How Much Do You Spend On Christmas?

As I'm about to post this I'm struggling with whether or not it's proper etiquette (for a Southern girl. . .) to talk real money.  (I know, it's probably not!)  But I think this is an interesting question and one that's worth considering, so here goes!


good friend of mine asked a great question about how much money real families budget on Christmas gifts.  And because I'm betting she's not the only one who's curious, I figured I'd address it, but I really don't want to!  I'm hesitant to answer because it's a little too real; however I also wonder what real families spend, and how much Christmas impacts our family budget.  I do feel like we're all at different places financially and by no means will we all spend the same amount of money on our children, but this is how Christmas looks in our home.


We are incredibly fortunate and have several family members who are very generous with our children at Christmas, so we've never felt the need to spend tons ourselves . . . we know they simply get too much!  We are also blessed as our children haven't really gotten into electronics yet – they did get a Wii last Christmas but have yet to ask for any other video games, handheld or otherwise (which is a HUGE expense!) 


Our budget in previous years has been around $75-$100 per child (for the older two), and way less for our youngest – maybe $40-$50.  This year my ten year old received significantly more (we spent about $150 on his gifts, and he's also getting an MP3 Player from Amazon that was free with Swagbucks.)  I'm struggling with this one as I feel like we've spent so much more than usual on him, and yet there's very little to show for it.  Meanwhile, his baby sister is getting about $45 worth of gifts and it'll look  like Santa came just to visit her Christmas morning!  For now though, this is what's worked in our home, and we'll re-think it all as we plan next year's Christmas budget.  One thing that we'll definitely add to the budget next year is money for Christmas giving . . . we've always given to worthy causes over the Christmas season but never with a plan, so I'm hoping that will help make me a more cheerful giver.


As Lana mentioned, our church has been involved in the Advent Conspiracy, which has helped keep our minds focused as parents on what's important during Christmas, which isn't the number of gifts under the tree.  This one is tough at times for us, and my children do notice that other kids receive more each Christmas than they do.  I think they recognize that we could probably do more, however in our home we've simply chosen not to.  So far we've been able to explain that all families do things differently for Christmas, and they seem satisfied with that.  Let's hope that continues! 


Okay, so if you're up for it, what do you budget for your children for Christmas?  (You can leave the comment anonymously if you'd like . . . I know I would have liked to!)  And, do you budget at all, or just purchase as you go and pray the bills won't be overwhelming in January?  I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on this one, so please leave a comment & share!


Photo courtesy of carstenfonsdal on flickr.


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  1. I don’t know if we have a set amount. We let them make their list and filter it some while they are writing it. We tell them Santa can’t get everything but they still get tons of stuff. They also have very generous grandparents and step grandparents, many times they will send us gift cards and we get them something for Christmas and we save some of the money for Valentine’s Day (my eldest birthday). I really do think that kids lose the real meaning of Christmas when they have sooooo many gifts but it is hard not to do. My husband and I have a huge difference in opinion when it comes to how many gifts to give them. Growing up in Colombia we got one gift from Jesus (not Santa) and then we got one from the Wise men in January. My husband on the other hand got oodles of gifts on Christmas morning. He loves to see the joy in their eyes and I want to do the (novena) a Colombian tradition. We sing songs and pray for the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the 9 nights before Christmas. We try to merge these two traditions and somehow we work it out. Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family!!

  2. I guess right now I am fortunate that my child is only 15 months. He doesn’t get the Santa/Christmas thing yet. I budget only so much for him.I spent about $50 on him with great deals an lots of patience. I shopped black Friday (I know crazy) and paid cash so I couldn’t over spend. He has 5 gifts from us and Santa. Me an my husband believe that 5-6 good quality gifts that we know he will like AND play with is better than 20+ that he’ll touch once then get bored. Our niece bought her daughter 18 presents from Santa alone (she’s 2 1/2) yikes. But to each their own and thats what works for us.

  3. Wow Laurie, I wish I could go back in time about 15 years and start FRESH! Now, our kids expect us to spend about $250-$300 each on Christmas gifts!! My older 2 would not know what happened! I think it is great to set a budget like you did! We still do a lot of giving but I think how much more we could do if we didn’t spend so much on gifts from Santa.

  4. I, too, do most my Christmas shopping on black Friday. (or clearance shopping in Oct) Yes…I was third in line at toysrus but I saved at least 200 doing it. That makes it so my boys get awesome gifts without breaking the bank. I was lucky this year because family sent me money to shop for them. So… from us, Santa and all family…each child probably got around $250 spent on them. (plus $100 to each college fund) My middle boy had a birthday yesterday so that adds to the expenses! It is sort of crazy but I always feel good about it because some ends up in toysfortots and we donate most all their old toys. My kids don’t get new toys Thrue the year, only birthdays and Christmas. All in all, out of pocket…I probably spent $75 per child and $150 on my hubby (who also has a Dec birthday). I use almost ALL cash. I spent about $150 on all other family too.

