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Moms Talk: What If You Can't Afford the Holiday Gifts Your Child Wants?

How do you handle requests for gifts that may be out of your budget — or simply, in your opinion, unreasonably expensive?

For adults, Christmas and Hanukkah and other seasonal holidays may hold special meaning because of bonds with family, spiritual celebrations, cherished traditions, or even just a chance to kick back and reconnect with some people we haven't seen all year long.

Of course, we appreciate gifts — but hopefully, by adulthood, we realize there is more to treasure.

Some or all of those things may be important to children, too.

But, let's face it, the chance for gifts also is a big part of what makes the holidays sparkle for kids.

So what do you do if you can't afford the gifts your child thinks they deserve — or if you feel they've asked for something that is ridiculously expensive and overpriced, and maybe unnecessary?

No one wants to rain on the parade of getting a great holiday gift — even while we try to impart the message to our children that there is joy in giving as well. But sometimes we can't — or won't — pay for the items on our childrens' wish lists. (Or does it sometimes feel like a list of demands, delivered on legal letterhead?)

What if your household has received a financial hit this year that means that gifts won't be as plentiful as during previous holidays? Do you try to explain this to your children? How?

If you must economize — but still have something in your gift budget — do you try to spend your gift allowance most effectively in a way that has something for everyone? (ie. a gift that is for the entire family, as we're doing this year.)  Do you get one big item that will be used frequently during the year instead of stupid stuff? Or do you go into debt?

Do you allocate part of the gift for a donation to some worthy cause? Last Sunday, the held its annual Part of the annual Christmas event is to wrap gifts for people being served through various charities who might otherwise not receive anything (or very little) this holiday season. (Note to my sons — receipt of a donation to a special cause is one of your stocking stuffers this year!)

And certainly, holiday traditions are a gift unto themselves. This week, the What a way to signal to local children that Hanukkah will soon arrive!

But even if we try hard to impart the joy of the season in other ways, there still are a few knotty questions that always come up.

For one thing, there's that issue of Santa's parity in giving to explain to kids who are young enough to still believe, but old enough to notice a bit of a discrepancy. After all, doesn't Santa base his rationale for rewards on who's been "naughty or nice?"

When we lived in Oyster Bay, N.Y., the father of my son's friend across the street held a position that meant that he received many gifts and goodies around Christmas. Fair or not, the parents "regifted" many of those items through Santa.

So while my son received a decent haul of gifts under the tree that year (wasn't there even a bike in the mix?), that other kid got at least 20, and counting.

"Why did Santa give G— a computer?" my son wanted to know. Certainly, that other kid wasn't better behaved...

Of course, Santa's identity was soon to be unmasked on his Long Island school bus. Question answered! But even older kids may grumble when looking at what their classmates or neighbors received — and they didn't.

Perhaps it's just a matter of planning, and budgeting. My younger brother (now an accountant) always started filling in his list for the next year's requested Christmas gifts on the afternoon of Dec. 25, giving my parents ample warning. But hey, he still gives good gifts, too!

TJ December 07, 2011 at 07:08 PM
It's easier to explain a budget if the kids see the gifts as coming from mom and dad (who have a budget) vs. santa (no budget -- sky's the limit). When we donate things to families in need, many kids will ask 'why doesn't santa just bring them more?" Good question.
Andi Williams December 07, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Now that two of my kids are older, I have set a budget for gifts and if, in their eyes, it's just not enough to get that 'thing' they truly crave, then I invite them to contribute the balance. They are both working a little bit now and I think it is so healthy for them to experience the pain of parting with their hard earned cash..!
Linda Sadlouskos December 07, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Yes, some of the Santa questions are hard to answer. Suggestions, anyone? (But I do remember hearing various explanations when I was very little that, "Santa only has so much room on his sled," or "The elves can only make certain things." Lame perhaps, but maybe good enough to buy a little time...)
Diane December 03, 2012 at 11:49 PM
This was a useless article. Really. This doesn't help with any ideas of how to handle a very bad situation. There is a difference in not being able to afford an expensive gift that most people can't and not being able to afford ANYTHING. Thank you for just making me feel worse.
Linda Sadlouskos December 04, 2012 at 02:46 AM
Maybe you can take the family on a short trip somewhere special that everyone likes and has special meaning. I've done that when finances were very tight.

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