I Followed This Gift-Giving Theme to Save on Christmas for My Four Kids

Two boys unwrapping Christmas presents, portrait
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Those of us who have planned princess-worthy tea parties for a daughter’s first birthday understand the value of a theme. But I might be one of the few who believe a theme can save my Christmas this year. Because four kids. Because unemployment. Because Santa gets too much credit. Because something’s gotta give.

The holidays are supposed to feel magical, yet moms of many kids, like myself, are burdened with “giving” guilt. Will they cry because I bought Anna instead of Elsa? Did I get them enough? Will I permanently ruin Christmas if I sneak a piece of coal into their stockings?

The list goes on. But this is the year I decided it doesn’t have to.

Recently, after I was laid off from my job, I came to terms with the fact that less money was coming into my bank account than coming out. So naturally, I turned to Facebook — the place where us millennial moms go for answers. Surely one of the many local mom groups I joined four years ago would have some ideas for me.

“Dear moms on Facebook, how can I buy my children everything if I’m lacking all the monies?”

The answers varied. Donate toys here. Join my workout class. Sell this lipstick and cosmetics line.

But then… somewhere in all of it, the comments got me thinking about what children really want.

What would bring them magic? Kids want tradition. Personalization. That toy you wouldn’t buy at Target last week. More time together. And lucky for me, these things don’t cost an entire invisible paycheck.

Luckily social media came to the rescue and my mom group let me in on a little gift-giving idea to narrow my focus to something more specific. This year’s theme, a variation on the four-gift rule, gave me a narrower gift gifting focus that has saved me, believe it or not, hundreds of monies. Here’s what I’ve learned about it so far:

Something They Want

This is where you can show them you heard them (see, magic!) and put some thought into it. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial, but set your budget for this present as soon as possible — it can get fancy. It will be your shiny object with a bow on top, so make it count and make it work for you.

Did I mention I have four kids? Coupons really help get this one under control. Here’s what I scored on that big shopping day that shall not be named:

Keegan, 11 years old: Smart watch

Landon, 7 years old: New bike

Kinley, 4 years old: Shopkins mall court

Rylan, 2 years old: Baby Alive doll

Something They Need

I have to admit I pushed this category a little to the edge. I found that I could be creative and get something that we both can agree they need. This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn.

Maybe your boys are shoe fanatics like mine and would really appreciate a new pair. Or, maybe your daughter loves playing dress up but might actually need a jewelry music box (Swan Lake anyone?) to store some of that bling. See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something to Wear

But really though — socks and underwear. Do it. Or go for something a little more exciting: headphones, dress up shoes, hats or headbands.

Joggers are apparently back in style so that was a big request from my boys. If you were under your budget on your shiny gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit. The hardest part for me was making this category meaningful, when I badly wanted to buy my girls adorable dresses from my favorite children’s store.

But, I stopped shopping for me this year and got a fuzzy sweater with a subtle, glittery Minnie Mouse outline instead.

Something to Read

Books, magazines, readers oh my! This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.

For my oldest, I picked the junior novel version of the film “Coco.” He hasn’t seen it yet, so I put a note at the end of the book indicating that he gets a free pass to see that movie once he finishes the book.

I expect a full book report on the similarities and differences of each after! Kidding, but kinda not.

And Then There’s Santa

We didn’t forget about him! I went with one gift for each kid from Santa that I knew they would love and a fun collection of small items for their stockings.

The best part is, I didn’t have to go over the top with this. In previous years our gifting strategy was reversed. Most of the presents under the tree were from Santa and one or two were from mom and dad. This way, the kids know how hard we worked to get them the gifts they wanted, making the meaning of giving go a little further.

I don’t claim to be an expert on parenting (can any of us really say that?), but I do know that Christmas can get out of control in my family. There’s also some research that suggests a child in a room with six toys plays much less with each toy than a child in a room with two. And don’t we want to encourage our littles ones to play longer?

Have I cured that “giving guilt” yet?

Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer, megamom of four, and savvy solutionist. She once took the wrong ferry in San Francisco and learned how far her pennies could really take her.