mean. We have always focused on the meaning of Christmas – we purchase toys for families in need (which is part of the children’s present), we memorized the entire Christmas story from the Bible………. but we don’t only do these types of things just at Christmas. While we have never given our children a large amount of gifts for Christmas, we do give them several presents. Books, puzzles, sports equipment needed for the rec sports they play, a new bike once in a while (our district does not have bus service from K – 8th grade so a bike is an important means to transportation around here – as well as a means to getting to camp each summer).

      I grew up in a one income family where my father was a public school teacher. I had only one set of grandparents alive and my grandfather was the minister in a very small church. We did not have a lot but Christmas was always a big deal in our family. The new clothes we needed, school equipment, bikes (for the same reason that I mentioned earlier), books and a few toys were greatly appreciated and never took over the true meaning of the holiday. Celebrating was both fun and worshipful.

      As far as my gifts to other family members, I find that Christmas is a great time to express my deep gratitude and appreciation. Maybe I go “over the top” some years if I have a little extra money to spend but I will never regret sharing with my loved ones.

      • Heather says:

        As far as grandparents – one suggestion is giving a family gift – we have received year memberships to the Zoo, the Science Museum, the Aquarium – all have been greatly appreciated throughout the year.

        Another thing we have done the past two years – now that our boys are older – is to give them a surprise one or two night “mini vacation” or tickets to a Broadshow show – instead of gifts. They really enjoyed being suprised by a two night vacation to DC over New Years last year and the city was empty and the hotel prices were dirt cheap. Plus we had a great time together as a family. That is one gift they still talk about and it will never get out-of-date or broken!

        • sue says:

          One problem with only three gifts is the poor economy will suffer even more. If everyone scaled back to three gifts the economy would most likely collapse. My child may not need a second scarf but how can you say no to the elderly woman trying to survive by selling them for only $3 at the school craft sale. If you don’t want the item you can donate it to someone in need.

          • Sandra says:

            Why purchase a second scarf if there isn’t a need? If the economy is a driving force for you, why not give an odd job to someone who is in need and allow them to utilize the money as needed. The economy wouldn’t suffer and you would be helping someone without it being charity which is difficult for some to accept.

          • k and b's mom says:

            By buying the scarf you are giving a job to someone – they are making them!

          • Rae says:

            That doesn’t really have anything to do with this. I limit the gifts in our house too but it doesn’t mean I don’t pick up other good deals to donate. I actually buy more of the good deals I find for donating than I do for us. Just because we don’t want our kids to be spoiled doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to give to those in need. And as far as clothing stuff goes, I buy on clearance throughout the year in bigger sizes. When my boys need clothes, they go “shopping” in our closet so that doesn’t count as their gifts.

    • Dara says:

      I don’t see this as extreme at all. My family growing up always did the 3 gifts per kid tradition and we all enjoyed it. (It was the significance of the three gifts that my family really enjoyed.) We never knew any different. The gifts were nice, but they weren’t even close to the main point of the holiday for us. Even when I was very young, I can’t remember feeling like we were missing out on anything by not having a huge Christmas. Now that I’m pregnant with my first child (yay!), DH and I plan on doing the same thing in our little family. To each their own, but I’m living proof that you can raise a child without having materialism be the main focus (or a major focus) of Christmas and not have them grow up to be scarred for life or anything 😉

      • Dana says:

        My parents did the exact same thing, and I never felt like I missed out on Christmas either. Our son’s first Christmas is this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be giving him, as my husband puts it, “a year’s worth of diaper changes, baby food, and hugs. Maybe extra hugs.” 🙂

        • Whitney says:

          Well said! I’ve had many people ask me what I’m getting for my children’s first Christmas, first birthday, etc. – and my answer is always “nothing.” They always seemed appalled by that answer. When I explain that it will be several years before the child even knows they are receiving gifts (or specifically, that they are from his/her parents), they still think it’s necessary to buy “stuff” for a child who doesn’t understand what they are receiving.

          And if a child only knows a Christmas with three gifts, what reason would they have to feel deprived? I received lots of gifts from my parents, but my mom really only bought a few “wants” and then wrapped up lots and lots of “needs.” Shampoo, underwear, etc. We were just excited to open gifts, regardless of the contents.

          • Catherine says:

            I agree with wrapping up all the “needs.” Everything gets wrapped at my house. . . soap, socks, toothbrushes, candy, sponges, measuring cups, soda pop, razors, etc. Even things like sugary breakfast cereals we don’t normally buy get wrapped and put under the tree. I like having a big xmas, but I’m a minimalist and I don’t like bringing very many toys/knick knacks into the house.

          • Heidi says:

            I LOVE the idea of wrapping up a box of cereal! We also buy our kids their own 12 pack of pop and wrap it up. I give my kids each 10 gifts. Mainly because I absolutely love Christmas. We’re not an overly religious family so I wouldn’t do the 3 gift thing. But, I usually buy them the pop, a bag of chips or box of cookies, pj’s, something to read, a game, a pillow with new cool pillowcase (usually bought at a craft sale!), a couple cheap things that they will use ($5 range), and something big (ipod touches last year, but usually something that costs 50-100 dollars. I love watching them open their presents. They love the food items because I never buy the cereal or cookies they crave and I don’t buy pop. I would love to hear any ideas that people have that are cheap and are consumable, so my house doesn’t get cluttered.

          • Rae says:

            I didn’t get my kids stuff for their first birthday or Christmas either and everybody was shocked. They still got stuff from relatives but cared more about the wrapping paper than the gift so I’d just as soon let them play with the wrapping paper from others gifts.

        • Jessica says:

          We did the same thing for our first last year, except we did decide to get a book and put the date in it, thinking over the years we would build up a collection of Christmas books-last year was The Polar Express, and I can’t wait to pull it out again!

          • Danielle B says:

            I love books as gifts for my little ones too. We have limited space in our home, so this also helps with the overwhelming amounts of toys that can flood in during the holidays. Now that my oldest child is 5 1/2 we’ve got a great collection going. The easiest way we learned to do it was make a huge wishlist on that’s public so the grandparents, aunts and uncles can search through there for ideas. Love it!

    • Brandy says:

      My husband and I try to do this. We have found that our children are happy with just a few things. The more toys they have in their room the less than enjoy even playing in there. I find that the more I purge from their rooms the more they play in there with the toys they have.

      I, personally, would do away with gift giving at all at the holidays if my family would allow it (by family I don’t mean my children and husband). We have extended family who think it is necessary to shower us with stuff. While I appreciate it, it makes me dread the holiday season.

    • Danielle B says:

      I think the central issue you’re addressing is important.

      Do we do the things we do to get other people’s attention or approval, to feel better about ourselves, to feel or look holier/more frugal/more self-controlled………or do we do the things we do because we sincerely feel that it’s the best thing for our family?

      It’s a point that we all would benefit from pondering on for a while.

      I’m going through a season of life where almost everything I or my family used to do is no longer working or bringing out the best results for us. (Reading Dr. Tim Kimmel’s book, “Grace Based Parenting” cut me deep down to the quick of my heart, and began this journey of realization.)
      In this crazy time of praying, thinking, and reevaluating, I’ve realized how much of what myself and my family used to do was centered around appearances and results, not necessarily keeping my children’s hearts- which for me, personally, is what I feel God has shown me is the most important “goal” of my parental relationship with each child.

      I think each of us examining our true inner selves and our hearts to determine why we are doing what we are doing is such an important topic.

    • Rae says:

      We don’t do specifically 3 gifts but we don’t do a lot of gifts for many reasons. However, just because we do this does NOT mean that we think others should do the same as us or that we are any better. I think that people need to do what is best for their family and not judge others for living their lives differently.

    • Lesley says:

      I certainly think that some people take it to the extreme when they blab on about it to anyone & everyone. It’s annoying when they are doing it for praise and attention from others.

      I just shared this idea with people I know because there are a lot of people like me who are trying to live a more minimal lifestyle. We don’t allow gifts at our kids birthday parties for this same reason. The party is to celebrate and thank everyone that has played such an important role in the past year of our child’s life. It’s to thank them, as well as the birthday kid.