  5. As a grandmother of 2 grandson it has always been hard not to overspend on them. I daughter had gotten to the point of not buying much because of everything that I bought. After last Christmas she had a long talk with me and asked that I not go so overboard this but then disaster struck and she is now in the middle of a bad divorce. Through this divorce her estranged husband and herself lost their jobs, their homes, their vehicles and I think some times their minds. The two boys now live with my husband and I and recently my daughter as also moved in. So our whole family dynamics has changed in the last 6 months. So this year my husband and I are Santa Claus and we have so struggled with spending. Our budget is different because we are now raising the two boys not just buying for them. We have had to add lots of new expenses to our budget(daycare).

    So what we did was sit down and decide what we really wanted to get them and what they need ( new coats and boots) and then we put it all on layaway. I then took $100.00 extra to spend on black Friday as I wanted on impulse buying. As members of our family knew all of the struggles we were dealing with, several of them sent us money to pay for the layaway. And I can say that we did not buy anything else and we are set and feel that the children will have a wonderful Christmas but not an overspent one.

  6. I can’t say that we actually budget for Christmas gifts, but I do try to keep track of my spending and make lots of lists. This year we have been very blessed and able to pay it all with cash – NO CREDIT CARDS. My husband and I have very generous parents and they always get the kids nice gifts. We do not purchase large gifts for our children through the year – these are saved for special occassions such as Christmas and birthday. We also don’t purchase lots of extra toys, etc through the year. Now the big thing here is my children are now 10 and 14 so you KNOW it’s all about electronics now. Cha ching, cha ching. Thankfully they have received many of the game devices during the last couple of years and now we just purchase a couple of games and my son wants some accessories for them. When there is an age gap it’s hard to keep the purchases equal and it doesn’t always work out that way. Thankfully you can usually get the younger one several items that are inexpensive and the older one understands he may get fewer but the cost is higher. Santa has usually brought 4-5 items for each child (tried to always keep it at 3 – the gifts of the Wisemen, but that was hard) Too many gifts can also be overwhelming for kids. I’ve tried to limit our family to 1 gift from each person (Mom and Dad give 2 gifts to each child) I told my mom she could give 2 gifts to each child (one from maw maw & one from paw paw) thinking this would limit her somewhat and she would have to choose carefully what to give. No . . . she just started stuffing as much as she could into one of those extra large supersize bags!! Oh well, I tried. Most importantly we work at keeping the focus on the birth of Jesus. Every night during advent we have lit our candles, read from our advent book, and said our family prayers together. I’m also thankful that both of my children are just as excited at giving gifts as receiving them. That’s a good thing!!! Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas.

  7. Well, this has been a tough subject for us this year. In the past, it was not uncommon for my husband and I to spend over a $1,000 each on our son, 9 and daugher, 5. The reason for this has always been that we were in an imaginary competition with my husband’s parents who equate love with money and gifts. Last year alone, our son and daughter had a total of around $6,000 (if not more) spent on them for Christmas. This year, we are down to one income as my husband finishes his teaching degree, and my father-in-law had heart attack and has not been able to resume his job as a truck driver, and the economy has also hit their restaurant business hard. While we do not use credit cards and our only major debit is our home, this year has still been extremely hard on us. I have always been a bargain shopper and couponer, but through the help of this and other sites, I have taken that to a new level in 2010. This year, our children will receive gifts/clothes/etc. from us with a retail value of $250 each child, but I actually spend very little out of pocket. I won a Justice giftcard from Parkway Place Mall’s Facebook giveaway, used Rue-la-la credits to score free shoes, and also used Guilt Groupe and One King’s Lane credits to get free toys. I also cashed in my Regions Bank Rewards for Wal-Mart gift cards, and shopped clearance racks exclusively. I used CVS coupons and gift cards to get my son a 7″ netbook at a rock bottom price. One of my favorite stores (if you have kids and live in North Alabama) is Sprouts in Decatur. They have high end children’s consignments and toys at great prices. If you follow them on FB, you can see when they have their sales. I have been able to get numerous items from their $1.00 rack with the tags still on them. It is well worth your drive to their store. This year our focus will be on the true meaning of Christmas and spending time with family. We are looking forward to being able to give back to others in the coming year.

  8. well we did do alot less this year due to advent conspiracy. i didn’t stress over equal amounts either. my kids get their sports activities, church activities & additonal items paid for all year long. they also have generous grandparents so… at 16, 15 & 12 i think they know they have plenty but they still always have that wish list for bigger & better things. i think its important that they learn to work odd jobs & save their money for some of those wants.

