Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas Gift Choices and Money Spent

I received a comment a couple of days ago, and an email yesterday, asking what we ended up buying Seth for Christmas after so many people had offered great suggestions.

The answer?  A camera!  I found a surprisingly good, digital camera (a real camera) on sale at London Drugs for about $70, and we ended up buying one for both Seth and Matthew as their biggest Christmas gifts.  Lizzie received a CD player for approx. the same value as her main gift.  They were all thrilled with their gifts.

We ended up going a little overboard this year with the gift-giving, despite my best intentions..  In addition to the camera, Matthew received his first ever watch (on sale for $28), a model car kit, two maze books, a book, and an audio book.  Seth received the camera, a lego helicopter kit (the only lego kit I could find for under $30 - man lego is expensive!), a playmobil car, two maze books, a book, and an audio book.  Lizzie was ecstatic that she can now listen to audio books on her new CD player; and she also opened up a small portable playmobil dollhouse, a purse, two maze books, a book, and an audio book.  In addition, the kids all received together a three-unit walkie talkie set, which the boys are using for spying purposes and which Lizzie is still trying to figure out (her favourite thing to do with the walkie talkie is to put it into her new purse and then reach into her purse for the walkie talkie while saying "I need to find my cell phone!").

Because I was pretty careful to spend the same amount of money on each kid (within $5 of each other), I tracked what I spent and know that, including the walkie talkies, we spent close to $200 per kid.  In addition, I spent about $20 per child on stockings stuffers.

So almost $220 per child.  That seems to me like a lot of money to spend on Christmas gifts.  But when I just now googled this question, I discovered that the average American parent planned, a month before Christmas, to spend $271 per child, with one in ten families planning to spend in excess of $500/child.  I'm assuming that Canadian spending would be similar.  Another few articles suggested that these spending patterns were likely conservative because parents were still at the planning stage when these questions were asked.  Is this typical?

When I read the average spending per child I found myself initially feeling a bit better about our spending but then I realized the obvious:  That what anyone else spends on Christmas should in no way justify what we think about our own spending.  I also remembered that last year we spent approx. $120/child, which somehow seemed more appropriate for us.

One thing that struck me about the gifts this year was Lizzie's reaction.  When she pulled the less-than-$2, strawberry-scented chapstick out of her stocking, she shrieked with delight, dropped her stocking, and ran over to me with a huge "thank you!!!" hug.  Matthew and Seth reacted quite similarly over the little trinkets in their stockings.  I realized right then that I'd spent too much on their gifts and I wished that I could somehow pull a few presents from under the tree.  They were truly grateful for just those little things and I fear that we've now set the bar too high.

The other the thing that really struck me this year was that the kids were just as excited about the stuff we did pre-Christmas as they were about Christmas day and gift opening.  They loved the crafts, baking, decorating, reading, field trips, advent-related, church-related, movie-watching, carol singing, and other stuff that we did together that was all oriented around the Christmas season..  They loved that every day in the weeks before Christmas we did something Christmasy and I loved that they really seemed to understand the Nativity story soo much better and wanted to talk about what it was like in Jesus' time.  This is the first year I've been so deliberate and well-planned about our pre-Christmas activities and it was frankly worth the extra effort.  In the coming week or two, I will be spending a little bit of time thinking and planning for next year's pre-Christmas activities so that I can remember what kinds of things worked really well this year and where I could make some adjustments.

But...getting back to spending, I'm very interested in your thoughts on the matter if you're willing to participate in the conversation.   What did you spend on Christmas per child?  Do you worry about how much you spend?  Do your children have expectations about what kinds of gifts they receive?  Do you try to spend about the same amount on each child?  Is there a taboo about talking about this frankly?  I'm not looking to step on toes here, but I'm truly interested in this subject. 


  1. Oh, goodness. My eternal struggle. I LOVE gift-buying and giving. With adults. I am grinchy about giving to kids. But I still spend too much and give too many things, because I love shopping and choosing things. And then I regret it. For the kids. Not the grown-ups. I love spoiling my parents (they don't have lots of extra cash, and don't treat themselves...sometimes even to new "basic" things), my husband (also not a big spender on himself), and my brother (the only single sibling I have now). Adults get it, and it's great fun.

    The gift-giving event in my family runs for hours. Stockings alone take over an hour, as we go around one by one. Main gifts take 2-3 hours. So fantastic - what is better than sitting in one spot, with snacks and a bit of background music, in comfy clothes or PJs, sharing such a rich family time? Hence, my dilemma. Every gift could be worth $2-5, but the experience is SO fun. When it comes to the grown-ups.

    However, I don't really like watching the kids open things, or seeing what they do (or don't do) with their gifts afterward. The casual way they rip paper off one thing, without even paying attention to it half the time, only to anxiously wait to dive into the next thing, paying no attention to anyone else. Ugh. My boys also seem to have very little regard for "things" - I think it has something to do with being constantly showered with new (disposable, dollar store-type) stuff at their foster home, and never *needing* anything, or having anything really special, that they had to treat with real care. Everything could be replaced if broken, and everything could be ignored once bored.

    So it was going to be super-low-budget for them this year, with a focus on one or two really nice and useful items that could occupy them well, and limit them from being distracted by a myriad of options. We ended up close to the $200 mark, including stockings. Actually, my mom ended up using a couple of things from my stash, so maybe it was just under $150. But it still feels like a lot of stuff, and already they haven't used or noticed most of their gifts at all since Christmas day, other than some of the art supplies we gave them..oh, and the super-inexpensive used video games I surprised them with in their stockings (I somewhat reluctantly introduced them to the Wii this season, but I knew it would be a novel way for them to kill some time while I attempted to lounge around over the holidays - and they don't have free access to electronics yet, anyway).

    I want to both spend less AND give fewer parcels (and then maybe have an extra round of grown-up gift-giving after the kids go to bed???) next year. And after seeing again (maybe I just needed two Christmases with them to confirm) how little they really attach to new "stuff" and make use of it, I think I can be firmer in my resolve next year, or at least go even more for really useful (interesting, but practical) gifts that pretty much have to be used, by virtue of their functions (art stuff, fun outdoor wear, fun school resources, novelty clothing, etc....and likely a hobby item or two that Geoff and I think will be a good investment - cameras are a great idea...and a book or two and some new music).

    We'll see what happens. Money-wise, I have definitely learned that some very cool gifts can be really cheap, now that I buy more used items like video games, music, books...and even sporting gear.

  2. Thanks for the comment Joy! I love reading of your experience this year and I thought your perspective on ADULT gift-giving very novel.
    Giving gifts that cultivate a hobby, or something to do, kinda captures what we tried to do this year. Just today, Matthew spent a big chunk of the day working on the realistic car model that we gave him for Christmas and it's going to take him weeks! Seth started a lego project, and Lizzie and I spent about 90 minutes on her new little dollhouse. It was an awesome, lazy day. The cameras have been HUGE hits with the boys and they're figured out how to use the various features entirely on their own. So far, too, they've stuck with the rules we've set out.

    I think I'll always give gifts of books and audio books, just 'cause it's another fun way of learning.

    But yeah, I think I've learned too that really great gifts don't have to cost the moon. The kids have spent so much time since Xmas just using the dollar store stickers and tatoos (sp?) we put into their stockings. And don't even get me started on Lizzie's new chapstick, which gets pulled out about 20x/day...she LOVES it.

    Anyway, thanks Joy...I really appreciate the input as I ponder this issue and I want to learn from others as well as our own experiences.

    Happy New Year!