Paying for Christmas on a Shoestring Budget

With Christmas just around the corner and many families feeling the nations "econcomic slump" first hand, I would just bet my box of Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds that a few mothers out there are trying to plan Christmas on a shoestring budget.  There may even be a few of you mothers (and I'll include myself) who are trying to make Christmas do on a dental floss budget.  Whichever category you belong to, the task seems overwhelming.

With 6 kids, a mom who stays at home, and a hubby who makes "just enough" Christmas has ALWAYS been done on a shoestring budget.  I thought I'd put together a few of the things that have kept us on track financially and kept the cost of Christmas down:

If you have one or two little kiddos, brace yourself.  Too often Christmas becomes a givefest to a 1 year old (or 2 or 3).  Young mommies are super fun and soooo excited to let their kiddos experience Christmas (as is EVERY other grandma and auntie) that they over gift a kid.... only to find that the child is more interested in the box the toy came in than the toy itself.  Begin with moderation... don't set out to make it look like Santa came in and spilled his sack.

My husband and I decided early on that we would not put Christmas on our credit cards.  It was never THAT important to us.  Ideally, we've been able to dedicate a portion of one of his extra pay checks to Christmas (... not this year) and use ONLY what we set aside.  Credit cards let us fool ourselves into thinking we can give a gift that really.... we have no business giving because we can't afford it! 

2 limits?  Yes.    First, you must set a dollar amount for Christmas and what the breakdown will be for each person.  Second, I set a gift quantity.  Because I have 6 kids, I want to make sure they open an equal amount of gifts.  So, my bigger kids get a larger amount and my little kids get less.  My 3 year old will be getting 1 $25 dollar gift with dollar store items while my 14 year old will get a more pricey gift.  As a matter of principle, I rarely go over $100 for any one child.... this year it will be FAR FAR less.  Larger gifts are given to the family.  Some families do a Victorian Christmas: Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read. 4 simple gifts.

Typically, my kids get 1 or 2 things they want and the rest are things like socks, new school shirts, underwear, and a gift certificate dedicated for items like shoes with a "special day" out with me to find the items.  I use Christmas as a time when I can catch up with providing the needs to the family and let it count for Christmas.  My kids don't know any different because that's what I've always done.  Again, don't start the circus.

Every year I have my kids make out their Christmas list. Of course my kids ask for things like laptops and cell phones (are any of us immune?) but they also list things they need.  They show me the list then I say, "Wow, that's a great list!  Could you please look these up online and write next to them how much they cost so I will know?"  They return and I let them total what their wishes would cost... $2500 later, they understand how crazy the requests are ( times 6) and they give me their top 3 of the list- one of wich is the realistic #1 wish.

Every year my kids put down a few crazy things on the list....  2 years ago my 6 year old wanted his own jar of pickles. Done.  Easy gift!  My 14 year old asks for his own bag of Andes mints EVERY YEAR!  Done!  Two years ago he wanted his own pound of bacon that he didn't have to share.  DONE!  Over the years we've given favorite cereal, boxes of gum, bags of chips, cans of hot cocoa... you get the idea.  Our kids LOVE having a favorite item they don't have to share (6 kids... remember?  A pound of bacon means 2 slices per person)  Every day items that are treats are FUN to get.  So, don't hold back, go ahead and give your kid a box of twinkies!

I used to think this was a tacky shameful strategy until one year we HAD to do it.  I try to buy new shiny gifts but if I know my kids wants a fabulous do it all MP3 player that I can get for WAY less on Craigslist, I'll do it.  Often times, that is the deal breaker for them even getting the gift because we could not afford such a luxury otherwise.  My teenagers are totally fine with this now.  Learn how to dust things off, clean things out, and shine and repair used items to regift.  Toddlers and children DON'T CARE.  How many of us have walked into a thrift store and had our kids begging for some gosh aweful, ugly, dirty used toy? Plenty.  Trust me, they don't judge you like you judge yourself.  It's okay.

Last year I gave a few of my kid's toys to a friend who was going to wrap them up for her kids.  Some people have SO many toys, their kids can't play with all of them.  Before you take your things to a thrift store, see if you can trade them with your friend! 

I love getting Kohl's $10 cash cards in the mail.  I head right over, but a $12 pair of jeans for my kids and feel like I robbed the store!  It's great for a shoestring budget.

$50 cash card in a teenagers pocket is just as exciting as a $200 gift that you give.  Really, teens just want the experience of buying thier own "stuff" and going out with friends.  My kids think $50 is $500.  They dream and conspire about what they can get for days, even weeks!  If your kid thinks $50 is chump change, time to change your ways. 


Moms, the worst enemy to the Christmas budget is ourselves.  We want to make Christmas perfect, we want to give our kids what our friends are giving theirs.  Stop.  What you give is enough.  There is no rule about giving more than the last year, or making sure they HAVE to have a cell phone when they're a certain age.  You are NOT worth less if you give less.  Some years are more frugal than others and that's okay.  Let it be okay.

Gifts are secondary.  Focus on Christ and His gift.  Make this holiday about the birth of the Savior.

Santa Letters Onsale Through TOMORROW.... $6 for each kid or $12 for a letter to your family!  Prices go up on the 14th!  This is how I'm beefing up my shoestring budget.


Renata said...

I enjoyed this post - thankyou!
I love the victorian christmas(I hadn't heard it before) - I've copied it down - very practical!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your beautiful family!

Diana D said...

This was one of the most amazing and practical gift-giving posts I have ever read. Now a Nana, we tried to raise our boys believing the truth of Jesus as the reason for Christmas, and realizing that we were pretty well taken care of year round, so not to go overboard at Christmas... more difficult not to do as a Nana!! However, also, having the kids give to someone in true need who is their age. Thanks for the post! Wonderful. Diana

Kelli said...

Thank you for this post! GIFTS is my love language, and I always sought out Christmas as the perfect time to express it (with no guilt). However, after becoming a Christian, we went with 3 gifts per child (we have 5), like the 3 gifts for Jesus. Last year, I totally blew it, and went waaaay overboard. Even the kids commented that it was too much. so, back to the basics this year...I love the Victorian idea...may use it this year...but, regardless, thank you again. I let myself feel guilty because we cannot do for ours what our friends can do for theirs...not what Christmas is about!

Angie said...

Great post! If it weren't for my wonderful hubby, I'd definitely be in the "overboard" category. Santa did bring a box of hot chocolate for my then-2-yr-old because that is ALL he asked for. Last year my 8 yr old wanted an American Girl doll. Well, as luck would have it, I found one for $20(!!!) at a yard sale. I sent it back to the AG doll hospital for some repairs and to my surprise they deemed the problems their fault and sent my payment back with the newly fixed doll. On Christmas morning after all the gifts were opened, my sweet girl pulled me aside and told me with great concern in her little voice that the doll was way to expensive of a gift. Since the doll was a gift from my husband and I, I reassured her that we didn't spend very much. Long story short-she didn't care where it came from. It was such a great moment for me as her mother too.

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