  • Tonya says:

    We recently heard of making each of the 3 gifts represent something: Frankincense: A gift for spiritual growth. (A new devotion book, Bible or Christian CD.)
    Myrrh: A practical gift. (A new pair of jeans, a coat, a laptop for school, a car emergency kit.)
    Gold: A gift that fulfills a want. (An ipod, shopping certificate, jewelry, bike, MP3 player etc.)

    • Mrs S says:

      I really like this idea! My family focuses a lot on being together rather than gifts (my kids are more excited to see cousins that they only see once a year than a few presents!) so I think making these gifts symbolic in addition to practical/fun is a great way to add our faith into the mix in a concrete way for the little ones.

    • beingjennifer says:

      I really like this too! It’s only my husband and me for the holidays. We always keep it simple, but I really like the idea of having each gift represent something.

      I grew up with an extended family that was like the consumer hoard at Christmas. It took 3 to 4 hours to open presents. YUCK! I became SO disgusted that I didn’t spend Christmas with them. We went to the day after Christmas when everyone would play games and eat leftovers. A much more fun and meaningful day. Now, we’re too far away for that. This list idea will be fun for us. Thanks a bunch!

      Whatever anyone decides, hope you all have a wondrous holiday season!

      • Brandy says:

        When it was just the two of us, we would decide to make a bigger purchase in our home like a washer/dryer, furniture, or we might even take a mini vacation instead. I have never been a fan of the idea that everyone buys a gift and stays within a price range. Often times I would spend say $20 on a gift to receive $20 on a gift of something I couldn’t use or wanted. Then, there is the hassle of returning it or just losing $20 that I could have really put towards something else.

    • i like these ideas and with our family wanting to expand,I think it important that the “toy rooms” should not be like the horrifying scenes in some of our friends’ houses I think I will definitely be adopting this idea…

  • Sam says:

    I’m on the wall about this one. My hubby and I have thought about doing something similar ourselves…but again, Christmas was always such a huge deal at my house – I really want my kids to enjoy the same thing.

    I agree that the focus of Christmas should be less about gifts and more about the meaning of Christmas and being together as a family.

    We set our Christmas budget for our two kids at $100 each. This allows us to get them gifts that they really will enjoy – and a good amount of gifts so they wake up to that huge pile of gifts under the tree (everyone knows they loved that as a kid!!) This is also not a huge amount of money to where they are getting every item on their list.

    As for grandparents….my parents would laugh in my face if I tried to tell them what they could and could not buy for my kids!! Just let grandparents be grandparents!

    • Sam, we also set a limit at $100-$150 per child. In that, we also try to make it equal with the number of packages children get to open. If that means I have to put 3 doll outfits in one gift bag for my daughter, then so be it. I have been able to put “a lot” of gifts under the tree for each child, and still stay within our limit. Also, I shop a lot for our daughter at Once Upon a Child, etc. because she’s fairly easy, and young enough that she doesn’t care. For my 8 year old twin boys, we start watching sales and shop accordingly. Also, we don’t buy toys, etc. for our children throughout the year, until Christmas or their birthdays. As for grandparents, I totally agree. And, thankfully, both my parents and my in laws will often ask before they buy a particular toy or game for my children, which avoids a lot of resentment or frustration on our part as parents.

      • Joy says:

        My parents set limits on my brother and me; however, they never made sure we each had the same amount of presents to open. I think that’s a great idea; makes everyone feel equal!!

    • Xazmin says:

      If you want to do something similar, but not so extreme, here is a thought:

      In our family Santa brings the kids 3 gifts each, which represent the 3 gifts the wise men brought to the Savior. The gifts from Santa are the “fun” gifts, games, toys, etc. Then under the tree are a few gifts from us – and these are the more practical gifts – clothes, books, etc.

      We also limit our purchases throughout the year. They get stuff on birthdays and Christmas. During the year we only purchase “needs” , like if they grow out of their shoes or other clothes, things like that.

      I don’t think my kids are spoiled kids – but I do like the opportunity to spoil them a couple of times a year, without going too overboard.

      • Dara says:

        I like this idea too.

      • In our house, Santa only brings what is in their stocking. They know that everything else is from mommy and daddy.

        • Emily says:

          I don’t like the idea of Santa either. I had it figured out when I was about 6 and snuck downstairs to see my dad putting presents under the tree.

        • Jessica says:

          We don’t either but my daughter still found out about Santa from children at our daycare which was at a church! 🙂

          I do the 3 gifts because my parents went nuts at Christmas, meanwhile during the year I wouldn’t have shoes that fit or a coat that zipped. Bad management of what little money they did have just to throw an over the top Christmas. It would take me forever to open my gifts and now at the age of 32 that is all I remember. Not what the gifts were.

          My parents do the same thing with my kids even though I have asked them not to. They cannot afford it, first off. Second, they get stuff that is annoying. Baby alive. Furreal friend. All it does is make noise and that is it. My daughter never played with them but my parents destroyed the packaging opening it for her so we couldn’t even exchange it for something she does like. They ask me for a list for her each year and I usually give them a list of 3 or 4 inexpensive options such as a book, or clothes for her doll, or hair accessories or a pair of light up hook and loop shoes with princesses on them… and they will get those plus fifteen other things that she could not care less about. And now I have a son and they will probably do the same with him! My kids will be their only grandkids. I try not to get too frustrated with them but then I am left to deal with the aftereffects. My daughter expects tons of presents each time she sees my parents because that is what they have taught her to do. I have to dispose of the stuff she does not like. Most of them end up donated to goodwill.

          This year I just started homeschooling and I quit my job to do that, so I’m going to give them her usual 3 to 4 item needs list which will include fun things for our homeschool (in addition to some bigger light up princess shoes!! 🙂 )

        • Whitney says:

          I don’t plan on doing Santa either, though this is the first year that the whole idea will really come into play (my son is 3) I remember very well how I felt about Christmas both when I believed in Santa, and after I found out it was my parents, and I was much, much more grateful for the gifts once I knew it was my parents.

          When I thought gifts were from Santa, I was always comparing what I got with other kids’ gifts and wondering, “Why didn’t I get that?” I also wasn’t the least bit grateful. If there was a man whose sole job was to provide presents, then I only wondered why they weren’t better. Once I knew my parents were behind everything, it made me appreciate what I received. Maybe I was the only kid that felt that way, but I’d like to give my kids the opportunity to feel the same right from the start.

      • Joy says:

        I just started doing this in my house two years ago, but a slight version. My boys (ages 9 and 12) get three fun gifts from Santa and three practical gifts from Mom and Dad. They also get one gift to share (like a new game). As they get older, the fun gifts get more expensive so we had to set a limit. Of course, I’m almost positive they no longer believe in Santa, but this new tradition will continue nonetheless. LOL.

        Our three boys also do extra chores around house to earn money so they can buy fun things they want throughout year. Depending on what chore is, it earns them $1-$3. Dh also lets them take turns helping return bottles and cans (5 cent deposits here in NY). They get to keep the money they get back on the returns if they help.

        • Jenni says:

          Santa is modeled after St. Nick, who gave to the poor. I encourage my boys to pretend to be Santa themselves and give a gift to a friend in need.

          • Brynn says:

            Jenni, that is a wonderful idea!!! We are a Christian family with girls almost 8 and 6 yrs old and we have enjoyed years of celebrating the real reason for the season – our Lord’s birth – but also visiting Santa, setting out cookies and carrots, and allowing Santa to make Christmas even more magical and mysterious. I am guessing our time will be up soon 🙂 But the concept of Santa – giving – is something I will continue. We buy many things (with great deals!) for others less fortunate – this year I will say we are playing Santa!

  • Wow, this is a great idea! We keep our children’s gifts fairly simple each year but I like setting a finite limit and that there is a spiritual reason for it! I just love Christmas!

  • El Smith says:

    We do the same thing – 3 gifts just like Jesus received. We started it their first Christmas and figure it will be great when they are 15 and the gifts get really expensive. Plus it coincides with what they learn in Sunday school.

