A Compromise to Benefit All

Dear Mary,

Every year, my husband and I spend most of the holiday season arguing over how much to spend on the kids for Christmas. My husband makes good money, so I see no problem with splurging on our three girls. However, he thinks they should be given one nice gift so they’ll appreciate it more.

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In the past, I’ve smiled while watching their faces light up on Christmas morning, while my husband sits there shaking his head in disgust. I don’t want to spend another holiday arguing. What can we do to compromise? Julie, Texas

Dear Julie,

When our boys were young I was driven, like you, to turn Christmas into an extravaganza with mountains of gifts to fulfill their dreams. And my husband, like yours, was less than enthusiastic. I wanted more than anything to create magical childhood memories that last a lifetime. Sadly, my efforts backfired. More was never enough and none of us were truly satisfied.

Thankfully, before I completely ruined them I learned that while kids may ask for designer clothes and the latest in electronic gadgets and toys, this is what they really want for Christmas:

1. A relaxed and loving time with the family

2. Realistic expectations about gifts

3. An evenly paced holiday season

4. Reliable family traditions

This year try something new. Limit your kids’ Wish Lists to two or three items. Then spend time with them doing things that will become family traditions. Teach them the joy of giving to others and seeing beyond their material desires.

Our boys are now grown and when asked about their best Christmas memories, they’ll tell you about the fun times and family get togethers long before they remember the gifts!

Dear Mary,

My husband and I are selling our house and recently met with a real estate agent. After gathering some information, she reported back that we may have a tough time finding a buyer because our home is difficult to insure. Her explanation: The previous owner had taken out a claim for water-related damage. We were able to get insurance, so why is this a problem now? And what can we do to help sell our home? Debbie, Oklahoma

Dear Debbie,

Your agent is referring to central databases such as the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) where insurers report their claims. These days insurers are particularly wary of anything related to water damage or “mold” so I’m sure that’s what your agent is concerned about. Originally, these big databases were formed to detect and discourage fraud. Unfortunately, now the information is often used to deny coverage on a property or person.

Since you’ve had coverage since the event, this doesn’t sound like a long-term problem but you need to check for yourself. You can get a copy of your home’s CLUE report at PersonalReports.LexisNexis.com, or call 888 497-0011. There may be a charge depending on the state where you live. Incidents remain on these reports for up to five years and you have the right to dispute any errors you discover.

QUESTION: How does your family handle gift giving with children? Do you have a limit on the number of gifts, a money limit, do you pull names? Share your experience here.

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31 replies
  1. Lulu
    Lulu says:

    We have the opposite problem in our family. It is my husband who likes lots of gifts and then spends the whole year complaining that we have too much clutter. This year, we are buying each child a “big” gift ( monetarily) and they are getting little stocking stuffers. They are each getting a magazine subscription and an iTunes gift card of $15 ( for all their apps ). If they get any money ( from aunts, uncles, etc ) they HAVE to divide it up….long-term savings ( 529s ), charity, short term savings. My son is getting a USED electronic drum for ( $300 – a combo gift from us and his grandparents ) and my daughter is getting a USED Kindle Fire for $120. Those are their “big” gifts. And we are done !!!! I would suggest that this woman start talking to her kids about money and teaching them to save. My son, who just turned 11, even asked if he could buy a couple of stock shares with his “short term” savings. This really makes them appreciate the gifts and the fact that they are used doesn’t bother them.

  2. michelle
    michelle says:

    my siblings and i have alot of children between us. we get together in October or November and the children (cousins) pick a name out of a hat to determine which cousin they are going to buy a gift for. We place a dollar range ( $15to $20, $30 to $35 etc.) not to exceed. The cousins then are talking about each of their interests which draws them closer and no one feels like their gift was inferior to others. it has worked out beautifully for several years.

  3. Janet
    Janet says:

    Explain to the children, “we are limiting our gifts to each other so we have money to spend on an elderly veteran who is in need!” Nothing is better for the heart than to give to others less fortunate. If the girls are well adjusted, they will love the shopping, wrapping and delivering to someone in need. I bet dad won’t be shaking his head as he sees how well adjusted the girls really are.

  4. janet in utah
    janet in utah says:

    I saw an actress (wish I could remember who it was) on Jay Leno and he asked her if their floor is covered in gifts after Santa has been there. She said no and that her children may ask for 3 gifts for Christmas. Jesus got 3 gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – and they could ask for 3 gifts. They shouldn’t have more gifts than Jesus. I thought this was the best solution for the greed that goes on at Christmas that I have ever heard. How can a child argue that they should have more gifts than the person whose birthday we are celebrating? What a brilliant idea!

