We’ve been parents for 3 years now, and this is our 4th Christmas with kids (since Grace was 3 months old on Christmas 2016). And, let me tell you – we LOVE making holiday memories as much as anyone else. We want Christmas to be fun and magical for our kids, but guys – I CRINGE at the idea that Christmas (or whichever holiday you celebrate) has to be expensive!
I have a few reasons for this. Part of it is rooted in the fact that we move every 1-3 years…and moving every 1-3 years makes you very aware of how much excess “stuff” you have. Part is me not wanting my kids to grow up believing they are entitled to more/more expensive stuff. Part of it is me hoping to reduce waste. If I can buy less, or buy used, it has less environmental impact – and while my holiday spending won’t make or break planet Earth, I know every little bit helps. And part if it is purely practical. If I spend less, I save more. If I save more, it gives my family more financial freedom in the long run. We are very lucky, BUT we have 3 kids and I know one days when they'll all in high school, I'll probably have a weekly grocery bill of, like, $250. [But for real, I'm pretty sure that's what my parents had to spend to keep 4 teenage kids fed].
Obviously, my kids are young – it’ll be harder to do this when they are school aged. When we get there, I’ll definitely re-evaluate how I spend!
Ultimately, your holidays are your thing. Every family has their own spending priorities, and this is NOT meant to come off as "judgy" toward those who choose to spend more. But if you’re looking to give your kids some magic without breaking the bank, here’s some ideas:
Be ridiculously practical. A few weeks ago, Max peed on Grace’s toothbrush during a sink bath. Obviously, I went to CVS and spent $4 getting her a new one that day. She went BANANAS for her new toothbrush! Like, beyond excited. She thanked us for days! So with that in mind, I got new bath towels, hand towels, and a bath mat for the kids for Christmas. We had to buy them anyway – since our new house has an extra bathroom, and I’m sure both Ben and Grace will be excited! But I’m also game to wrap up toothpaste, shampoo, socks, underwear, diapers, etc.
Shop used. One of my favorite things here in Boston is the popping buy-sell-trade market. Want a $80 Micromini scooter for you kid? Well, you can get a year-old model for $15 on Facebook Marketplace. Looking for pink snow boots? $40 on Amazon, or $5 at Goodwill. Just by buying those two items used, you’ve saved $100. Bikes? Blocks? Books? I can almost guarantee you that you can find it used for a fraction of the price. I love my toddlers, but they go through things FAST and they also destroy said items along the way. I’d rather pay half price to have them destroy it.
Regift from your own house. So, this technique probably wouldn’t work on Grace right now, but it WILL work on Ben and most other kids his age (<~2 years). Simply pick a toy they haven’t used or seen in a while…wrap it up…and let them unwrap it on Christmas. We did this with Grace at 15 months and again right after she turned 2. The “regifted” toys were a HUGE hit! She had clearly forgotten about them, and was so excited to play with them.
Exchange with friends. Last year, I did a used book exchange with some friends. We all picked out a few books out kids didn’t read often, wrapped them up, and gave them to each other (we did pay attention to age and gender so the books would be appropriate for the recipient). Each child got 5-10 new books, and we didn’t have to spend a dime. You could also do this with anything! Baby gear, shoes, winter coats, toys -- join forces with other parents from work, church, daycare, etc and get rid of your own clutter while gaining some holiday magic.
And, of course, one for the grown-ups: Draw names! Do you have a big family? Tired of trying to spend $50 each on your parents, in-laws, siblings, sibling-in-laws, nieces and nephews, and other extended family? DRAW NAMES. Each person gets one name, and they get one good gift for that specific family member. It allows you to get a good, quality gift and not feel guilty (about your overall spending, and about getting a random and probably not too useful gift for someone "just because").
So, what are my kids getting for Christmas this year? Well, I bought Ben a toy guitar after he spent 90 minutes straight playing with one at a friend’s house, and I also bought a Melissa & Doug Road Rug from a BST page for $5. We may get him a toy dump truck (TBD). Then he’ll get a towel and a bunch of books (regifted from our bookshelf), and maybe a new toothbrush.
Grace has asked for a Frozen castle, so that’ll be her big gift. I’m not talking the $175 version in the Amazon Holiday Gift Catalog – I’m talking a smaller, less elaborate, $30 version like this. I also got her a towel and a pack of underwear, and I’ll probably some cookie mix (she loves to bake). Finally, I just inquired about a purple bicycle on Facebook Marketplace – so, she may get a $20 bike! [Edited to add: I also got her a Melissa and Doug magnetic chore chart. Which is really a gift to me!]
(Oh, and Max is getting an upgraded sleeping arrangement: from his gently used bassinet to a gently used crib).
But, in total, we’ll spend about $60-75 per kid for Christmas. I acknowledge that even that $200ish total is more than a lot of families can afford, but it also feels very reasonable for us. Best of all, I know my kids will have plenty of magic on Christmas day!