  • mariah says:

    This is a great Idea…I’ve been thinking of how I could show my kids to use a gift of theirs as a donation type gift. Like, one of the presents from mom and dad, could be a gift of fresh water to a family that doesn’t have any in Rwanda. know what I mean? The only problem I’ve come in contact with, is that my kids are still pretty small. I’m not sure if they’ll understand the concept. I think limiting gifts is a good thing…because the American dream, dare I say…is NOT found the in the Bible (among other things, I know)…but seriously, we shouldn’t be storing up treasures on earth…we should teach our kids that too…it’s a life lesson, that’s SO important to learn. Some people waster their whole lives chasing after “stuff” and trying to live the American dream, but that’s not what life is all about…I think that’s what the author of this article may have seen and wanted to be different and teach her kids different. I think it’s cool. “D

  • O. Rivera says:

    Last yr I spent about $30 on one nephew alone. This year I was able to find gifts for both my nephews birthdays and Christmas for $30. I love clearance sales! I also have a niece and a new nephew coming on the way. All gifts coming from their aunt will now be from the clearance aisle.

  • Brandy says:

    This is exactly what we do as well. I personally despise gift giving at Christmas, but I have family members who won’t budge on the tradition.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m in the same boat Brandy.We have family members that insist on “quantity over quality” just because it’s their tradition to have “BIG” Christmas’. They buy our children tons & tons of things, most of which are the little trinkets and toys from the dollar tree. It gets very frustrating because 95% of the things they get like this end up being trashed within 1 week because it breaks or is a hazard to the kids. If only they’d put all that money to one quality nice gift. This has been going on for several years now and they havn’t taken the hints my hubby and I have tried to politely give them. =(

      • Brandy says:

        Even when the toys are inexpensive or a great deal, I think the abundance that my children receive only spoil them into not appreciating one gift. I watch them tear open a gift and go straight to the next, and I honestly have a hard time with it. Perhaps, I wouldn’t mind one gift something that the child could look forward to without being overwhelmed with 15-20 gifts.

        Unfortunately, I have seen the result as they think they deserve that much year around and don’t appreciate what they do get.

        We have recommended memberships to places, maybe a more expensive gift rather than the same amount distributed over a dozen gifts, and we even recommend donating time or money to a charity of their choosing…to no avail.

        I often wonder if they knew how much it bothers me if they could change. I tell my husband many times if I could go on vacation for the entire month of December to hide from the commercialization and abundant gift giving I would.

        • Michelle says:

          I SO understand! My kids are ungrateful for anything. It seems like nothing we as parents do to try to train them in sharing/giving/gratefulness can compete with the “presents every time we see them” habit. When my kids were younger and they would ask for things I tried to use it as a training moment about being wise with money but they would tell me, “I’ll just ask grandma and grandpa for it.” It broke my heart to see this in my children. If grandparents wouldn’t eat spoiled fruit then why on earth do they want spoiled grandchildren?

          • Emily says:

            Because grandparents, whether they will admit it or not, like the idea of their grandchildren choosing them over their parents or “loving” them more. So they bribe them with toys and no discipline.

        • sarah says:

          Skipping Christmas…didn’t you see what happened, LOL?!

  • Clare says:

    We do this for birthdays, too. I limit what my kids get because after a while, it is just more “stuff”. I personally, don’t use the “three Wise Men” tale, because I want my children to know the real reason we do it: things are not the main focus of the celebration, and I want them to recognize that things do not equal happiness. I am willing to be flexible with my three gift cap if it is appropriate. My children are very young (3 and 5) but I am completely honest with them-we are not made out of money and their interest/excitement for gifts doesn’t last but for a short time. We want to invest in things that bring joy for more than a season.

    • Dana says:

      Wow, we only give one present for birthdays. Fortunately, ours aren’t old enough yet to question it!

      • Elias says:

        This is going to make me sound bad but we don’t even buy the kids gifts for birthdays. After I spend money on a cake and a small party, I’m out the cost of what a gift would be. They end up getting gifts from the partygoers and they’ve never asked what we got them. I do try to pick a toy they like to go on the cake though.

  • Wendy says:

    When I read this I had to laught at a story my friend told me. She wanted to start doing the 3 gift rule for her children at Christmas. When she told her son he was now only going to get 3 gifts because that’s all Jesus got, his reply was “But he got GOLD!”

  • I think it is up to the family. I think you can keep the focus on Christmas and buy as many presents as you want. However, I think Christmas has become too materialistic for many families. It is about Jesus first if you are a Christian. If a gift is received the number should not matter, just the quality of the gift. With that being said, I would personally rather buy “fun” gifts for my kids or something they want than items I generally buy during the year such as pajamas, etc. I am not saying that I do not give them clothes for Christmas or that there is anything wrong with pajamas because we have done that before. All i am saying is I am a kid at heart and enjoy giving toys or fun necessities for Christmas. Each family is different so I hope nobody bashes anyone for choosing their beliefs.

    Oh and about the grandparents, there is no way I could stop my mom from giving gifts or she would be upset because that is HER WAY to show her Christmas joy to my kids. Been there done that with her. She is the spoiling grandma and there is only so much you can say to grandparents without them being offended. Yes, I am the parent and what I say comes first, however, I know she means well, and my kids are taught the meaning of Christmas.

  • Dee says:

    A great book for this topic is “Unplug the Christmas Machine.” As a grandparent I agree with buying some thing larger instead of a pile of gifts that add to clutter and my undermine the parents values.

  • a says:

    We do this, with a twist: one gift is from a sibling, one is from mommy and daddy. Once we go to all the family get-togethers, my kids have too many toys to appreciate at one time. Often they get forgotten under the bed or in the toy box. If they aren’t played with very often, how much do they really like that toy? We really try to find toys that they will appreciate, and enjoy.

    When I was a high school teacher, one of my students came into class. She was from Hungary, and told me that Hungarian children receive their gifts on January 6, Epiphany, the day traditionally celebrated as the day the Wise Men brought their gifts to Jesus. I think that’s a wonderful idea–Christmas Morning is truly a day of worship, and then Epiphany is about the celebration of the gifts.

    I’m sure my Christmas morning (with few gifts) looks completely luxurious and decadant compared to most people living on this earth today!

  • Heather says:

    I know someone that does the three gift thing, but then gets lots of gifts for extended family members. Rubs me the wrong way. For me Christmas is all about the kids. If money were tighter I would get NO gifts for ANY adults, and spend what little I had on my kids. Not sure why more people don’t do this.

    And I know people that spend far more on the three gifts than I do on the approximately 10 modest gifts I get my children. It all depends on how you handle it. I do not buy my kids toys throughout the year. At Christmas, I get them lots of books and creative or educational type toys (non-electronic). If I didn’t do it at Christmas, I would simply buy that stuff other times, so in the end I wouldn’t save any money. I am big on the whole “true religious meaning” of Christmas, however, I think it is possible to give gifts and still remember Christ. In fact, I try to separate the two things in our home. Presents is just one fun thing we do during the whole Christmas season.

    Anyway, I’m not criticizing the post. Just want to point out that it’s not for everyone.

  • Mrs S says:

    I think this is a great idea. Growing up I got one “big gift” (such as a *new* pair of fashion shoes, or a *new* bike helmet) and a few other gifts that were both practical and fun, like bedazzled jeans (dating myself, I know!), the “cool” kind of notebooks for school, or McDonalds gift certificates. I never felt deprived because I didnt have a mountain of toys. In all honesty I was more impressed with whatever kind of beautiful wrapping my mom used on the packages…I almost hated to open those beautiful boxes!

  • Brittany B. says:

    I’ve also heard of parents doing the three gift thing: something to read, something for play and some to wear. So a book, toy, and clothes. I found that super helpful!!

  • Stephanie says:

    We do not celebrate Christmas but I have many friends who do that limit gifts and it seems to work well for them. Several of them with older children do a service project as well. We celebrate Hanukkah (eight nights) which is actually a very minor holiday except it is close to Christmas so we keep the gift giving on the low end as well. We give the children four presents over four nights, two nights we do some sort of charitable giving (Toys for Tots, donate a winter coat to a kids winter gear drive, etc…), have friends over for dinner one night and host/attend a Hanukkah party one night.
    Everyone seems content with a low key holiday so far. The grandparents go a little nuts on the gifts (only grandchildren on both sides) but they do not give presents that go against our values so we just let it go. We have been encouraging experiences over stuff so we shall see.

    • Taylor says:

      We also do not celebrate Christmas, but like you, we do celebrate the Biblical Holidays! I enjoyed reading your comment – great ideas!

