How To Afford Your Child's Wish List

I planned so hard for my baby's first Christmas. I individually wrapped everything in tissue paper with lots of sparkly ribbon. I divided things so it would look like more presents. There was a gigantic pile of gifts under the tree for my little guy!


Unfortunately, it was too much for his 9 month old brain. He didn't understand about opening the presents and wanted to play with each one when I wanted him to open the next one. I wound up spending a frustrating hour or more unwrapping all those glittery presents and cleaning up the mess while he played with that first toy.

Now, I have two young boys that look forward to that magical Christmas season. They understand all about receiving and opening gifts, maybe too well. The wish list gets longer and more expensive every year. Here are some tips that I use to keep Christmas manageable, affordable and memorable for all of us.

Plan Ahead

Make a spreadsheet or list including budget. If you have 3 children and you are planning on spending $100.00 each, that is already quite a bit of money. Start a Christmas savings account so that you don't have to use credit to buy presents at the last minute, costing even more.


Buy things and hide them throughout the year, whenever you see a bargain. This is much easier for young children. Don't forget about these presents, keep a list so you don't overbuy in the last rush before Christmas.

Limit The Wish List

Have your children make a wish list or a letter to Santa and have them limit their choices and prioritize them, say 1-5. If you send out wish lists to your family, you may want to do more.

Several shopping sites have wish list options and there may be other places on the internet to have a really organized list. Look around and use the organizational help that is out there for you.

Talk About Costs and Advertising

Children see TV commercials that are geared directly to them. Talk to your children about advertising and how it is trying to get you to buy something. For older kids, talk about the "dud" present that they wanted so bad in years past.


If possible, avoid buying the "hot new thing" until after the holiday season. The stores should have them in stock and they might even be on sale.

Also make sure that they are aware of the relative costs of items. For example, my boys know that Wii games cost about $50.00. They also know that $50 is a pretty substantial amount of money for a gift. You can find an approximate price for just about anything online.

Quality Not Quantity

Last Christmas, there was a push toward handmade and US manufactured toys and products because of the Chinese recalls. This is still a major concern, especially for families with young children. Instead of buying a bunch of little presents, take that money and buy something that will last. I know that my boys have received presents from the dollar store that break as soon as you start to play with them. This is disappointing to the children and the gift giver.

Instead, try to steer toward gifts that have a reputation for high quality. Lego and Playmobile are not Chinese made and also can be played with again and again. You can often find brand names on sale, especially if it is last year's design or off season.

Give Experiences, Not Stuff

A close friend recently gave her daughter a High School Musical day as a birthday present. She took her to the new movie in the theatre, took her shopping and out to lunch, then went to see High School Musical on Ice. Her daughter said, "This has been the best day of my life, so far!". She will remember this birthday present for the rest of her life whereas she has probably already forgotten about the Bratz doll she received for her last birthday.

So instead of buying a toy, give your children an event! Concerts, movies, and sporting events are good choices but think about your child's interests. An experience doesn't have to cost a lot of money but can be priceless in the memories it creates.

Put The Power In Their Hands

If a child really wants a big ticket item, talk to your extended family about a joint gift or multiple gift cards toward it's purchase. Then they can go and choose whether or not they want to actually spend "their" money on that item.

For older children, unless they specifically tell you what they want, it is better to just go the gift card route. ITunes, Target or are all good choices for teens. Keep in mind that small purchases online often have hefty shipping charges. Pad your gift appropriately to help cover these.

Christmas is right around the corner. If you haven't already started planning, the time is here. Start talking to your kids about their expectations and their wishes. Make this Christmas the one that they will remember as they look back at their own childhood.

How To Afford Your Child's Wish List

About The Author: Jess StewartMaize is on the staff of ThriftyFun and is a freelance writer. She lives west of Portland, OR with her husband and two sons. Jess has struggled with the balance of Thrifty and Fun since she was a child.

November 2, 20080 found this helpful

Well writen Jess and very true. I being a grandmother very much agree with your last catagory on this subject "Put The Power In Their Hands". We grandparents like to spoil our grandchildren. And most times our finiancial situation is a little more than there own grown childs income who have to work harder to make ends meet. So throughout the year grandparents should spoil there grandchildren less with given them money or gifts and save that for christmas time as it nears to contribute to each grandchild to help the parents be able to get maybe that first most important more often highest cost gift that the grandchild wants and the parents are struggling to afford. This lets the parents be able to get the other things on the childs list. You grand parents will know in your hearts you gave it to help out but the child still thinks it was from Santa. All through the year spend more time with your grandchildren instead of money on them and save that money to give the parents to devote towards that help of that first most wanted Santa gift for each child.

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November 2, 20080 found this helpful

I always told my children to pick ONE big gift from Santa That way we eliminated a lot of the greedies. I then got them smaller gifts and we were big on stockings. They were happy with their big gift but also enjoyed the surprises in their stockings. I used recycled leftover gift wrap to wrap small presents like a cool pair of socks, barrettes, fun pens, etc. Worked for us!

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November 2, 20080 found this helpful

Wonderful post. All really great tips. Planning ahead is always key - especially now. Making children aware is so important. I always remind my daughter how some of those things she got before (when she saw them on tv) did not turn out like she thought they would! Giving experiences is a great idea. My kids love hockey and I was thinking of buying tickets and giving them to them for Christmas.

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