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Help for the Holidays: How to Navigate Christmas Shopping for Kids

by David Engle | Dec 03, 2019 | 4 min read

Just like the classic song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But instead of kids jingle-belling, they’re probably giving you lists of gifts they’d like for Christmas this year. Long, expensive lists. So, how do you navigate this? Should you get everything on the list? Should you go for quantity over quality? Vice-versa? How do you know when to stop buying? All valid questions. We’ll go through a few gift-related scenarios to help you decide how to handle the holiday shopping.

The Multiple Child Dilemma
If there’s only one child delivering the list to you and Santa, that certainly simplifies your shopping strategy. But if you’re the parent of multiple kids, things start to get tricky when it comes to gift shopping. Do you spend the same amount on each child? But, what if that results in one’s pile of presents being noticeably larger than the other’s? The last thing you want on your hands on Christmas morning, most likely pre-coffee, is a battle of the siblings over who has more presents and—possibly—who you love more. If you haven’t experienced this type of yuletide fun, congratulations. If you have, let’s talk about the joy of giving—and how to make everyone happy.

Budget vs. Volume
A lot of factors are involved here, one of the most important being the age of your children. The older the child, the more likely it is that he or she will understand the concept of large gifts/price tag vs. large gifts/size of box. Have you ever tried to explain this concept to a young child? Give a dog a Rubik’s Cube and you’ll see the same facial expression. Young kids only see volume, not cost. They don’t grasp that their cool new Amazon Fire tablet equals 30 Hot Wheels cars. Nope, they just see their sibling opening up 30 gifts while they open one, no matter how cool or expensive that one gift is. A few strategies for dealing with this…

If you have young children: Do not go overboard. Take advantage of the fact that they love big, shiny things that may not cost a fortune. If they’re toddler-age or younger, they have no concept of gift volume. Trust me…THIS IS THE ONLY AGE YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH THIS STRATEGY! Solution: save some money while you can, and get a few bigger toys you know your little ones will enjoy. They’ll be completely satisfied. Things start to get much more complicated…

  • If you have grade-school-age children: This is the age when kids start to take notice of present piles and show off their counting skills by telling you that their little sister has four more gifts. Solution: focus more on volume and balance so each child has an equal (or close) number of presents to open on Christmas morning. They still don’t grasp economics, so even if you spend more on one child than the other, no one will be offended as long as they’re opening the same number of gifts. Things do get easier…
  • If you have tweens, teens, or older kids: This is when the value of a dollar finally has some meaning. If one kid’s big gift is an iPad, he or she won’t be upset if the other has six boxes of clothes. Real-life example: two years ago, we bought my nearly 13-year-old son a Chromebook as his big gift. His little sister, soon-to-be 9, received more gifts (Lego sets, board games, etc.) than he did, but he was totally fine with it, because he understood that his Chromebook cost more money than her smaller gifts.

    Flashback to last year…the situations were reversed. My almost 10-year-old daughter was dying for an iPad, which we gave as her (very) big gift. My about-to-be-15 son didn’t really want or need anything “big” (bless his heart), so he received quite a few Funko Pop! vinyl figures (he’s an avid collector). These generally range from $5 to $20, so let’s just say he spent considerably more time opening gifts than my daughter did. But she was ok with it, because she was thrilled with the iPad and understood that I had to sell my car to pay for it (not really, but this thing better last her until college). Solution: set a budget and stick to it, even if it means one child receives far more volume-wise than the others. At this age, they understand that 1 mountain bike > 1 video game, and that 1 mountain bike = 4 video games.

What Should My Budget Be?
This is obviously entirely dependent on each individual family’s financial situation and comes down to whatever you’re comfortable spending. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question — some families love to go crazy for Christmas, while others elect to keep things more conservative, regardless of budget. It’s completely up to you.

How Many Gifts Should I Get?
Again, this comes down to personal preference, and it also ties directly to your budget. If you’re giving your child a big gift (a TV, a new phone, a computer or tablet, the newest gaming system, a giant train set for little ones), odds are there won’t be too many other presents under the tree. But if you’re not going all-in on a huge gift this year, feel free to shower lots of smaller presents upon your children. Clothes, books, video games, gift cards, toys, board games…these boxes are smaller, but they may be even more fun to open!

At the end of the day, Christmas gift-giving is whatever you decide to make of it. Big or small, more or less…there’s no wrong way to go about it, as long as you’re celebrating the holiday with your loved ones. Sure, it would be ideal to avoid Christmas morning temper tantrums, but all you can do is your best to ensure that your children have a memorable Christmas—and watching that unfold is the best gift you can possibly receive.

How do you handle Christmas shopping? What are your shopping strategies? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below.


David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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