THE BLOG
12/04/2012 04:13 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Do We Need to Spend So Much on Kids to Create Holiday Magic?

My husband and I have different views about the holidays. I love getting our children things on their wish lists so they have lots of toys to unwrap, even if we do spend more than we should. He believes that we have to stick to our budget, no matter what, and that the holidays have become too materialistic. I know he's probably right, but I don't want to disappoint our kids. Any advice?


Most parents, like you, love seeing their children's faces light up with joy on Christmas morning. But many struggle to keep spending from getting out of control, or worry about over-indulging their children and losing the true spirit of the season. Here are some tips for creating wonderful holiday memories without breaking the bank.

Create rituals that generate true holiday magic. Spend time with your children doing the things they care most about -- being with you and having fun. Bake cookies, decorate the house and do holiday crafts with them. In twenty years, your children won't remember the toys they unwrapped, but they will remember receiving the gift that meant the world to them: your loving and undivided attention.

Consider quality over quantity. Children don't need twenty gifts to have a wonderful Christmas. Consider three to five presents for each child. Or you may agree with one mom's approach, who shared: "Buying huge amounts of stuff just teaches children that life is about buying, buying and more thoughtless buying. We can afford to get the kids what they want but we have explained that they are just going to be getting one gift from us, and that it will be something meaningful because we put so much thought into it."

Take a look at why you want to buy things you cannot afford. Do you believe your childrens' happiness is dependant on having the latest video game system or new gadget? If so, you're sending them the kind of message that generates an I need... I want... mentality. Children who are over-indulged never feel satisfied, becoming adults who perpetually want what they do not or cannot have.

Instead of buying lots of things, wrap up a coupon for a family adventure. Whether it's tickets to a kid-friendly event, amusement park or a surprise vacation further from home, you'll create memories that will far outlive the momentary thrill of unwrapping a pile of gifts that may soon be forgotten.

Create a year-round attitude of gratitude. Establish daily rituals where each member of the member acknowledges things they are grateful for, perhaps at the dinner table or bedtime. By modeling an attitude of gratitude throughout the year, your children will be less likely to fall prey to an overly materialistic focus during the holidays.

Teach your children to save for things that they want through allowances and more importantly, their own earnings. Look for small jobs they can do to earn money. There's no better way to help a child learn the value of a dollar than to provide them with the chance to earn and budget for the things they want.

Help your children understand that this is a season of giving, not just taking. Create a family tradition of offering time and resources to improve the lives of others, which makes far more impact on children than long lectures about how lucky they are. You may want to volunteer at a family-friendly event (volunteermatch.org has many listings.) Or perhaps you can adopt a family for Christmas or deliver food or toys to those in need.

If your children are disappointed on Christmas morning, allow them to be sad without trying to convince them they shouldn't complain. Kids who have reason to expect a huge pile of gifts will naturally have upsetting feelings they need to vent. Many parents prepare their children in advance for the fact that they -- or Santa -- will not be bringing that new Motocross bike or American Girl doll so their children don't have to process big disappointments as they're unwrapping gifts, when anticipation and emotions are at an all-time high.

One of the best gifts you can give your children isn't something you can't wrap and tuck under the tree; it's helping them grow into adults who appreciate what they have, and cherish time with those they love. Happy holidays!

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