  • sherri says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. Like an above commenter said, this might not be for everyone but I think it does raise good points such as not buying gifts just to have something for the children to open. I think we will keep this in mind to keep myself in check when I am tempted to over-shop. Focusing on needed, practical gifts is wonderful, and then some fun goodies too :).

    Also, our family loves doing stockings. I have fun finding little goodies throughout the year that the kids will love. Opening all those tiny things stretches out Christmas morning and is exciting for the kids to find all the treasures.

    We are planning on doing an advent calendar this year with something to open each day of December. Instead of gifts though, I am going to plan a Christmas activity each day and it will be all ready to make…ornaments, centerpieces, and other kiddie crafts (my kiddos are 2 & 3).

    • Dana says:

      My mom was big on stockings too. We’d have three gifts under the tree, but several more little things in our stockings. She always snuck practical things like fun toothbrushes and hair clips into the stockings. Smart, Mom!

    • Elias says:

      I love your advent calendar idea! My kids are obsessed with crafts so I know they would really love that. I usually do a big crafting day during Christmas break, but doing one each day would be fun too!

  • margaret says:

    I have read all your responses and find them all interesting, we always had to be very careful with resources for holidays, but we always made the holidays exciting by the way we celebrated.. when my kids were little they always knew we had at least 3 christmas trees and we live in a very small house.. but I love the tree and they could go to school and kids were in awe of the fact we had 3 trees, we spent time making cookies together, we would get hot cocoa and go look at christmas lights, skating at the free rinks, free christmas movies at the library, all the christmas movies on tv with popcorn and snacks they didnt normally have, by the time christmas arrived we had celebrated for weeks and they didnt feel like the small amount of gifts was bad. My kids are adults with kids and still feel like this was the best time ever.. I think kids need tradition more than stuff, they need to know they are loved and love doesnt translate into dollar amounts.. but have fun and enjoy the company the holidays bring and encourage your kids to give…

    • Emily W says:

      I agree Margaret~ I love Christmas because of spending time with my family and TRADITIONS! I loved the things that we would do in the days leading up to Christmas.
      We received very few gifts (from parents, grandparents, etc), usually only 1 family gift such as a board game, DVD, etc and it was hard as a child going back to school hearing about the mountains of gifts that others received.

      • Charlotte K says:

        Margaret…I LOVE you comment that “kids need tradition more than stuff, they need to know they are loved and love doesn’t translate into dollar amounts”.

        Tradition is the one thing I want to establish in my children…family and Jesus Christ. That is why we are seeking to find a way to build a tradition with our children for Christmas. All my husband and I remember is GIFTS and more GIFTS. Forget the gifts lets have fun together!!!

        Thank you all for the wonderful ideas on how we can begin to build tradition in our family and not focus on all the gifts. My son is 4.5 and he is already talking about his Christmas list…REALLY that is just crazy to me because we have NEVER put the focus on the gifts and this year we are going to tone it down even more. I LOVE the 3 and 4 gift ideas and the meanings behind them!!!

  • Amy Reynolds says:

    We have done this for years! Our “genres” go as follows:
    Frankincense – Something you need… clothes, etc
    Myrrh – Something you ask for
    Gold – A complete surprise gift – This is our “splurge” gift, although it’s usually purchased on clearance some time through the year.

    Christmas is a huge deal in our house, but not because of the number of gifts under the tree. Our Christmas starts immediately after Thanksgiving dinner when we put up all the decorations except the tree. The next day we go to the Christmas tree farm, cut down our tree, come home and decorate it. The rest of the month is filled with great activities and traditions that center around Christmas. I will say that every Christmas Eve, our kids do get new pj’s, so I guess technically they get 4 gifts. Christmas day itslef is filled with the joy of being with each other. We don’t have a dull moment all day!! My kids don’t realize that many children get so many more gifts than they do. It just doesn’t really matter. Plus, there is the peace of knowing that we didn’t overspend or go into debt just trying to make a “huge deal” out of something.

  • Sarah says:

    I don’t think the point of this post is that everyone should do Christmas exactly like this family. The point is that it’s ok to set a limit!! We all make our own choices for where and when and how to spend money, and that’s ok!!!
    I think it’s easier to keep Christmas simple if you start when your children are very young! Set the expectation early!

  • Kelley says:

    I LOVE this!! Good thing my son and my nephew are still young enough that I can make this switch without them realizing it.

  • Cort says:

    This is a nice idea. But not for my family. We definetly want to keep Jesus in the season but we also LOVE giving gifts. My husband grew up in a home where they each recieved one gift. He still talks about how much it bothered him. Now he can go a bit overboard trying to make sure his kids never feel like he did. 🙁 I know that sometimes people worry so much about spoiling thier children that all their children are learning is denial. I’m not refering to this family I’m sure this works nice for them but just keep in mind that it is not so much the amount of gifts but the spirit in which you give them. Gods constantly blessing me more than I deserve and for no good reason. I’m sure glad he doesn’t put a limit on how much he gives to me!

    • Nicole says:

      I can identify with your thoughts. I LOVE giving gifts to and JESUS is ALWAYS the reason for Christmas. I also think that your comment about withholding often teaching kids denial is very true and that strikes VERY close to home for me, so I get it. 🙂

    • Nicole says:

      just to clarify: we don’t over do it into crazy chaotic materialism either.. we just enjoy giving some thoughtful gifts 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      I totally see what you’re saying. We want a good balance in our family, just like so many others! We like to ask for money towards things like tball and swim lessons, not so much because I am completely opposed to gifts but just because we already have SO MUCH STUFF! 🙂

      I like receiving educational gifts and craft items for my kids and they love it too!

  • Jennifer says:

    I think a great idea for Grandparents is to buy an activity for your child like dance, gymnastics, or whatever your child is interested in. Last year my mom bought both my boys Karate classes and they LOVED it! Much better to me than having a bunch of toys they barely play with.

    • sarah says:

      These ideas are great if they can afford it. In our case, the handful of low-cost gifts grandparents give don’t add up to much, and I think the grandparents feel like they are making a bigger impact by sending a few items.

  • We do a limit on gifts but mostly the “useful gifts” come from us and Santa gives the “Fun gifts” we live frugally all year so Christmas is the time to give a little extra..not questioning anyones way of doing things but this is ours

  • Donna says:

    Christmas is the absolute greatest time of the year, and we celebrate it in a big way…Our families get together and we generally don’t exchange gifts, if we do anything it is usually a white elephant exchange or something like that….Gift are not the focus at Christmas…but with that being said….

    My parents always limited us to just a few gift each Christmas…We would get clothes and things we needed and maybe one “fun” gift….To be honest, it stunk…I would go to school and would dread when someone would ask me what I got for Christmas…When I was little it was not a big deal…But when I was a teenager it really bothered me, and unfortunately I still think they were just putting their wants first….

    Now that I have children of my own, my husband and I don’t get them items they “need”…we feel that is our job as parents to provide. We do not spend a lot at Christmas or on Birthdays, but we do keep their “wants” in mind and buy those items (within reason) for them.

    I agree with an above post…Sometimes I think people just go to extreme

    • I’m in agreement with you. Christmas is a big deal in my family, and I plan to carry that on with my son, who is due next month. Our job as his parents is to provide him with necessities, so I’m certainly not going to give him necessities for Christmas and try to pass them off as gifts. While Christmas is first and foremost about the birth of Jesus, I also believe it’s a time of fun and magic for children. That can be accomplished without spoiling them rotten.

  • We actually don’t give gifts on Christmas (we do stockings with mostly practical, and a few fun things).

    We each pick a person or family to give gifts to, that is in need. For example, we might bring cleaning supplies and other stuff for new teachers just starting out. Socks for a homeless shelter or gas card for someone who just got laid off.

  • Kim says:

    To each his own I guess, but I really feel for the children. You can still celebrate the meaning of Christmas and also allow your children to enjoy this special day that only comes once a year. Pajamas and stuff don’t count if you are a child. They will always look back on Christmas morning and I would hope everyone would not be soo extreme. I thought just 3 gives was extreme until I read only one was a real gift they would enjoy. Regardless of what anyone says otherwise, I can only imagine the disappointment they must feel. So sad.

