When you have little kids, it can be tempting to go all-out for the holidays, stuffing as many gifts as you can under the tree, under the guise of creating family memories (that they’re unlikely to remember). But money is also finite; in fact, you may still be trying to pull yourself out of credit card debt from last year’s festivities. Luckily, a great thing about little kids is they really won’t notice—or care—how much or how little they receive.
One mom wrote to Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary asking for advice on shopping for Christmas gifts for her extended family and two children while also trying to pay off $62,000 worth of credit card debt. One of Singletary’s suggestions for toddler gifts is spot on: rewrap things they already own.
For the baby, you don’t need to buy anything, because he’ll probably be excited about just opening boxes. When my kids were tiny tots, I looked around for games, toys and stuffed animals that they didn’t play with and were buried at the bottom of their toy bins or stashed at the top of their closets. I wrapped up those items and put them under the tree. Seriously, who remembers what they got at 2?
Re-gift their own stuff
She’s right. At my son’s first birthday party, with a pile of toys in front of him waiting to be unwrapped, he cared only about the first card he tore from its envelope. He loved that card. He would have been happy with just that card.
Toddlers like the sound of wrapping paper ripping more than they care about what’s inside. So if they got a couple of extra toys at their last birthday that they haven’t yet played with, wrap them up and present them as new. Have a few books you haven’t read together in a while? Wrap them up. They will 1. not realize it or 2. care. They’re still ripping the paper.
Hey, you know what else toddlers like? Those squishy pouches of fruits and veggies. You’re going to buy them anyway; they’re in your pantry right now. Wrap up a few of their favorite flavors (or other snacks) and observe their delight.
Wrap multiple pieces from the same toy
Maybe you want to splurge on one bigger toy, but that splurge is basically your whole gift budget for the holiday. If it’s got more than one piece, wrap each one individually.
A Fisher-Price farm, for example, is less than $30, and it comes with the farm, a detachable silo, a farmer and four animals. That’s not one gift; that’s seven things to unwrap. And it’s probably more fun for a little kid to open a pig… then a cow… then a horse… imagine the anticipation, wondering what animal will be next!
Hit up the dollar store
Your local dollar store has a mix of holiday and seasonal toys, as well as at least one aisle dedicated to regular toys. In particular, you can find a good variety of coloring books, stickers, crayons and other art supplies. Ten bucks in a dollar store could fill up that space underneath your tree quite nicely.
For older kids
Once they pass the toddler years, kids do start to understand that the most exciting part of a gift is what’s inside the wrapping, rather than the wrapping itself. For this age, Singletary suggests doing all the opening at once. You might only have a couple of things under the tree, but if you’re having a family get-together where the kids will get a few more gifts, save it all to be opened at one time. This will make the pile seem more impressive and will take the focus off how many gifts you were able to buy.
A final tip for older kids from my own childhood: Bring out the stockings at the end. Year after year, my brother and I totally forgot about our stockings in the excitement of opening everything else. Just when we thought we’d opened it all, someone would remember that we still had the stockings, and we’d get excited all over again. It’s not that they ever contained much more than some candy, a lip gloss or a new bookmark; it was that unwrapping each little piece extended the fun a bit longer.
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