Category Archives: Budget

The Three Present Rule

There’s a guideline I have used that I think could make the lives of parents who celebrate Christmas a lot easier. That guideline involves setting some limits around Christmas presents.

I’ve always believed that Christmas is more than presents. There are so many wonderful things to celebrate about Christmas — Advent, music, cards, food, stories, good works, donations, movies, lights, decorations, the tree, church. Presents are nice but only a small part of the celebration.

But if you’re not careful, commercialism can take over your Christmas. And you definitely don’t want to pass down a legacy of commericalism to your impressionable children. So consider the three-present rule this Christmas.

  1. It is tempting to buy your children a lot of presents because you love them, or maybe you feel guilty for not spending more time with them. However, consider that no one with more “stuff” is happier for it. Remember the number one thing children want from their parents is their time: their love and attention. Don’t buy your chlld $200 worth of “stuff” at Christmas. Take walks with them. Bake cookies together. Teach them how to do things. Build snowmen. Color pictures. Volunteer. Pray. Snuggle and read together.
  2. The key to contentment is moderation. Exercise some restraint over your personal holiday spending and limit Santa’s contributions to three presents, maximum, per child. My son received three presents from Santa Claus. I did not make a big point about it. That’s just what he got. It was manageable for shopping and manageable for Christmas morning. Usually there was one “big” wish present and two more, less expensive ones. So, if your child receives a bike, guitar or dollhouse from Santa, the other gifts might be a board game, book or teddy bear. The stocking might contain a few small trinkets in addition to the candy.
  3. Teach your children to ask for one to three presents from Santa Claus, early in life, especially when they go to see Santa Claus. Some children make lists of many presents. If you want your child to grow up to grateful, gracious, balanced and generous, you must teach them also what greed looks like and to not be greedy.
  4. In addition to the Santa presents, my son also got a present from his Mom. The single present practice is a wise one for any family with school-age children. One present from a parent/parents and three presents from Santa. Mom gets one present from the child. One present from Grandma would also be a good rule to curb holiday excess. If you choose to exchange gifts with adult relatives, you might put a limt on it, like nothing over $25 or just one present.
  5. Home-made presents are very special. Show your child how to make home-made presents and give some yourself.
  6. Don’t choose necessities, like clothing or socks, for Santa presents or parent presents for children under 12. Choose games, toys, sports equipment, music, craft supplies and books, instead.
  7. Purchase gifts you can pay for in cash. Avoid going into debt for Christmas presents. If you are on a budget, your children will the acquire the value of living within your means from your example. Used toy trains and bikes play the same.
  8. Turn off the commercials. Children’s television programming markets to children. Naturally, they will want what they see on television. There is one really good way to get around this dilemma. Teach your children how to read, play games and do imaginative play. Get rid of your television. I am serious! My son did not have a television in my house growing up. We were SO happy without it. We were healthier without it. Otherwise, limit your child’s exposure to television. My elementary school students routinely report watching R-rated programming on television at home. If they could not see it legally in a movie theater, they should not be watching it at home. Your family will not be deprived without cable television. It is a terrible babysitter and an even worse teacher. You can watch Rudolph online or with a DVD player. Invest in YouTube premium for PBS programming (Sesame Street, etc).
  9. Make your house a video-game free zone. My son did not grow up with video games and he turned out just fine. Not only are videogames and the players expensive, but they make terrible babysitters. I teach children who do not do their homework or study because they play video games every day. There is some research that says video games teach problem-solving. That may be true but so does everything else in life. Fortnite, for example, is a violently bloody, technological plague for children. It is recommended for teens because of the violence yet it is actively marketed to young children, who play it. I did not have an elementary school student who did not play Fortnite. There is nothing remotely Christmasy about combat video games. You say they want them? Children should not get everything they want, especially if if it is not good for them. Would you give your children candy for breakfast, if they wanted that? Your children will not be deprived in your video-game-free home. They will find ways to play video games at the homes of their friends. If your teen wants them, your teen can work at a job and buy their own video games. But do yourself a favor and keep them off your holiday list.

Do you practice the three-present rule in your family? How do you teach your children to be content and grateful with what they receive and what they have?