  5. Millie - again
    Millie - again says:

    I am so troubled by the picture of the writer (to Mary) having her husband shaking his head in disgust on Christmas morning. Let him plan Christmas. Essentially call him on his criticism – but not in a ‘see if you can do better’ way, but lovingly, ‘how about you take care of Christmas this year’. Then maybe you could alternate years, including gift buying and wrapping, and maybe even meal planning and cooking. This can’t be a contest as to who does it better, but instead a chance to let each of you bring your family a gift of celebration for the season which can be meaningful to the whole family.
    If your husband is a person who just likes to criticize, probably he will decline taking the helm, which will give him no reason to criticize any more. But if he is truly disgusted with how you celebrate Christmas, be loving enough to share with him a chance to let him see his own Christmas dreams come true.

  6. Dove
    Dove says:

    i use to say your limit is 50 and that was the limit. all three got something around 50 and then i could do bonuses of smaller gifts like socks and other stocking stuffers like care packages like deodaratnt , their favortie drink , chocolate bar. i could start with stuffers in aug so what ever i found every grocery shoping trip … even a case of v8 was one of my boys favorite. and a jar of cherries
    they got to have something yummy to eat on chrstamas morning. there is nothing better than your favorite treats and drinnks and you can eat and drink when ever you want. what a nice feeling.
    our grown up siblings like all the aunts and uncles and nieces and nephew decide at the thankgivng weekend if they want to be in the draw. kids under 18 10.00 and adults 20 and we send them across canada. if you dont want to be in the draw that is ok too. it depends on your budget for that year.

  7. Dorothy
    Dorothy says:

    When my daughters were young, I would buy one good gift, that they wanted and I could afford, and three smaller gifts – one creative, a game and something that was useful or could be traded. It worked for us.

  8. Gram
    Gram says:

    We keep the spending pretty low for each grandchild – around $20 each. We spend a little more on the younger ones because we buy them subscriptions to Highlights, which run about $30 each but then they get a gift every month. Typical gifts are books, or practical items like gloves or high-quality socks. We do things with them throughout the year, and they remember this more than all the stuff. On a related note, a few years ago I got my siblings to agree to new rules for gift giving. The rules are: 1. The limit is $5 per person. There is no limit to the number of gifts, but overall spending cannot exceed $5. 2. You may not go and buy something new. You may purchase materials with which to make a gift. Again, total cost cannot exceed $5. 3. You may shop in thrift stores, at garage sales, etc. for gifts. Free on the curb is even better. Dumpster diving is OK as long as it is legal. The goal is to see who can find the most appropriate gift for the receiver within these rules. In most years I win this “contest.” One year I found a set of 4 wine glasses with green stems from Amtrak being given away, so I snagged this for my brother-in-law. He loves trains, makes wine, and their dining room is green. Perfect score! Another year I snagged an antique pedestal sink that my sister had been wanting for years. It was free! We also make pies as gifts for some of the hard-to-shop-for guys in the family, and they LOVE them. The apples come from our tree. We all have such a great time with this, and everyone can afford to participate.

  9. Millie
    Millie says:

    I like Mary’s four guidelines: Holidays should be relaxed, loving, and thoughtful, not frantic efforts to hang every ornament and make the best meal, and buy the best gifts ever. Without thought, holiday gifts can be a seasonal tyranny of clutter, cumber, status seeking and one up-manship. Where in all that is the Prince of Peace? Where is the joy that comes from love?

    Mary has great ideas in her books about how to give thoughtful, inexpensive gifts. But my favorite holiday memories are about sharing things and experiences. This started when we gave each of our children (only five then) one part of a Fisher Price village of toys: a school, a garage, a doll house, etc. The toys were for SHARING, and share they did for hours and days and years. Some of our kids remember it as the best Christmas gifts ever.

    Shared experiences also work, and keep a family out of a gift centered holiday paradigm. When we were flush, a trip to Disney was the gift. No individual gifts. The experience is the gift. A shared meal at a Chinatown restaurant. A day at an indoor water park. Visiting the fish in our wonderful aquarium. A notable disaster? A Treasure Hunt at a European styled Christmas Market in our city. Each child got $10 to spend on a gift for themselves. Or give the money back. The day was too cold, the market too crowded, and the (grand)children too hard to keep under surveillance. We hadn’t pre-viewed the situation before we sent our grandkids into the fray. Big mistake. Also, hardly anything was $10, except quickly consumed and low quality food!

