Christmas Gifts For Kids, How Much Is Too Much?

I try to teach our kids about the value of money that the importance of work to make money to pay bills and to buy things we need and want.  Overall I think Mrs. C. and I do a pretty good job of this.  Throughout the year it is extremely rare that the kids will get any toys or gifts ‘just because’ and we keep their birthday presents in check.   The problem I am seeing falls within the commercialization of Christmas and the total amount of gifts these kids receive.

Our Christmas Gifts For Kids:

This year we got a total of 8 gifts per kid, which is similar to most years. In total this works out to around \$125 per kid.  We get 1 book, 1 stuffed animal, 1 set of pajamas, 1 set of action figures, 1 building toy, 1 video game, 1 misc., and 1 big present.  We also typically get a big family present. This year we got the Disney Infinity 3.0 and an Amazon Fire tablet.  Combined these were under \$100.  When averaged out across 4 kids we end up right around \$150 per kid.  I think this is a lot, but apparently we are below the average.  In 2011 a survey conducted by Today shows the average family spends \$271 per kid on Christmas.  Insanity! Of course this is the average across 6,000 participants, and not the median, I would like to bet there are some outliers bringing the average up substantially.  If the kids only got presents from us then I don’t think it would be so bad, BUT they also get presents from a slew of grandparents, uncles, aunts, and family friends.

Santa’s Gifts For Kids:

When Santa comes to our house he fills up the stockings with candy and leaves the kids one small present.  Sometimes this is a coloring book, a stuffed animal, or something else small.  We don’t have Santa give big gifts because we know that he has to get gifts for all the children of the world.  We certainly don’t let Santa spoil the kids.

Others Christmas Gifts for Kids:

Over the years I have asked family members to please lower the amount (and size) of presents given to the kids. On multiple occasions I have requested the only presents to be either hugs, or a swift kick in the butt, whichever feels more appropriate ;).  Most people have complied by limiting themselves to 1 or 2 gifts per child, with the exception of Mrs. C.’s dad.  Several years ago he started a big Christmas gift giving trend, which was more helpful in the early years, especially for Mrs. C.’s youngest sister who didn’t have the means to get her kids a ton of presents.  Mrs. C’s dad typically gets each kid 5 – 6 presents, and they are for the most part bigger presents.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he came close to that national average number mentioned above.

Even with other people limiting themselves to one of two gifts per child, it still ends up being a giant over stimulation for the kids and I think the total number of presents can lead to a spoiled/entitled mentality.  When you have 8 people buying 2 presents each, that’s still an extra 64 items coming into the house!  Granted, some of these 8 people are only getting things for 1 or 2 kids, due to our blended family, but still it’s a ton of toys! An added aspect of our situation is that all of our kids are boys and their age ranges aren’t super far apart (12, 7, 4, and 2) so they often play with the same toys of at least 1 other kid, if not all 3.  I haven’t performed an official count, but my best educated guess would be that all in all the total amount of Christmas gifts that enter our home is right around 100, not including the gifts the kids get for each other.

Kids Christmas Gifts For Each Other:

At the school the older boys go to the school hosts a Christmas gift shop for them to buy presents for their family members. These are all \$1 each and small items.  We then take the little kids to the dollar store so they can get in the habit of buying gifts for other people. I was actually really impressed at how much thought even our 4 year old nephew put into the gifts he bought for the other kids. There are actually some pretty good toys to be had at the dollar store.  The two best finds I think were a fairly robust foam football and a package of a bunch of army guys.  One thing that gets lost in Christmas gift giving is that children are extremely imaginative and don’t need a plethora of expensive toys to entertain themselves, in fact I have found the inverse to be true.  I have seen the kids play outside with rocks and sticks far more than I have seen them play with a \$100+ Wall-E robot.  I’m willing to bet that the kids get more mileage from that 30 pack of army guys than from some of the \$30 – \$50 toys they received.

Recycling Christmas Gifts For Kids:

It is rare that we ever actually get rid of any toys because by the time one kid grows out of something, the next kid thinks it is really cool.  With a total span of 10 years, we actually have toys that have gone through all of the kids.  Heck, we have toys that were mine and Mrs. C’s when we were kids.  As the youngest gets older we will finally be able to start out processing some toys.  Every year we go through their rooms and throw away broken toys and donate toys that they don’t play with any more. Within a year or two there should be a lot of stuff making its way out.

My Future Plans For Limiting Christmas Gifts For Kids:

1. Ask Mrs. C.’s dad to cut his presents down by 2.  I don’t think he will go down to only 2 presents each, but maybe he will meet us in the middle and settle on 4.

2. Reduce our number of presents by 2: I think we could move to 6 presents per kid rather easily and perhaps change the big family present from an item to an experience.

3. Ask people for experiences instead of gifts: Instead of someone getting 8 presents across our 4 boys perhaps we could get a zoo membership for the family instead.

4. Encourage the kids to donate some of their toys both before and after Christmas. In addition to donating toys, perhaps they could donate cookies as well. A friend of mine from high school took her daughters on Christmas morning to deliver cookies to first responders who have to work of Christmas. Perhaps next year we will could do something similar.

5. One of the Christmas gifts I received was a book from my Amazon wish list from my parents titled “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.” Perhaps this book will have some ideas when it comes to Christmas…book review coming soon!

What are your thoughts on the number of gifts children in America get on average?  Do you think your kids are spoiled this time of year?

John C. started Action Economics in 2013 as a way to gain more knowledge on personal financial planning and to share that knowledge with others. Action Economics focuses on paying off the house, reducing taxes, and building wealth. John uses the free tool Personal Capital to track his net worth and posts quarterly updates on his finances. Check out the Action Economics archives section for all past posts.