How Much Do Real Families Budget For Christmas?



A friend of mine once asked: “How much do real families budget for Christmas gifts for their children?”




If there was ever a question I didn't want to get into at Christmas, that would be the one. 


It did get me thinking though—and after sixteen Christmas mornings with a few of the cutest kids running around our home, our family has learned a thing or two.




1. Decide when your children are young what Christmas will look like for your family.


Goodness, I wish I could tell every momma of a one-year-old that they simply don't need to spend more than $20 (at the very most!) on that little one.


Babies have as much fun with the boxes as they do the actual presents . . . and my bet is a few family members will add a bundle of gifts to their Christmas treasures.


By choosing to purchase less when they're little, you're paving the way for your child's future expectations.


If you shell out $500 in gifts to a four-year-old, just imagine what their expectations will look like when they're fourteen.


Start simply.


Be different.


Determine when your kids are young that Christmas will be about more than dozens of gifts under the tree.




2. As your children get older, continue to keep it simple.

Remember the thirty-two bins of toys you hauled to the thrift store last summer?


That may have been because your kids simply received a few too many gifts on Christmas morning.

Instead, choose a few items that your child will love and let the rest go. Before making a single purchase, consider if the gift will end up in the bottom of the toy bin in a week or two.


If so, your child probably doesn't need it to begin with.




3. You don't have to keep up with the Joneses. (Really.)

Be okay with doing things differently.


Inevitably, on Christmas day when neighbor kids race outside with Christmas treasures, my kids have occasionally felt a wee bit disappointed.


“Why did Santa like them better than me?” 


That, folks, especially with young children, is a tough one.


Our answer has been that Santa checks with parents before he hands out the Christmas gifts, and since our children know we choose to live differently, they seem satisfied with our answer.


(And trust me, if you saw our home, you'd have no doubt that our kids have plenty.)


Rather than trying to make Christmas special for your child by keeping up with someone else, encourage them to make Christmas special for another child. 

  • Adopt an Angel Tree child and let your kid choose gifts for them.
  • Donate food to a local food drive and let your child help do the shopping.
  • Fill an Operation Christmas Child Shoebox to send to children who may get nothing else this Christmas.


And on Christmas morning, be the parent who plops down on the floor to help build that new Lego set. (Your undivided attention will be more valuable to your child than any Christmas gift. I promise!)




4. Christmas will change as your family changes.

What Christmas morning looks like this year in our home is different than what it looked like fifteen years ago.


Our finances have changed and our kids have changed, so we've made adjustments along the way.


For Christmas this year, we'll spend around $125 on my nine-year-old, thanks to some incredible deals I've scored shopping early (and she will have plenty).


Christmas for my sixteen-year-old will look a little different, though, and he'll probably get a few things he needs, in addition to some fun gifts. (Gifts for a sixteen-year-old just cost more. I haven't figured out a way around that!)




5. No matter their ages, set a budget for each child's Christmas.


Don't be tempted by a last-minute deal to fill up space underneath the tree. Instead, decide your limits ahead of time, and stick to them this year.
Don't go beyond your budget to make Christmas special for your children.


Instead, make Christmas by creating lifelong memories, choosing unique gifts just for your kids, and making your home just the place your children want to be on Christmas morning. 


Especially if your children are little, think small because that sets the expectation for the next year.


Determine to make Christmas special by enjoying family traditions, and know that the choices you make today pave the way toward financial freedom in the future.




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  1. I think your advice is spot on! In our house our 4 kids have learned Santa brings some things we want and some things he things we need. they never get everything on their list, but in my opinion do NOT go with out!

    My oldest is now 11, but when he was 6 he decided he must be on the “maybe” list. The toy he really wanted wasn’t under the tree and he cried. (a toy you know will break the 3rd time they play with it, but they wanted $100) When he opened his stocking and saw he had gum of his own he acted as though he won the lottery. 🙂

  2. Yes to the less stuff! I have an almost nine-year-old son who is not a toy kid and falls into that awkward not a little kid not really a tween age group, and a three and a half year old who needs nothing. We opted to splurge on a family pass to COSI (a really cool science museum in Columbus if you haven’t been yet) and a little extra pocket money for the gift shop. It probably does cost more than we would spend on “stuff” and they will each have a few small things to open under the tree, but there will be no regret with broken or forgotten toys after a week!

  3. This is an awesome post, Laurie. I wish more families would keep things simple. It’s a season of worship, not financial stress.

  4. I’d like to know how to make my tree look as fabulous as yours! Love it

  5. Christmas is so much more than one hour of opening gifts on December 25. We adore the whole month of December! We worship. We craft. We watch Christmas movies. We invite friends over. We share with strangers. Christmas morning is simple….and beautiful…..and no one is disappointed in what they did or did not get under the tree. I try to never spend more than $125-150 on each person in our family (hubs, 14 & 12 year olds) and that includes stocking stuffers and all. I keep a list throughout the year of things they say they would like to have and resort to it rather than a “Christmas List”. I can’t wait to start the celebration of the season next week!

  6. I agree iv had Christmases with my kids where the living room was full of gifts (I got good deals when woolies went bust) and ended up decluttering almost everything in a few years .

    My kids now understand they have to choose something they really want and if it’s small but expensive they understand that they will get a small pile .

    My 9 year old adhd daughter this year has asked for 5 gifts one is an iPad like mummy’s she’s very likely to get everything she’s asked for as she hasent asked for an expensive gift and a load of big crap she won’t use .

    I even explained that because she asked for a small but expensive gift it means that she might have a small pile or not get everything she wants , her reply that’s ok because I’ll get some thing I really want and I’m great full for anything I get .

    In previous years she’s seen her brithers pile decline but he gets things he really loves and wants and cherishes last year a new lap top pretty much blew his buget , does he use and love that laptop every day you bet he does .
    I love Christmas and my kids don’t get toys and crap through the year only on birthdays and Christmas .

  7. We also do loads over Christmas , deliver elf baskets to family ( my daughter helps the elfs when they are sick) .
    Loads of crafts , Christmas movies , songs , singing , dancing , decorating , making treats , playing games the thing my kids want to do the most this year is make a gingerbread house with me and leave the reindeer food out xx

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