Christmas and Chanukah and Kwanzaa are coming! That means that if you are a prudent shopper, you have been doing your holiday shopping for many months now. I am sure that all are doing a fine job of controlling their spending while they shop for holiday gifts but I wonder whether we are all spending prudently, regardless of how thrifty we might be.
When I was a child, Christmas was always the most wonderful time of the year. To this day, Christmas Eve remains my favorite 24 hours in the calendar. My childhood home in Massachusetts was always lit up with Christmas lights and decorations and our Christmas tree would have made Santa and his elves quite proud.
And then there were the presents. LOTS of presents. Our tree always had a sea of brightly wrapped packages underneath it and Santa always brought many, many more. To describe my parents as “generous” would be like describing the Pacific Ocean as a “puddle.” I always got more gifts than all of my friends and spent most of Christmas morning unwrapping and sorting.
I will always appreciate my parents’ love and generosity. Unfortunately, in all of the years that I lived at home with them, I rarely, if ever, received a present that I actually wanted or could use. Especially as a younger child, I received a lot of games that I never played and a lot of toys that gathered dust until we donated them to the white elephant sale at my school carnival six months later.
My parents had the concept of “giving” down to a science. They had never mastered, however, the art of “giving intelligently.” If you are spending all year long looking for bargains that you can put under the tree, you may not be giving intelligently either, and you may want to consider the following tips to ensure that your holiday gifts are remembered for the joy that they bring beyond the holidays, and not just the anticipation that they created when they were wrapped under the tree.
Quality is better than Quantity
Unless you have trained your children to expect a mountain of gifts at the holidays, they should appreciate whatever you give them. Do not feel compelled to turn your living room into a toy warehouse. Before buying a gift, ask yourself whether your child will actually appreciate and enjoy the gift for more than a few minutes. Do you see your child using the gift a week, a month or a year after you give it to him or her. The longer the useful life of the gift, the more memories the gift will give to your child. (One gift that I do think my parents had spot on was my annual gift of a different set of “army men,” toys that I still own and which my own children often used when they were younger.)
Know your Child
If your child loves to read but hates sports, do not give him or her a lot of sports equipment just because you hope to jumpstart their interest. Buy books, because that is what your child will want, and leave the sports issue to another day. If your child has developed a novice interest in an activity, do not buy gifts that are intended for experts, because that will only frustrate your child. Similarly, if your child has developed expertise in something, do not buy a gift that is below his or her level just because it is on sale.
If you find a bargain on a gift that is perfect for your child but which you know he or she will never find a way to use, stay away from it. As a child, I recall a friend who had a ping pong table that was folded up in his basement. His parents had given it to him for Christmas one year because he loved ping pong. After they played with it for a few days, his parents had folded it up and then, only rarely, did he ever get a chance to use his gift. In my case, I never bought my kids toys that were very loud, because I work at home and could never have gotten any work done with a lot of loud noises in the background.
Help your Child to Know What He or She Likes
I always told my kids that I needed a Christmas list from them by September 1 of each year. It gave me four months to look for bargains and it forced my kids to think about what they would appreciate. When my kids would ask for something expensive, I always asked them to tell me why they wanted it. If they could not give me an answer, they knew that they needed to revise their list and remove the item from it. We would go through that kind of questioning for a few rounds until they knew, and I knew, what they really wanted.
You Do Not Need to Purchase Every Gift
Most kids will have more fun playing with their parents than playing alone with their toys. Even if you play with your children, as I am sure you do, you can give them a great gift just by making them a coupon book that allows them to redeem coupons to do things with you. You can be as creative as you want with the coupons – anything from “Play a game of Monopoly” to “Take a road trip” to “Get out of doing your chores for one Saturday.” You know best what coupons will make your kids happiest.
Help Your Child to Develop an Interest
If your child does have a hobby, whether it is a sport or stamp collecting or bug collecting or whatever, the holidays are a great time to help your child to take the interest to a new level. Now is the time to give that special baseball bat or stamp or coin. If your child has a positive association with an activity, it will make the gift all the more exciting.
Help your Kids to Play Together
Look for presents that will encourage your kids to play together. A game that is good for two or more players will help all of your kids to get excited about the gifts that their siblings receive. You have done a good job shopping if the recipient of a gift shouts “Cool!” when the gift is opened. You have done a great job shopping when everyone in the room shouts “Cool!” when the gift is displayed.
Avoid Family Gifts Unless You Know the Entire Family Will Enjoy Them
If Mom and Dad want to go to Bermuda for a family vacation, the kids need to go even if for some reason they do not want to go. If Mom and Dad want to force a holiday vacation on the kids and then claim it is their “gift,” Mom and Dad need to think again. Never give a gift to oneself and then claim it is a gift for the family. Similarly, don’t buy the family a stereo system or big screen TV if the kids will never get to play their CDs on the stereo or will end up constantly fighting over the remote control. It is better to give each child a Nano than to spend all the money on a system that will become the subject of family fighting.
It’s Not About the Gifts
Always remember, whatever faith you may follow and whatever your secular beliefs, holidays should not be about gift receiving. If your kids approach the holidays as their chance for a free ride for a few months, they are missing the point. Teach your children to appreciate all that they receive and they will appreciate you all the more as they grow up. When your young children are old enough to earn an allowance, make sure they set aside a little money every week so that at holiday time they can buy a small gift for an underprivileged child. They will enjoy the feeling of giving and it will help them to understand how important it is to appreciate what they receive.