Managing your child’s holiday expectations on a tight budget

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With the gift-giving holidays coming up, many parents start to worry about money. Kids can be demanding and you want to do everything you can to make them happy, but spoiling them isn’t good for you or them in the long run. Below are some tips to help parents be proactive this holiday season.


How much do you need?                                                                                              

According to the Wall Street Journal, to prevent overspending, get a sense of what will be expected of you before you start shopping. For example:

  • Know who you’ll be buying for (and what you plan to spend on them) and who is getting a holiday card instead of a gift. You may want to let friends and family know your plans ahead of time.
  • Think about holiday parties. Determine whether you’ll need to bring or buy anything.
  • Consider your coworkers. If you expect to give baked goods instead of purchased presents, give them a heads-up a month in advance so they can adjust their plans (their gift for you) accordingly.
  • Talk to your kids early to get ideas about what they’d like. That way, you give yourself plenty of time to scout for great deals.


Be open and upfront

Explain to your kids that you can’t afford everything on their wish list. Saying no to your kids in not easy. Tell them that, with your financial situation, you have to purchase basic needs over “wants.”

That means that they won’t be getting everything on the list. It’s better to explain this to them before the gift-giving season approaches so that you can manage their expectations.


Create a budget for your child

Once you’ve had a conversation with them about adjusting their list, consider giving them a budget to stay within. Tell them they can pick and choose items as long as it totals under a specific amount, like $50. This is a good lesson in budgeting for them.


Give them shared, memorable experiences, not items

If your child is having a hard time accepting budget changes, try to offer kid-friendly alternatives. For instance, instead of ice skates, your next best option might be a trip to a skating rink. Instead of an expensive drum set, buy him a month’s worth of lessons. Below is a list of common substitutes for costly gifts:

  1. Cooking or art classes
  2. Memberships
  3. Kid-friendly magazine subscriptions
  4. Movie tickets
  5. Mini-golf, bowling, skating rink
  6. Recipe and ingredients

Teach by example

Remember to practice what you preach. If you’ve told them that you’ll need to cut back on gifts this year, you should cut back on your “wants” as well. Do whatever you can to show them that you, too, are trying to adjust and prioritizing your purchases.


Donate clothes that your child has out grown

Devote a day to helping your kids select and give clothing to a child in need. Let your kids know that their donations to Salvation Army Family Stores or other clothing programs help fund  programs that heal addictions, change lives, and restore families.


Enjoy being with family

Nine times out of 10, the memories from holidays and birthdays are more about the shared experiences than about gifts. If you’re on a budget, suggest a family gathering instead of buying presents. Make it a potluck with the ultimate gift being that you all spend time together.


Make DIY gifts                                                                                                                  

You don’t need a ton of time or special skills to make most do-it-yourself crafts. Most are fun and inexpensive, and kids love to make handmade gifts.


For more gift ideas, visit these websites: and

Tammy McIntyre, M.Ed. is a workforce development consultant providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to