    • Michelle says:

      Why is it sad to give a child a gift? It is sad when a child doesn’t have food. Stuff doesn’t make a holiday special people and relationships do. Teaching children that stuff is what will make them happy is very sad. My children experience this all the time. Relatives give them stuff and at first they are so excited because it is just what they wanted but within hours they are fretful and frusterated and they don’t even know why. It is because the promised joy and happiness that the comercials sold them on just didn’t happen. It is just not as fun as it promised to be.

    • Jen says:

      Why would they be sad? I think it’s us, as adults, “feeling sorry” for kids if they don’t get enough stuff that has contributed to such materialism. When my parents and grandparents were young, they received very practical things for Christmas, as did most people. They passed that practicality onto us as a family and therefore we don’t apologize for just giving a few gifts to our kids. We enjoy spending time with our children and giving them gifts but we realize that at any time of the year, life isn’t about feeling entitled all the time.

    • Em says:

      It would be sad if a child only had three toys total in their possession. But I don’t think it’s sad for a family to voluntarily limit giving, especially since most homes are overflowing with underused toys already.

      Lots of families have great traditions for Christmas day: getting new special Christmas PJs that all match, reading the Christmas story together as a family, decorating Christmas cookies together, spending hours playing with a new toy like Legos with mom or dad’s full attention, making Christmas dinner for extended family, etc.

      Having fewer toys under the tree can mean more time and space for other wonderful family memories!

  • Michelle says:

    One idea that I’ve heard that I really liked was grandparents who at a certain age bought each of their grandchildren a nice tool box and then as part of their Christmas and birthday purchases they would buy one or two quality tools to add to the “collection” so that by the time the kids were old enough to move out they would have a well stocked set of tools for home or car repairs. This idea could work for other things too like an artsy kid could get tools needed for art, etc. I think this is a good way for grandparents to invest in something that will last a lifetime and be a huge blessing even after all the toys are out grown. It might be received as a suggestion better than just simply trying to convince grandparents not to buy so much stuff. =)

    • Sandra says:

      My dad did this for all of his grandchildren. My nephew became a mechanic!

    • Elias says:

      Thank you for posting this. I love this idea. I was trying to think of a good science type of gift idea for my son who loves experimenting, building, creating, etc. I’m thinking I could give him a science kit but add instruments to it each year like a microscope, test tubes, etc.

  • Sara says:

    We are similar in that we have parameters, but we approach it differently. We set up an ING online savings account just for Christmas. In January each year we sit down and make a list of all the people we need to buy for, how much we’d love to spend on them in a perfect world and then look at our budget to see if we really can reach that total. If not, we go through the list and start lowering the budgeted amounts until we get to the total that fits in our budget. Then we divide that total amount by the number of paychecks in the year and use ING’s automatic savings plan to sweep our Christmas giving amount into the savings plan all year long. It makes Christmas purchases so much fun to have the money saved and to know where our limit is with each person on the list. Then with our son (and baby on the way) we just decide what we think would be fun and appropriate gifts within the boundaries we set ahead of time. We buy zero toys throughout the rest of the year so Christmas and birthdays are very exciting at our house!

  • Gretchen says:

    Yes – let grandparents be grandparents if it isn’t going to cause family stress. But honestly TONS of toys the kids don’t enjoy for super long that I end up having to donate/give away gives me guilt and stress. So we do try to encourage the special gifts to come from grandparents and a few gifts from mom and dad. Every family and situation is different. You have to do what works best for your family. Last Christmas was overwhelming for our daughter because she had packages from relatives plus presents from us to open in the morning. Then for brunch she had presents from my husband’s parents and then after dinner she had presents from my parents. There was sooo much that she couldn’t enjoy it. It was pretty overwhelming. Plus there is music and food and games and fun. A few less gifts does NOT mean Christmas isn’t going to be as fun as it was when you were a kid. We never did Santa and we did very few gifts, but I still have the best memories of Christmas time with my family.

  • Annie says:

    We do 4 gifts for Christmas. For us it was about limiting the pile of stuff. I don’t want my small children to think that is what Christmas is about. Last year my 3 year old woke up and when I reminded her it was Christmas day she was excited because she got to see her cousins. I want to keep that attitude! But at the same time I don’t want there to be an obsession about how much ISN’T under the tree either. I am hopeful that by starting the tradition of fewer gifts while they are young there will not be any resentment when they are older. The other thing is that the 4 gifts can be large or small, depending on our circumstances. It all depends. That is what we are doing, because it works for us. And I know that my kids will get plenty of gifts from Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles. So there is no deprivation! Be glad that the grandparents are wanting to do something for the kids!

  • Melissa Bergstrom says:

    My husband and I have decided that our kids will get about 3 gifts from us on Christmas, so that they can learn the true meaning of it. But we have decided to go “big” on birthdays. A day to celebrate them. And another reason for going small on Christmas is we have a huge family, and in reality we don’t have to buy them anything and they still get way more than needed.

  • Cheryl C. says:

    As my sister and I got older, gifts naturally got more expensive. My mom came up with the idea of you can have whatever you want (within the set $ limit) that can be written on the back side of a regular postage stamp. This really determined want or need. It worked for us.

  • Heather Jones says:

    We, too, give three gifts to our daughter- need, want, future. We heard about this idea years ago, before we had our daughter and loved the idea.

  • Melanie says:

    We do not spend more than $50 each for our three children but I still find that the pile of presents is too big and put some away for birthdays. We can spend more money but we don’t want the kids to “expect” big gifts. I have friends who proudly say, we only give our kids 3 gifts each and then you come to find out that the gifts are an ipod, an American Girl doll and some other expensive gift. Who cares about the number of gifts if you spend $500 per child?

    • Heather says:

      Exactly my sentiments!

    • kayte says:

      I think it’s important to remember that to some families $500 is a drop in the bucket and to others it’s a fortune. It’s so important to do what works for YOUR family and not worry about what other people are spending.

      • Andrea says:

        Exactly! It’s none of my business if another family chooses to spend $500 or $5000 per child. It’s their choice.

        • Melanie says:

          The point is that they say “we only buy 3 gifts” like they are really limiting what their kids get but then spend tons on them. I can afford to spend $500-$1,000 per child with no problem but I choose not too. Last year, I remember telling our kids not to talk about what all they received for gifts when they returned to school after Christmas break. I was doing this so they wouldn’t feel like they missed out on big gifts when they heard what the other kids got and instead, my 7 year old said you’re right mom, we don’t want the other kids to feel bad because we got so many nice things. I guess it is working so far.

          • Andrea says:

            I suspect that they feel that they *are* limiting their children by only buying three things, but it really doesn’t matter, because it’s their *choice*. I try not to waste time worrying about other people’s materialistic ways or judging their choices.

    • Stephanie says:

      If they can afford then does it really matter? Some would be horrified by the idea of spending $$$ on a wooden doll carriage for a one year old but I found it used and is replacing a lousy brand new plastic one that lasted one week (I love my inlaws but that was such a waste of money). It was $10 more that the hunk of broken plastic but will last forever.
      One friend did give an ipod, AG doll and a laptop to her kids last year- the ipod was free after giftcards, the AG was from ebay and the netbook was refurbished. Total cost was $300 for all three kids.

  • Kristine says:

    I like to limit what my kids get at Christmas and try to spend more money on special experiences such as going to the Nutcracker Ballet, or taking a short trip. But one thing I disagree on is giving a gift that children need. I’ve never understood giving socks, underwear, pajama’s, etc. as a gift. As a parent, if you child needs something, I think you should buy it. I think Christmas gifts should be special gifts above the norm. But I like to give gifts randomly to my children during the year so they understnad that it is OK to splurge every once in a while for no good reason. We live within our means and have no debt so I want my children to understand it is OK to do something special for yourself when you can afford it.

  • Debi says:

    Great to find someone that shares the meaning of Christmas so graciously. I wish I would have done this with my children many years ago. Thank you for sharing.