  9. This year we will have a very small Christmas because my husband was laid off just before Thanksgiving and he is not receiving any unemployment. I am a stay at home mom and my only income is through a few piano lessons I give and internet surveys. So, basically, we have NO “Christmas money”. However, my three boys (ages 2,3, and 4) will not suffer due to our lack of income. We do not have grandparents, siblings, or aunts and uncles that spoil our children, I am just VERY FRUGAL! 🙂
    When I was young, I was a spoiled only child. I usually received everything I wanted -from my parents as well as my grandparents. Ironically, my favorite part of Christmas was looking in my stocking (which contained inexpensive little gifts!) Last year, I decided it was time to invest in some good size (not huge) stockings for the boys. They loved it! Watching them take out each little “treasure” was a thrill!
    This year, we only have one wrapped gift for each boy (and I used $10 Jingle Cash plus $5 out of pocket to buy them!) In each stocking, they will have various items I’ve been buying at Walgreens and CVS. I think I’ve spent $8 on all of it! Since they’re little, it will be enough to keep them happy. In my opinion, Christmas is a day to honor the birth of Jesus – we deserve so little ourselves! I hope to teach my children that this special day is not about how many gifts they receive, but how much of a gift God gave for them. Merry Christmas!

  10. We have struggled with this since we started our family!! Both or children are December babies ages 2 and 5 so it’s very hard finding things that weren’t birthday presents!! We only spent cash and even bought our son’s biggest present off craigslist but still managed to spend around 1200! We realized the other day we need to get a handle on this and start next year with doing things differently. I try really hard to make sure my kids know the real reason for Christmas, but every toy I see I can’t help but imagine their faces when they open it!! We really feel caught, they don’t really have other family that buys for them so we don’t want them to see what thier cousins, friends get and wander why they didn’t get more but isn’t it worse if they get so much they don’t appreciate it?? I’m so glad this was brought up!! Our idea for the coming year has been to do thier birthdays together in the summer as a half birthday party. Then for each birthday just a family dinner. For Christmas we are going to try a budget for each kid WAY LESS than we’ve been spending.

  11. Jennifer G. says

    For now…..we aren’t worried about spending equal amounts (my kids are 6, 4,1), but I have a feeling as a they grow older and they become more aware of how much things cost, we’ll be more “fair”. (But we spent $.88 on 2 Barbies for my daughter and I don’t feel the “even things out” by buying more toys just to make sure we’re spending the same on each child!) This year, Santa is bringing a book for each child, 3 toys each, and little stocking stuffers. Their big present is bunk beds from my mom and we let them pick out bedding that will be from us. Due to couponing and good deals, we spent less than $100 on all 3 kids combined.

  12. well, I”m almost embarassed to say how much we spend for our 3 kids. For Santa, it’s usually about $300-$600 per child. And from us, around $150-200 per child. Gifts from Santa are the big items that they know that they can only get at Christmas b/c we won’t buy it during the year. It’s something that that all look forward to and try to be good all year long so that they can get these big items. I always try to get as much as I can with coupons and swagbucks. Hopefully next year I can do better.

    • I’ve struggled all day with WHY ON EARTH I posted this :), but I do think it’s interesting to hear how other folks handle Christmas in their homes. Our children end up with tons on Christmas, but thanks to Amazon I can limit my expenses, and my husband’s family kind of set the same precedent in their home so it’s been easier to follow.

      I’m dreading the day when my kids get really into electronic stuff – I was thinking today that they may have to pay for their own (is that terrible? I just know if I spend a wad on it I’ll be really mad when they lose it!!!) Thanks so much for sharing everyone!

      • Laurie, it’s been two years since my reply and a lot has changed. Now that they’re older, they are actually asking for LESS! ;). Both boys use their own money to buy things that they want. By Christmas, it’s a struggle for them to have to even come up with some items for their lists. So, as far as dollar amounts go, it’s probably now $100 per child from us and $200 from Santa. Huge difference from two years ago! As for Staci, well, her list is a mile long! But, thankfully, they’re pretty reasonable items so its probably the same as the boys dollar amount. All in all, our budget has decreased considerably now that they are older and can buy their own things. Thank goodness!

  13. I have 2 teenagers and I spend about $150-$200 on each. This year they went on Amazon and put in my cart what they wanted for Christmas, which was PS3 games, CDs, DVDs, etc. I went in and chose what to get and ordered it all at once (with prices were the same as Walmart) and free shipping. I have never bought my kids really expensive gifts at Christmas so they would not expect it every year (or to go up and up each year either).

