Setting Expectations for Holiday Giving
“We’re cutting back this year,” asserts my mother-in-law every year, approximately two months before her Christmas morning proclamation that she “went crazy” again. The flip-flop has become as much a Christmas tradition as our Christmas Eve ham or the matching pajama photo my father-in-law resents with every fiber in his being.
Setting expectations for Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holiday presents can help families stick to budgets, set an equal playing field for gift exchanges, and keep hopes from being dashed on Christmas morning. So where to start? Pour yourself a glass of eggnog and get out your calculator.
Empower Your Kids (with a Budget)
Those little fingers just slipped the toy catalog under your bedroom door. With marker stars, dogeared page corners, and exuberantly scrolled circles on every page, how’s a parent to decide which “must have” gift to buy? Our answer: don’t. Instead, honor your child’s joy, then ask them to get out the calculator. Rather than secretly punching the numbers on your child’s marked-up toy book, empower them with a budget and delegate the number crunching their way. “Santa has a $100 budget this year. What do you want him to spend it on?”
Communicating the Value of a Dollar
For young children, the biggest challenge in setting clear expectations for holiday presents is their lack of familiarity with the value of a dollar. If money was no object, wouldn’t you circle everything in the toy catalog? As such, your first step in explaining your holiday budget to a young child is to explain the cost of items relative to things they’re familiar with, like food. “I love that ride-on sleigh, too, but it’s a little more expensive than we’re spending this year. That $300 price there means it would take as much money to buy that sleigh as it could cost to take you out to ice cream every week for an entire year!”
Don’t be a Grinch
By now, you may be thinking “Okay, this is a decent strategy for an accountant speaking with a client, but not for a parent enjoying the wonderment of the holidays with their kids.” We get it. The holiday season is a time for wishing, hoping, and present-shaking. As such, marry your dose of reality with a spoonful of sugar: imagination. Just because you had a budget doesn’t mean you can’t snuggle up with your 5-year-old as they show you the 127 items they’ve added to their wish list. Oohs and ahhs can go a long way--especially when uttered by budget-minded parents. It doesn’t take a dollar out of your pocket to agree that the life-sized castle bed is impressive. Then, at the end of the day, encourage your son or daughter to prioritize.