  • amber says:

    Our family is a family of 5… The last two yr had been pretty hard, so we came up with this. We drew names, and everyone is given $40-45 dollars each to shop.. You would be surprised what thoughtful gifts we all come up with. Everyone feels involved, and everyone is happy with what they get, and give… Plus there is much room to make sure Jesus is the reason for the season…

  • Cara says:

    I grew up pretty poor so we didn’t get much throughout the year. Christmas was the exception. We loved seeing toys just for us! It was magical. As an adult, I found out that our church provided much of that for us. Now as a parent, I am able to do much better for my kids. However, they get very little through the year. I want them to have great experiences, such as trips,activities etc. They have good Christmases but we don’t go overboard. They get one larger present, pajamas, books, games and such. We also set a spending limit of about $100 per child. I want my kids to have fun, learn about Christ and enjoy the Christmas activities like baking cookies!

  • We do the exact same thing – 3 gifts for the kids. One is fun (like a toy), one is educational (like a book), one is clothing. It helps us avoid the “gimmes” that our culture encourages around the holidays.

  • Unless it’s a necessity we typically don’t buy our kids anything through out the year so we do splurge at Christmas. Our son’s birthday is on the 22nd so we also have a completely separate birthday so he doesn’t get ‘lost’ in the Christmas season. In the years when money has been tight my husband and I don’t exchange gifts so that the kids can have a good Christmas.

    The big thing that bugs me about Christmas is exchanging presents with my in laws. I’ve asked over and over again to stop the exchanging with everyone (we buy for 11 people on that side of the family) but no one else wants to quit. Buying and wrapping for 11 extra people on top of my kids gets pretty overwhelming. We stopped exchanging with my side of the family except for a gift certificate I get for my parents every year. We get a lot of junk that ends up going in the Goodwill pile, even though they ask us to put a list together. The only thing that was bought from my list were bath towels and those were given to my husband! Last year I gave everyone tickets to a play and took them out for dinner. I’ve already told them I’m doing the same again this year so hopefully they’ll come up with something creative too.

    At the end of the day every family needs to do what works for them. If giving three gifts works for one family that’s great, but I’m not going to feel guilty about giving my kids more. On the flip side we need to not be judgemental to people who celebrate differently than us.

    • Maegen says:

      I agree, Liz.

      I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments here, even though I know I couldn’t just do three presents.
      I do try to stay reasonable, but I also love that, “Wow!” moment when they come downstairs Christmas morning.

      Most all kids in this country are spoiled compared to the rest of the world. I like to think I’m teaching mine to be grateful as well (though it’s a work in progress)!

      At any rate, I always like posts that make me think!

      • dawn says:

        I could not agree with you more I love the look on my sons face Christmas morning! It is precious and he is growing so fast! I may go overboard but he is a great kid and he knows how to be thankful for everything he has. He also knows that he is very fortunate and he likes to give to others. I want my kid to be a kid and enjoy his childhood and I think that there is no greater time than Christmas to do that as long as he knows the real meaning behind Christmas!

    • jennifer says:

      Our families use to “buy” for everyone also. My husband finally told his mom enough was enough. He told her we were only buying gifts for the kids, and we did not want any adult to buy gifts for us. She was not happy the first year, but we found out his sisters had been wanting to stop the madness but didn’t want to be the “only one”. My side has long ago decided to only buy for the kids. I do get my grandparents, parents and sister something. The kids gifts are limited to around $10 each. I usually make cookies or candy to give to all the adults. This is absorbed into my grocery budget and does not really cost too much.

      • Joy says:

        That’s what my mom and I do; we make cookies for all the “adults” (neighbors, friends, etc.). It’s a dual purpose — cheaper and thoughtful gift, plus my mom and I get to spend the day together. It’s hard with our hectic schedules.

      • Guest says:

        I would second this. My husband’s parents did not want to limit gifts to adults only and my husband wasn’t willing to say anything. I spoke with my SIL and found out that it was putting a tremendous strain on their family and that Christmas had really just become a source of stress. I didn’t want to do it because we prefer a simpler house. She didn’t want to do it because they were buying things with money they didn’t have.

        My in-laws still send an almost embarrassing amount of gifts but we decided to thank them for it but not feel the need to reciprocate the same amount.

  • Amy says:

    Growing up, Christmas was never about US. I believe my parents did a wonderful job in teaching me and my siblings about the amazing gift of God’s love in sending His son to die for us. Because of their desire to teach us this great truth, they explained that our birthdays were OUR special days where we would receive gifts, but Christmas was CHRIST’S birthday where we are priviledged to GIVE the gifts in rememberance of the gift God gave. Every year, my family would work together to secretly help meet the needs of a struggling family in our church and leave a surprise box loaded with presents, food and money on the family’s doorstep each Christmas. Even as young children we understood that the reason we didn’t get all the expensive toys was because we had used the money to help another family. We were all quite content with our two small gifts that somehow just always meant so much more.
    This is the same meaning that my husband and I want to be able to teach our boys. Christmas isn’t a huge deal because of the gifts they think they are going to receive. Instead it is a celebration together with family for what God has already done for us. We want to teach them to be thankful for even the smallest gift and to truly understand the meaning of “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
    People all have different ideas as to what is appropriate for Christmas, but I would sincerely hope that the heart behind the excessive giving or lack thereof is not for any sort of self-gain. Whatever avenue helps your family truly worship God and reflect on Jesus being the “Reason for the Season” is the avenue you need to continue using!

  • Martina says:

    we are going to do this year the same, but we had a trial run for our sons birthday, were he was allowed to pick one gift from the store, he didnt want any other than that one gift. Thankfully we moved away from my inlaws caus the used to give gift just for the sake of having the most under the tree… last christmas my son who was 16 month at the time received 30 3-6 month toys just because my MIL taught it be so cute… we moved a couple of month later and donated them all.

  • That’s funny, because I tell my kids the same “3 Gift” rule for the exact same reason! It may sound harsh to some, but no worries. They have to gift eachother, they get santa gifts and presents from grandparents, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.
    I’ve been doing it for years, and I highly recommend it.

  • Andy says:

    I would like to remind those who complain about the excessive gifts from family that it is important to grateful to have family to annoy you with too many gifts. Not everyone is able to have grandparents to “spoil” them in their childhood. I once complained to my husband I disliked a wedding gift from my grandpa and he kindly reminded me that he had no grandparents to give him anything, not even well wishes. Just a thought.

    • Amanda says:

      I often think about this when I catch myself complaining. Just wish there was a happy medium….

    • dawn says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful comment. When I hear about all the excessive over-abundance of gifts that most kids get from their grandparents, it makes me so sad that my kids will never get anything from theirs. Mine will be lucky to receive a single gift outside of anything my husband and I get them. Therefore, I tend to overcompensate.. but I do wish they had spoiling grandparents for me to complain about 😉

      • Andy says:

        Dawn…I do hope you dont fret too much about the lack of extended family. my husband says he doesn’t feel like he really missed out on anything by not having grandparents or lots of aunts and uncles….but he was sure surprised when mine took him in as another “grandchild” and spoiled him at christmas!

    • Lauren says:

      Yes! I know so many people whose children don’t have grandparents in their lives, (or they are not very involved) and would love to have some relative spoil the kids with a few gifts or outings. For Christmas my kids get a book from one grandma, and $10 from the other one. I can’t even fathom getting a boatload of presents from extended relatives. But the kids know they are loved, and that is the most important thing.

  • Marie says:

    I also love this idea, my sister-in-law does something similar. Three gifts-something to read, something to wear, and something to play with. I think its fantastic to teach your children that Christmas is not about receiving gifts, but about giving and doing for others. So many parents spoil their children with many presents.

  • Dawn says:

    Along with this Christmas gift giving theme, I am reminded of an email I received one year from and I am determined to make this happen in my family one year. Our society has become completely materialistic about Christmas and aside from the deep debt that we sink ourselves into year after year we seem to have lost the meaning of Christmas; giving and spending time with family.

  • Dawn says:

    A brief overview: don’t buy- find things you already have and swap. It’s such a FUN idea and turns Christmas drudgery into a game to share with your whole family. For mom, dad and kids everyone pools money together and then picks out THEIR OWN gift and acts surprised when they open it on Christmas morning. No more wrong sizes or having to fake a smile because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings because they got you something that you didn’t want or didn’t like. For extended family, everyone brings a few “gifts” from around the house, wrap them up and they all go in a pile. First person picks a gift and the next person can either “steal” that first gift or pick a new gift from the pile. It sounds like SO MUCH FUN!

