The holidays are approaching and with them, lights will soon be twinkling, wreaths will be hanging on front doors, and the never ending Christmas list will be written. If you’re like me, your buying habits have changed from when you were first introduced to discretionary income. Having a few dollars in your checking account meant you could afford new boots! Now it means paying a little extra on student loans and maybe another margarita at your weekly restaurant dinner. Currently, I’m hoarding those few dollars in our family’s savings account and wearing boots from six seasons ago (fashion is on a cycle, I’m just way ahead this season).
Before we had kids, my husband and I would go overboard with gift giving. One year we had our holiday shopping done early, and decided to open all of our gifts BEFORE Thanksgiving! To be fair, we’ve never thought of ourselves as ‘mature adults’ and when you give a mouse a cookie, they’ll open their presents before the actual holiday arrives…and then buy more gifts to open on the actual holiday.
Gift giving is my ‘love language’. I love thinking up the perfect gift for someone, shopping for it, and seeing their joy when opening it because they love it as much as I had buying it for them. So you can imagine my joy when it comes to the holidays, and my frustration when I’m given a budget. Now that we have kids who’ve grown accustomed to food in the pantry and heat coming out of the air vents, I’ve had to get clever with my gift giving habits. So when the girls were born, and our household income went from dual to uno, we decided to implement the Rule of Four Gifts.
Rule of Four Gifts
For the Christmas season we follow the Rule of Four Gifts: Want, Need, Wear, and Read. It’s pretty self explanatory: you buy and receive one gift from each category. My girls just turned three, and if their birthday was any example of their inherited materialism (they look like their daddy, but they got their joy of gifts from me) our rule of four will be an adjustment and learning opportunity this year. I can imagine having older children who are used to receiving the Target Gift Catalog years prior, that implementing such an extreme new gift rule could be a major adjustment…meltdown, tantrum, hissy fit. But stay strong, use the opportunity as a teachable moment that the holidays are supposed to be about love, family and friendship. Your kids might surprise you! And if that doesn’t work, ask them to name each gift they received last year and how often they are still playing with/using it today…chances are they’ve moved on from most of them.
We also incorporate a Christmas Eve box and stockings from Santa. The box includes new pajamas, snacks, a family board game or movie to enjoy before bed. Last year we all snuggled up in mom and dad’s bed and watched the opening credits of Elf, before the girls were moved to their beds and Chris and I played Monopoly. Santa doesn’t go overboard with our stockings, keeping it to necessities (toothbrush, new socks) and other small treats that he couldn’t resist from the Target Dollar Aisle.
Rules for Extended Family
We encourage our extended family to not go overboard with their gift giving and that we prefer experiences over material things. Since we all live scattered about the country, just getting together is a gift in itself. Memberships to the Zoo, Fontenelle Forest, and the Children’s Museum, money for dance and swimming lessons, or cash for the piggy bank are always welcome in our house. Keep in mind shipping costs if who you are buying for is visiting for the holiday. Sometimes the expense of shipping their gifts home costs more than what they’re worth! When it comes to buying for the adults in the family, we’ve decided to put $20 and a charity name in a hat. We draw a charity and all the money we’ve collected is donated to that charity from all of us. It’s easy to pack and travel with, and makes buying for those who have everything rather easy!
Experiences over Things
Last year I created a Christmas countdown calendar. Each day I had planned an activity related to the holidays: seeing the reindeer at Mulhall’s, baking sugar cookies, adopting and donating to a family through Open Door Mission, driving to see the Christmas lights in our neighborhood, and decorating Christmas cards were just a few of the activities. It was so much fun and definitely captured the spirit of the holiday. Moving the focus from what we were receiving, to activities we could enjoy as a family and giving back to our community are what I want my girls to remember about the Holidays.
This year I’m going to have the girls and I go through their toy box and pick out some toys to donate. Our Holiday Gator Gertrude (like an Elf on the Shelf, but an alligator) will then take those back to the North Pole and bring our Christmas Eve box as a thank you. It’s a great excuse to clear out some of the toy clutter and get the girls involved in charity work.
If you think back to your childhood, can you remember every toy you ever received? I can remember maybe five: an American Girl doll and some accessories, a Barbie Dream House, and an iPod. What I remember most is decorating our tree as a family, ice skating at my grandparents house followed by the most competitive board games this side of the Mississippi, and being woken up by my sisters on Christmas morning because they had to wait to open stockings until everyone was awake. The holidays can be stressful, anxiety-inducing, craziness. Taking a step back, eliminating some of the madness, and keeping focus on what the holidays mean to you and your family will help ease some of that stress.