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Stick to a Christmas Budget When Buying Gifts for Your Kids

By Lisa Whalen, Insolvency Counsellor

Buying Christmas gifts for your kids does not have to break the bank. Stay within your Christmas budget and make your money go further by considering the “types” of toys you buy for your children.

Let’s face it. Kids expect gifts, especially at Christmas. Their expectations can often stress parents out feeling like they have to go all out to get that toy that they saw on TV. Walk into any store, or try to skip a gift shop while at an event, and chances are your kids will see something they want.

However, the best toys have NOTHING to do with trends, brands, limited editions, etc. The best toys never sell out or go out of style. Kids of all generations can enjoy hours of imaginative play and create memories from planned activities together.

First, let’s try to set proper gift expectations with our children, to prevent the “Gimmie’s”. How exactly do we do this?

1. Have your children keep a wish list

Not a Santa list or birthday list, but an all-time, year-round list of things they want. You’ll be surprised to find out a lot of the items on their gift lists are not material items, but are event type items: “Going tobogganing in the winter”, “Swimming at the beach with friends”, etc. And as they get older, many of the items on the wish list will be fun things that really do not break the bank. Things that create memories.

2. Have them figure out the wants from the needs.

Chances are, a lot of the toys on their lists will be ones that they will play with for 20 minutes and be forgotten afterwards. Ask them why they want it, so they are prioritizing the items themselves. Is it because it’s the gift of the year? Or because it’s something they really feel they will cherish. How much joy will they get from it?

3. Set limits.

Sit down with them, go through the actual TOY items, and find the costs. Have them do the math on how much certain items will be. They may not understand when they are younger, but as they get older, they will see that gift-giving is wonderful, but can be costly. If your child gets an allowance, sit with a calendar, and show them how many weeks it would take to save money for that one item on their wishlist. One rule of thumb to use is to use the “Want – Need – Wear – Read” technique on what to expect from you as a parent. This is giving them one thing they really want, something they need, something to wear and something to read.

4. Focus on building memories, not STUFF.

Letting your child be ‘disappointed’ is a good thing. They need to learn that you can’t have everything today. Some things have to be earned, and saved for. When you think back to Christmas’ and birthdays when you were younger, do you remember all the gifts you received from your parents and friends? Chances are you remember the games, the ice cream, and the fun you had with them. Memories last, stuff doesn’t.

So what are some ‘cheap’ fun things to do to create these gift memories? As we mentioned before, priorities and wants change as our children get older. However, giving open-ended toys to young children is a wonderful idea to get their creative juices going and can work nicely with any budget.

Open-ended toys are those that can be played with in as many different ways as your child can create with their own imagination. They create the opportunity for children to push the boundaries of their imagination and creativity with the added bonus of building life skills such as problem-solving, investigating, making choices and displaying their understanding. Even further benefits can include the sense of inspiration and enjoyment they will experience when they are in charge of their own play.

Open-Ended Toy Ideas

  • Using cardboard boxes and tubes, art & craft supplies to create their own castles, robots, etc.
  • Stuffed animals/dolls
  • Hats & costumes. Having their own “Tickle Trunk” of old costumes (from Halloween, second hand) and hats from the dollar store can spark a lot of imaginative play in children.
  • Socks for sock puppets. You always lose one in the laundry somehow, or the dryer eats it. Why not make that striped or spotted sock into a good time by adding eyes, buttons, etc, to create a tickle monster or simply a friend they can have with them at all times!
  • Tents. Let’s face it. Kids love to make ‘tents’ in the living room, TV room, bedroom, or wherever they can find a space on your floor. If you are running out of extra sheets to keep this going – a POP UP tent is a great idea for your kids for Christmas. They stay in there, bring their toys (which sometimes helps to keep them off the main floor – bonus!), watch TV, play games, etc. You can often buy these at your local hardware store and they can provide HOURS of playtime for your kids.

When it comes to budget, the great news is that these types of toys don’t have to break the bank and can even be free, second hand, or purchased from your local dollar store. You can also find many creative ideas on for creative play. Happy Christmas Hunting!

Do you have other tips for budgeting for Christmas with your kids and setting low-cost expectations without sacrificing fun and meaning? Share them in the comments!

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Allan Marshall & Associates Inc.

Allan Marshall & Associates Inc. is a Licensed Insolvency Trustee firm in British Columbia, Alberta & the Maritimes. Our dedicated writing team consists of LIT's, counsellors, and debt administrators that help to write informative articles and answer questions about your debt issues.

We are licensed by the Federal Government of Canada to administer Personal Bankruptcies, Consumer Proposals, other insolvency services such as Credit Counselling. We have the knowledge and experience to assess your situation and offer the best advice for your particular need, whether you are a first time bankrupt or simply struggling to make ends meet.