    Here is a link to the email I received if anyone is interested:

  • Kari says:

    We do this too! We read about a family who did while we were engaged and decided we would do it too! We did it with each other when it was just us and have continued it on with our children. Now, we do “play Santa” with our kids, so they get 1 gift from Santa, and then 3 from Mommy and Daddy, so we tell them they better make them good! Not necessarily expensive or big, but good! Glad to see others do this as well!

  • Lee says:

    I see a lot of people on here associating a lot of gifts with either a lot of toys or a lot of debt. My children recieve more than 3 gifts but we get no extra debt and not a ton of extra toys (not from us anyway). We usually buy our kids 1 bigger gift that is a toy a lego set for my oldest, a play set for the 5 year old, etc. there are usually a couple of smaller toy gifts but almost always they go with the larger gift. For example extra action figures to go with the playset. Other than that we usually spend our money on non-toy gifts. Books, a game (that is usually educational for homeschooling), cd’s to listen too, crayons, craft supplies, a decorative item for their room. I watched the first few years with my oldest son as most of his toys were overlooked at christmas and usually most of the year. You can have a meaningful christmas and still give your children a few things to look forward to. Also we don’t buy throughout the year. my chidlren get at christmas and birthdays, they wait and save up their allowances for anything else they want.

    As for grandparents I have 1/3 who listen, 1/3 who try to listen, and 1/3 who could care less. We have had unexpected hits from these gifts and big flops. As a parent I can only control what I do not that of others, only ask nicely!

  • Diane says:

    I have found this conversation to be very interesting and helpful. Although my children are all grown I don’t have any grandchildren yet. I have already decided that I will not be buying a lot of gifts for our grandchildren that instead I will get 1 or 2 items and then contribute toward their college fund. I like the idea of lessons, sports cost, and museum memberships. I know a young family living on an extremely limited budget with small children. The first year I purchased gifts for them I made an art box for each child. I now purchase 1 gift and art box supplies. I have also made it clear that my gift can be from them if they don’t have the funds to purchase any . I don’t need any credit.

    • ck says:

      Yes, this is a great idea. There are many families who cannot afford to give any gift(s) to their children. Two years ago, we were able to shop for a family and give the presents to the parents. The parents then gave the gifts to their children. It was a blessing to provide something for these parents who so desperately wanted to have gifts for their children, but couldn’t afford to do so. And of course, it delighted the children. As Diane mentioned above, we didn’t need the credit!

    • ericka says:

      That is a very wonderful thing to do! My children really could do without toys, but they LOVE their art supplies!

    • Guest says:

      You’ll be a wonderful grandmother! 🙂

      Experiences are so much more meaningful!

  • Susan says:

    At my house I am grateful for the check that one of the grandparents gives us every year. I then get to choose how it is spent and it is never questioned. I am very lucky. Some years I have no budget for my children’s clothing and this check fulfills that need. Some years we appreciate new toys and games. At least every other year, I put the money aside for a special trip that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. My children know about this strategy and we look forward to planning our trip together. These memories will far outlast those extra toys that just get donated to our local thrift store. I am grateful.

  • Michele says:

    I have 3 daughters, all of whom are now in their late 20’s.

    For the past ten years, instead of all the Christmas gift pressure, we have a ladies only outing in January or February. As we live in the NYC area, we see either a Broadway matinee or a ballet at Lincoln Center, with brunch before the show. My 83-year-old mom, sister, 2 sisters-in-law and niece come as well. So instead of buying 8 gifts, for less money, we all have a great Saturday or Sunday AFTER Christmas to look forward to. We enjoy this so much that by mid-summer, we are already talking about what we want to see early next year! Last year was Jersey Boys, two years ago White Christmas, etc.

    Things were tight when my kids were little (I have twin boys who are 23 in addition to my 3 girls). The grandparents often bought the expensive toys (one year my late MIL, God rest her soul, bought them all American Girl dolls) and I made home sewn clothes for all the dolls. My daughters still talk about the velvet capes and dresses – one of their dolls actually won first prize for costuming at our local museum’s doll and teddy bear tea that year!

    I do agree that holiday spending is out of hand and takes the joy out of the season. I always had a “Christmas club” savings account, where a few dollars was automatically transferred from my checking account each week, and that check arriving in mid-October was a big help. (Still is – I continue with this even now.)

  • Kate says:

    I actually do not have children yet, but growing up my parents gave us lots of gifts, within a reasonable budget and placed more of the focus of Christmas on giving. They took us to do our Christmas shopping, and we each used our savings (we usually saved money specifically for Christmas shopping) to buy gifts for each other, our grandparents, etc. We also bought food items with our own money to donate to collections at that time of year. We still enjoyed a big Christmas, with a big pile of presents, but my parents made sure the focus was on giving to others was more important that receiving. My parents wanted us to understand that Christ gave everything for us, and it’s important to do the same for others, even when it’s only giving gifts at Christmas. To this day, i prefer shopping for others than opening my own presents.

  • Abigail says:

    Wow, lots of opinions on this topic…I guess I’ll add mine. 🙂 We have found a blessing in giving largely to our children and expecting/encouraging them to give largely in to others in need. For example when I was growing up, I had ONE special doll, my American girl doll. I would NEVER have given it away to anyone. I loved to give gifts, but I was trained to keep the special things as my own. For our own daughter, we have chosen to give very generously (and we have more means to do so) and she also freely gives away her very special toys. She knows that she is always blessed more in return. For instance, last Christmas, we gave her a reborn baby doll and recently she told me that she desired to give it to a child in need…I kind of gulped because this was a very expensive purchase and she plays with her doll continually. However, we gave her permission to give it away. For her birthday, we decided to give her a twin baby doll set and the first thing a family member said was that we were spoiling her rotten. I disagree. It is possible to give your child nice things, give them many things, but encourage them to give and they will not be selfish. Sometimes I think that severely limiting the amount of gifts given to a child actually can make them MORE selfish because they know that is all they will get.

  • Kelly says:

    I’m amazed that people think kids will become bitter and resentful for not recieving enough gifts. How sad!

    We do the 4 gifts.
    Something you need
    Something to read
    Something to play with
    Something you want.

    I know many Christian families do not do a santa gift but we do, and a stocking.

    Last year my child was so overwhelmed with her wealth of presents from us, Santa, Grandparents (2 sets several presents from each), and her aunts that she became cranky! Hubby and I decided this year we will open one present an hour so as not to overwhelm her. To me that sounds like too much. But maybe since we are adopting from an extreemly poor country (Congo) I see things from a different perspective. I’m sure those kids would love to get 3 presents for Christmas. Or even have a nice dinner with their family without any presents.

    • Bobbi Simmons says:

      My parents have 5 grandchildren and what they are doing this year is giving each grandchild a certain amount of money. The parents can do what they want with the money. We are buying one gift for each kid and the rest of the money will go into a saving account. I always tell my parents..spending time with them is better then any gift.

      Let grandparents be grandparents….if they want to buy them something, let them. 🙂

  • Janet says:

    As a brand new Grandparent I would like to do whatever I want to for my grandchildren. That said I have a 26 year old daughter who has never grown up and frankly learned an extremely bad lesson from her father and her grandparents and god parents. They all would say that they would agree to limit and then they would make what I wanted not count for anything. To this day if I tell her No and it is on big things now like can you pay off 8K in credit cards I owe , she will just ask her Dad her Grandparents or her God parents and she always gets what she wants. This is not teaching her anything. When the lesson comes it will be very hard to swallow.

  • Jessica says:

    I try to focus my gifts on experiences, not objects. That way, they lead to more family bonding and more memories, instead of more “stuff.” The idea is always to go TOGETHER.

    Some ideas:
    – Concerts
    – Museum tickets
    – Movie tickets
    – Gift cards to a favorite restaurant
    – Spa day
    – National Park ticket fees / maps / gas cards (to get there)

  • K* says:

    A lot of the comments on this post make me sad. I really agree with the statements about teaching kids denial rather than forcing them to appreciate things. I think kids should be kids, and giving them practical items that parents should provide anyway as gifts seems sad to me. I understand that people have different financial situations, but still. You can love Jesus and keep Him as the very “reason for the season” while still letting some of the “magic” happen!

    My family was poor and very frugal, but my parents socked away $5/week all year in a “Christmas club” account that paid for all of our family’s gifts.