    One year we had a ‘hundred year old’ Christmas. For most of the day, we couldn’t use, have, or wear anything that wasn’t available one hundred years ago. That took some ahead-of-time research. We made candles, cooked in the fireplace (mostly a disaster, should have gotten a reflector oven), didn’t use electricity, and bundled up with shawls and mufflers (inside.)

    The kids loved it. We turned on the lights, they all blinked at how bright the lights were. But they still didn’t put out the candles.

  10. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I’m 38 and my mom tends to give lots of small things for the family. I wish she would instead put the entire budget toward one item that’s wanted, or even into a savings account. She buys cheap crap that breaks quickly. It is frustrating to get something we don’t want and that will be useless in a short while, knowing that the pooled funds could have gone toward a single thing we could use.
    My favorite holiday memories are of the meals with family, laughter, holiday lights, etc. My son was born on 12/21 last year and Christmas was a celebration among family of his long-awaited arrival. He’s the sole grandchild and he got passed around from person to person, loved on, and cooed at.
    We’re still working out what our holiday tradition will be with our son. We want to emphasize time together rather than mountains of gifts, and will be careful to maintain our son’s birthday as a separate event from Christmas celebrations.

  11. K
    K says:

    We try to keep it to three gifts from us, Dad and Mom. The siblings draw names for each other and keep the gift 5-10 dollars and had fun shopping for their brother or sister. My family opened gifts on Christmas Eve while my husband opened gifts on Christmas Day. We compromised with one gift on Christmas Eve and the other gifts on Christmas Day. We enjoy Christmas morning breakfast with birthday cake for Jesus.

  12. Elena
    Elena says:

    Dear Mary:

    I am part-time retired and now I have an account that says “thanksgiving Christmas”. As my kids and grandkids are out of town, during Thanksgiving we get together as a family and close friends. Now a days my present for both holidays is a room in a hotel, that way all can relaxed. We enjoy the company, meal and they all have fun. Grandkids are teenagers now and this year they are having their own room. They know that when Christmas comes they will have a token, but a very small one…… We had a great time and everybody is very relaxed. However, I told all my family that the year I cannot save for this “extreavaganza” like I call then it will be in accordance with my “family bank account”…… this way I have solved the crazy shopping, wrapping etc. Christmas I go to either house (alternating the holiday) and I spend time with them…. Hope it gives an idea. Thank you,

  13. Teresa
    Teresa says:

    I limit the gifts to 3 each but we also have given for years some “family gifts” that include books and games for the whole family (the kids take turns in opening those.) I purchase these through out the year when on sale.

  14. Suzie Q
    Suzie Q says:

    When buying for my kids, several things I try NOT to do are buying tons of small things, overbuying, or trying to buy everything they want. What I DO try for is to let them pick 2 or 3 “biggies” (as in moderate biggies!), and one will be bought by Santa Claus, perhaps one bought by a grandparent, and one bought by a parent. We give them a little money so that they can make choices about what they really want. When they have to do the spending, they are able to refine their wishes much better. I try to buy things that are actually useful and that will be enjoyed. I don’t buy knickknacks or useless things. My kids do not get items all year long–they must either wait for a birthday or holiday, or make the purchases themselves with their own money, so we do TRY to get them nice things.

    • Mary Hunt
      Mary Hunt says:

      Have you ever made yourself think about how some trinket or knick-knack is going to look in the recipient’s next garage sale? That always makes me think twice. Usually I pass on the item and buy them something consumable instead (candy, a special treat of some kind … ).

      • wiser now Grammy ♥
        wiser now Grammy ♥ says:

        Whew Mary…you said it there! I remember painfully watching my sister selling items at a yard sale for pennies on the $ that I was STILL paying for on my credit cards! (She had just HAD to have them on various holidays)

  15. kaetra
    kaetra says:

    Before you go crazy buying mountains of gifts, ask your children what they remember most about Christmas just LAST year. You may be surprised by their answer. Kids forget most of what they received as Christmas presents very quickly but they’ll remember well things like a drive around the neighborhood with open windows, blankets and hot cocoa to look at all the holiday lights OR that mom burned the ham. Though I’m not suggesting you add burned ham to your family’s tradition 🙂

    We stick to our budget and get one nicer thing and a few small things. We still wind up with the mountain of gifts from my mother in law who refuses to do Christmas any other way. But my daughter rarely even opens any of those toys, beyond unwrapping the gift-paper. So, Goodwill receives some very nice, never opened toys in mid-January and we keep the clutter at bay.

