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Kids & Money

How to Set Gift Expecations With Kids

When I was a kid, my parents were rebuilding their finances after bankruptcy. For a few Christmases, they struggled to buy a whole lot for me and my siblings. The presents under the tree were sparse sometimes.

But my parents did a great job of making sure none of that was a surprise. They set expectations months before December rolled around. So we knew when we woke up on Christmas morning that a fancy doll or a huge dollhouse wouldn’t be waiting on us at the bottom of the stairs.

If you’re on a tight budget, I believe the best thing you can do for your kids is to keep them in the loop. In other words, they need to know when the gifts this Christmas will be light. That might involve you just coming out and saying, “I know you really want a new iPhone this year, but it’s just not in our budget.”

This will be especially true if you’ve given a lot of gifts in the past. If you’ve set a high bar, then your kids will automatically assume this year will be just like last year. And if all their friends are asking for—and planning on receiving—a new phone, then they will expect the same thing.

As your kids get older, it’s important for you to help them develop a spirit of contentment and gratitude. Entitled kids will more than likely turn into entitled adults.

Help them understand how fortunate they are to have what they already have. And take some time to get them involved with any volunteer work you’re doing during the holiday season. That way, you’ll help them see how Christmas is about so much more than just getting gifts—it’s about loving and serving.

But when it comes to giving gifts, be clear with your kids ahead of time, and you’ll help avoid those Christmas mornings filled with teary eyes and ungratefulness—those mornings that make memories for all the wrong reasons.

Have you had this conversation with your kids before? How did you do it? Share your tips for everyone in the comments!



  • Mary Jo Sian Kochalka

    That’s great advice Cheryl, so smart and all grown you .we have a prize for you

  • Mary Gessner Padley

    Thank you Rachel. I also saw your Vlog with your Mom yesterday. Do you have any suggestions on helping younger kids (6?) understand when things will be sparse?

    • Ashley

      Mary, nnOur daughter is 5 years old and we have always been really honest with her about our finances. She started doing chores and earning her own money so when we would go to the store and she would want things, she realized what was expensive and what’s affordable. To the present, my daughter thinks anything over $20 is too expensive and we can’t afford it. If she’s wrong, I’ll correct her and tell her that we do have enough money for it or etc. We don’t buy my daughter any toys and give them to her in December expect on Christmas. November and December she’ll ask us for things at the store and we simply tell her that we can’t afford it and that we don’t have enough money right now, that it’s too expensive or we tell her that we appreciate her telling us that that is something that she wants and we will remember that for when Christmas comes.nnIf your child has some understanding that money is used to buy things and if you don’t have enough money, you’ll get less things or you can’t buy certain things, then I don’t think it will be hard for the child to understand. Usually, it’s harder for the adult to admit to themselves or others that they just can’t afford certain things. And this is a great age to teach your child about being thankful. Always remind them as well that there are millions of children who don’t get any gifts for the holidays and your child getting even one gift is more than what the others will get. A thankful heart is a happy and healthy heart. 🙂 God bless you and your family this holiday season!

    • Daniele Combatti

      Hi Mary! My daughter is 6 too. We do not use the phrase “I Can’t” when she wants something in the store. We ALWAYS ask her, “Can you think 5 different ways to create the money you need to buy it?” and….it works fine! She get home, creates bracelets, make cookies, sell old toys, and ask me to help her. When she get the money, she looks the piggy bank and says “I’m going to think better before spend the money” 🙂 Happy XMas!!!

  • Sue Woods Stone

    We’ve never been “in the money” so our boys, now 27, and 25 (married) grew up with the realization that it’s Jesus’ birthday. They actively participated in filling shoe boxes, helping with food drives, and buying toys for local orphans. When they were little they helped us shop for others, considering what a child their age would like, and knowing that a portion of our overall Christmas budget would go to someone else in need. We often bought (as my young friend does for her kids) “something you want, something you need, and something to read.” Depending on their needs/reads, we typically spent between $30-$50. We have never spent more than $100 each, even when we had more.

  • Kevin

    So my daughter is only going to be 2 this year, but I am concerned about future Christmases because some of my family can go way overboard with some of the nieces and nephews and sometimes even with our own daughter, how do I broach other family members that expect that gifts (especially big gifts) are really important for Christmas, but I feel it is more important to encourage the real reason behind the season? Any suggestions?