    I was raised very religious, and we still had Santa in our home. I truly loved the Santa myth! I loved it. I wasn’t hurt or bitter when I found out that it was my parents, I was excited to be part of the “secret” and keep it alive for my younger siblings. I loved and appreciated the gifts either way because we didn’t get much all year. I have amazingly fond memories of Christmas traditions, and of gifts and gift giving.

    • Kay says:

      Im not sure i quite understand your statement that…” giving gifts parents should provide anyway” is what you call sad. parents dont always have to provide new pajamas or a socks when their children have lots of pajamas already… it is still very much a gift and children need to see that.. if not let them take a trip to some place in Africa where they will realize they are rich rich rich! i don’t say that to take away the joy of gift giving of “fun” things seriously i love the “magic and celebration of the season…but that statement threw me off a bit

  • Irene R. says:

    My cousins were raised like this and they were always sad and upset that they did not get any “fun” out of their Christmas. Although I am not saying that this lead to their motivation to move away from their parents and not have such a close relationship. I often stop and wonder. They were very religious often not celebrating any holidays outside of Christmas. Although my parents didn’t have much money they provided just enough. I am having a hard time keeping up with the bills ect in our lives but I know that I must provide for my kids the way I was raised. I want them to feel the joy of opening the presents Christmas morning. Debt is just something we all tend to have. It will get paid off but for now, I want to enjoy my kids and show them some fun! I will try and save and try to find the best deals however my kid’s happy faces come first to me! To each their own though.

  • Meghan says:

    My husband and I just got out of credit card debt, we are going to try and set limits for Christmas gifts this year.

  • Deanna Schiesser says:

    LOVE this idea!!

  • Heather says:

    I am loving all these ideas shared here. I will share ours:
    My husband and I buy for one anothers stocking. We have a $20/per stocking budget and we challenge one another each with who can get the most with that money in our stocking. Now that we have a daughter, I shop for her stocking, but since she is 2 yo its filled with her favorite snacks, a book and a fun toy. As far as gifts go, for us as a couple, we usually buy something we can share…furniture piece or even a weekend getaway for just us two. For our daughter, who is an only child, she gets so much stuff from our family and friends that we the last 2 years just basically “filled in” with her “needs” for gifts as the rest of them just spoiled her rotten. We do have set up a college fund account for her and for christmas and bdays all her grandparents and great-grandmother put money in there for her. One set of grandparents— will only do the college fund—that is it…no extra gift…my mother spoils her rotten and you know what although I know its probably not the best thing….it only happens twice a year and makes my mother very happy and since she is a grandmother and can afford the splurges, we let her. We live in another state and don’t see her that often, so the spoiling is special and for us that is what works. She does ask what our daughter needs/wants (or experiences) and we tell her only 2 to 3 things that she can focus on those, which does help.

  • lisa says:

    While I like the idea of 3 gifts I really enjoy Christmas to that is too limiting imo. We tend to do about 10 each. Usually one bigger thing than the accessories that go with it.

    I also disagree with the ‘gift giving’ takes away from Christ ~ before any presents are opened we always read the Christmas story from the Bible. Now that the boys are bigger they can recite it. Then we pray together as a family.

    We keep Jesus in our homes everyday not just Christmas. My kids are not spoiled by any means they don’t get toys every time we go to the store and they don’t beg/ask for things. It is all about what you teach them along the way. Only doing it one day and Christmas of all days isn’t going to teach them anything but resentment. (I’m not saying that is what is being done I’m just saying make sure the focus is Christ based everyday and make sure you work on the ‘gimmies’ everyday.) 😀

  • Amy says:

    I’ve read through all of these posts, and I’m a little sad. There seems to be an undercurrent of competition and comparison among women these days. We should do what we think is best for our families, and not feel threatened if others make different choices. I see this all the time, even with friends. Why does this happen? I would love to see women support each other and raise each other up instead. We do so much as mothers, spouses, friends, neighbors, employees…let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.

  • Dineen says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading different families’ thoughts here.

    My husband I are struggling right now with our about-t0-turn 4 year old daughter and her “gimmees”. For the past few weeks I’ve been working with her on paring down her toys “so that she can have room for her birthday and Christmas gifts”. It’s very challenging for that young mind to understand that need to release things. Her birthday is mid-November and last year it seemed that there was a steady stream of packages that arrived from just before her birthday until the new year. She began to believe that every one of them was for her even when it was not. Having family arrive a few days after Christmas to extend with gifts from our out-of-state family just exaggerated that belief. It’s not hard to see how a small child can pick up the entitlement ideas.

    I guess at this stage of development, it’s a matter of teaching a young one to be really *grateful* for gifts and not just parroting “thank you”. My job as mom approaching her birthday is find out not just what she wants which are often passing whims, but what can really inspire deep abiding gratitude.

    After reading posts here about taming toy clutter, I began talking with my dad about the experience gift of a zoo pass, since our daughter has plenty of “stuff”. He was eager to offer such a delight to his little one and doesn’t want to wait for her birthday! The experience gift idea was much more accepted than I anticipated.

    One thing my husband and I decided when we were first married was that we wanted our children to have the experience of Santa, but we also wanted to separate the secular aspect from the real spiritual birth of Christ that Christmas celebrates. We have Santa visit on St. Nicholas day December 6. The night before he fills her (Mom and Dad’s too) stocking with candies, nuts, and a small toy or two and in the morning she opens it. Our small town tends to have a Christmas parade the first week in December, so she can see St. Nick “arrive” in town.

    We learn all about Christmas with Jesse tree stories, verses and ornaments. On Christmas day, we do not give gifts. We have a birthday dinner. We wait until Twelfth Night or Kings Day, Epiphany January 6 the day that commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men coming to worship the newborn Jesus and give Him gifts. On the day that Jesus got his gifts, we exchange gifts. This is not unlike some other cultures’ celebrations of Christmas; it’s just outside mainstream American.

    • Andrea says:

      She’s really young to fully grasp decluttering so she can get new things. She’s probably confused about having to give her toys away. When my kids were younger, I kept an eye out for the toys that they neglected. If something didn’t get much play time, I moved it to a bin in the garage. If they didn’t ask for it back after six months or so, I sent it to charity.

      Now that they are a bit older, I ask them if there is anything that they’d like to give away or sell in a yard sale. Two of my children freely give away their toys when they feel they are done with them. Two have a more difficult time parting with things.

  • Dineen says:

    I forgot to add that by exchanging gifts on January 6, we can take advantage of after-Christmas sales and save quite a bit. This doesn’t work for the “hottest” kids toys, but for grown-ups it can.

  • Alicia says:

    I have five children, two born in December, one in January, and one in February. (#5 was born in April) The holidays are not only hectic, but full of celebrations and birthdays. Because of our limited space in our home and also our limited finances, we have adopted the following for our Christmas gift-giving guidelines:

    “Something you want, something you need; something to wear, something to read…”

    I’ve seen some mention of this in the hundreds of posts above, but we have a slightly different spin. I love being able to spend the day with my children and extended family, and not make the focus on opening gifts. We also draw a name for the adults and have a $25-$50 guideline. In lieu of giving my children gifts this year, my sister gave us a Family Zoo pass and it is amazing. So, I guess we do a combination of all the above listed suggestions. Our Christmas is amazing and fun and filled with great memories. We also make a homemade treat (usually fudge) for our immediate neighbors.

  • Stacey says:

    We started last year with something I read in a magazine, and its very similar to this. Each kid gets the following:
    Something they want
    Something they need
    Something to wear
    Something to read

    Granted, at one and three, they dont express too many wants, so we gave them a toy appropriate for the age, but we followed the basic idea. Obviously as they get older, the wants will be different, but both my husband and I feel like this is a fair and reasonable way to handle Christmas. Especially when there are other family members (grandparents in particular) who buy for the kids as well. Even with our ‘restrictive’ (a friend’s description, not my own) list, neither boy was wanting for toys or presents. I love the idea of having a reason behind the gift giving, rather than buying and buying and buying.

  • Kathy says:

    We give our children “just because” gifts throughout the year instead of overwhelming them with tons of stuff on Christmas. Not that we don’t still go a little overboard, but we try to keep ourselves in check and make sure that we and our children keep the focus on Jesus’ birth.

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