    I’m not really in to giving things like “a donation in your name” to children at Christmas. It’s pretty hard for young kids to even understand a present like that. Charity is great at Christmas but not as gifts for kids. I think it’s a better lesson if the child takes part in choosing and makes the charity gift themselves instead of them unwrapping a “we gave books to the library in your name” card on Christmas day. An aunt gave one of those to my daughter when she was 5 years old and though the thought was nice it officially went down as the lamest gift ever.

  16. Anne
    Anne says:

    A friend sets a limit of three gifts – one educational, one clothing item (Outfit) and one item from the wish list. Three gifts were good enough for Jesus and are for her child as well.
    My 3 Godsons all have birthdays in November and then Christmas fast behind. I have begun the tradition of the “Gift of Giving”. I take the money I would have spent buying and shipping gifts and give it to their parents to dispense when they chose how they would give back to others. They chose to give warm socks to the homeless community in their town of Bangor, Maine. The family had a dinner party where the admission was warm socks for the homeless. The friends and family that attended, all decided to go to the shelter in person to deliver the much needed items. The impact was immediate. My sweet boys were forever changed by not only giving but partaking in sharing what they were given. It melted my heart to know that they now got the best gift of all – by giving of themselves.

  17. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    This year, our family has decided that we wanted to bless others and forgo gifts to each other. We are using the money that our children, which we have four boys and one girl all under the age of 14, would have had for their gifts and we are adopting a child from Compassion International. It’s very hard because their are so many children that are in need and so many that have been waiting for someone to adopt them for so long. But, We are praying over this together and hoping to choose a child soon. This may become a yearly tradition for us as long as we can afford more every year. We are praying that God will bless these children and help them and we are praying that God will help us to continually have the means to be able to bless their lives. Our kids are all for this and I am overwhelmed. They get to see the face of the child that we are going to adopt and that makes things so much more real for them. They also get to write to the child and send the pictures and they get to write to us.

  18. janebice
    janebice says:

    Having 4 children and limited means, we decided early on to limit the amount of gifts to 3 each. They were happy with that because that’s what Jesus got. Gold, frankincense and myrhh. They are grown now and limit their own kids to 3 gifts. The best thing is, it doesn’t feel like a limit, it feels like a tradition based on history.

  19. Dee
    Dee says:

    It is way easier to buy lots of presents for little ones to make it a Santa’s toy shop experience. The problem really gets overrwhelming when those little ones become preteens & beyond & want much more expensive gifts. They cannot take into account the greater costs verses less gifts. They are disappointed & you get hurt from hearing “That’s It”. A friend of my daughter stated what should have been obvious to me but was not. I, now as a mother,grandmother & great-grandmother wish I would have thought & taught along these llines. Baby Jesus got three gifts on his birthday, which IS what we are celebrating. If it was good enough for Him it will be good enough for you. You may have a wish list but you will only receive three gifts,so, wish wisely. Lesson well taught,both monetary & the reason for the season.

  20. Lori
    Lori says:

    We have four girls ages 24 to 16. My husband and I set an $100 limit on each one of them when they were very young. It was easy to get a lot for that before they were making such extravagant lists. As they have gotten older some of them have asked for one item that exceeds that limit. However, we have stuck to our guns and have only went with that amount. We have had to forego seeing their face light up because they didn’t get the item they had their heart set on, but it has been fun to find other items they like that don’t break the bank. We just explain to them each year that christmas isn’t about getting everything you want. Christmas is such a precious time and sometimes the whole gift thing and finding just what the person asked for seems a bit perplexing to me anyway.

    • kaetra
      kaetra says:

      It’s really hard to miss out on seeing your child’s face light up at Christmas. As they get older that is a parental joy that is so much harder to get, but it’s inevitable I guess. It’s all part of growing up, but it’s still kind of a bummer for us parents isn’t it? 🙁

  21. Laura
    Laura says:

    We skip all the small junk. The kids are asked to list 5 items in order of preference. We use a dollar limit. After buying some nicer items, we put the leftover $$ in their stocking. That way if there was a gift that they really wanted and did not get, then they can use the money and purchase it. We also purchase additional gifts for local foster children. You can usually find an Angel tree in your community that supports these children.

  22. Amy
    Amy says:

    When our daughter was small we observed St Nicholas Day- we want her to enjoy Santa but remember what Christmas is. It also taught her about how giving was important. She gave us a list of 3 presents she wanted and St Nicholas gave her one(other 2 went to grandparents to give her. When school started she gave little home made stocking with a candy cane and explain St. Nick visited and left them a present and explained the story about him.


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