  14. Kandy Duncan says

    My husband and I watched our parents struggle so much trying to keep up around the holidays we both barely remember Jesus being mentioned on Christmas day. So when are daughter was born we both agreed to keep it about Jesus and not about the hottest toys. We agreed that in our family it would be best to take Christmas back from big business and give it back to God. I have a four year old who thanks to some careful discussions understands that Christmas is about Jesus and not Santa and gifts. We tell her that some families like to pretend there is a Santa as a Christmas game. I would never spoil their fun so we tell our daughter that for some kids Santa is an imaginary friend and we never take away someones friend real or fake. We start our holiday by making cookies and homemade gifts for our families. My daughter loves it when people admire her hand made treasures. It usually only cost around $40. We spend a lot of time talking about Jesus and how he wants us to be grateful for all he has done for us. This year we were able to donate so much (thanks to coupons) and it made a wonderful addition to our holiday spirit and hope to be so lucky next year. We only buy a few gifts and really make the day special just by being together. We celebrate Christmas as Jesus’s birthday and our daughter loves Christmas just as much as the kids who get lots of presents. Our families all understand our new traditions and I think we have even help some of them bring a more meaningful Christmas back to their lives. In March we tell our daughter how special her birth was to us and we shower her with gifts like most parents do at Christmas. I feel that this way she really understands Christmas and we can focus on what we should be focused on.
    All in all I spent about $200 this year on Christmas gifts but will spend about $300+ on traveling home to Indiana to see our families.

  15. For our family the excitement about CHRISTmas is writing letters. About four years ago we told our parents and siblings we do not want presents we wanted everyone to donate or help someone out and write a letter to tell us about it. So instead of opening presents we open envolopes! It has been so fun! Instead of getting everyone stuff they do not need we help those in need. I think Jesus looks at the way we spend His birthday and is sad. His word says Matthew 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ I think it’s sad when we can spend thouands of dollars on presents that really will only add excitement for what a couple of weeks and there are people who don’t have clean water and clothes on their backs. It saddens me to think we have become a society that for Jesus’s birth we made it about us not Him. I think once we realize that Satan is getting what he wants- to take Jesus out and make it about us. We have struggled with CHRISTmas for years in our house but I hope one day advent conspiracy will be the norm how awesome would that be!!

  16. Our 5 children (oldest one is 8) know that Christmas is the birth of Jesus celebration. We have a birthday cake to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Like all kids, they love to get presents. In past years we have spent $20 or so per kid…but I am so excited about our bargain this year!!! My husband was at a yard sale this summer and found a huge quantity of little pet shop stuff for $20! Since our oldest four children are girls, this is a shared gift for all of them!! That’s it…all they get from Mom and Dad! Our youngest is a boy and he is 9 months old so he will just enjoy playing with the wrapping paper!
    I have wondered if I am depriving my children of the joys of childhood, but we’ve done this kind of thing in previous years and they love to have these items to share and remind each other to take care of it because they all want to play with it! I know as they get older they are going to want more expensive things, but hopefully our emphasis on giving to others will help balance the want-me’s! Oh, and the electronics request is already here…my oldest has to earn A honor roll all school year to get her DS she wants!
    And don’t worry they will get tons of presents from grandparents…stuff they don’t really need but like to have anyway!!!

  17. We did make so many changes last year and this year but I still feel far away from the true meaning….I can’t wait for Christmas Eve service – I haven’t felt worshipful in days and days! I think it just feels this way when we get to the end of the Christmas crazies and the shopping and wrapping and baking and cooking is done and we hope we are making great memories and not just turning our daughters into future psycho Christmas wives and moms 🙂 I feel like I poured so much ENERGY into all this since the beginning of November and I feel really tired and it will all be great on Christmas Day but I don’t know that it is worth it to devote so many weeks of our year – I don’t feel like I have sat down since Halloween. It’s like the John Grisham book Skipping Christmas – he meant they were skipping ALL OF IT – the cards, the parties, all of it. I remember thinking in shock when she said their Christmas budget was $6K and she had a line item of ornament repair that was like $60. It really can easily get that crazy! It was great to read all these responses – the varieties of celebrations and traditions. I too wish I could start over – our oldest is 17 and I would approach Christmas differently if I could do it over again. We are limiting the gifts to 3 each this year (The Wisemen thing) we will see how that goes over on Christmas Eve – we probably had 6-8 last year. Right now, my goal for next year is to spend less, give more, worship more, and spend more quality time with the people that live with me. Sounds a little like Advent Conspiracy – Right now I plan to spend $200 less and give that away on top of this years giving – maybe its like anything else in life. We fail and we try again – we do better next week or next year. I want to do better next year. Thanks for the post! Merry Christmas!

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