How to manage your family’s Christmas gift expectations

How to manage your family’s Christmas gift expectations

This is day 3 of 12 Thrifty Days of Christmas and I actually think this post should be subtitled: Why we need to be constantly talk about our finances for the sake of all of our futures. Let’s be honest, if you’re struggling financially the last thing you need on the plate is an expensive Christmas so now is the time to start saying so to your friends and family. There is no shame at all in taking control of your finances and being seen to do so. If someone takes issue with you openly displaying your commitment to not spend for the sake of spending then how much of a friend are they anyway? Take time to sit down with those you normally interact with over Christmas and tell them you will be opting for a less commercial Christmas this year. The thought of the conversation is harder than actually having the conversation itself – I promise you. Make it clear this isn’t you asking for help but it is about you asking them to understand things will be different from now on.

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A great way to broach this subject is to suggest a family secret santa (I’ve written more about this here), a price limit on gifts, homemade gifts only or all opting give gifts to children only. If everyone is on board with options like this it makes it a lot easier to manage gift expectations but what if they don’t want to try something like this? Be blunt. Explain to adults in terms they will understand “it is quite literally the roof over our heads or 6 DVD box sets to give to my siblings” – tends to work well. As a bit of a case study I talked to my friend Jen and her husband Toby, they have two children aged 6 and 9 and live in a suburb of Manchester. In the summer  Toby lost his job when the shop he managed went bust and they were left to survive on Jen’s wage. Jen was made redundant from her job in- thankfully in they both found new jobs but it was hard going for a while and the Christmases  and were really, really rough.

“Christmas  was really hard” explains Jen “we let the misery of a low income bog us down but even though things were harder we didn’t let finances ruin a period we celebrate as committed Christians.” “In we miserably pushed through and gave the kids the expensive presents they wanted even though it meant skipping payments on loans” continues Toby looking embarrassed “but we made the decision to talk to all of our family about our finances – including the children.” “I was terribly scared that talking about our money troubles with the kids would leave them worried about the safety of our house or a lack of food” Jen says with a shudder “but we explained to them a lot of people are in the same situation and that our while our money troubles were adult issues (that we could solve with hard work) we could all be sensible and make changes to make it easier. We took our time to explain Christmas is for family and love and whilst presents are a part of Christmas we made them aware it is a very small part of Christmas.” Jen and Toby took the time to ask the children which parts of Christmas they were looking forward to helped them place emphasis on activities more so than gifts. They devised a list (below) and allow the girls to each choose three from each list.

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“It gives them a bit of responsibility and I’ve even noticed them having conversations about which presents will last longer or which they could share happily. It’s remarkable how adaptable they are and the focus on activities has given us all some amazing memories.” said Jen. Jen and Toby now take their children to see Father Christmas at the local shopping centre the week before Christmas and the gift they are given at the Grotto is *cough* returned to the elves for safe keeping *cough* and it makes an appearance under the tree on Christmas morning. Other gifts come in the form of useful items like clothes, craft items, books and ultimately one shared gift. Toby explains “the girls don’t go without but if they want something we deem as expensive, they share it. They want an Mp3 player this year so we did our homework and found the most suitable one for their age and sought out an online discount code.”  Jen interjects “We bought two pairs of pink headphones and a headphone splitter in a poundshop and they can both listen at the same time. Christmas presents for both of our kids will cost a total of £50 this year and that includes new wellies and pyjamas which they both needed anyway…having that terrible Christmas in was the best thing that happened to us and I think we’re giving our girls at secure financial standing for the future.”

Posts so far in this series:

Launch – 12 Thrifty Days of Christmas

Day 1- Where, When, Who

Day 2 – How to Set a Christmas Budget