It’s that time of year–shopping, shopping, and more shopping as we try to find the perfect gift for family and friends, teachers and co-workers.  There are many things I love about this time of year, but I could do without the commercial aspect of it, particularly when it feels like half the time I’m only giving something to mark the occasion rather than something the person really needs or wants.

Every year I start off with the best of intentions.  I imagine taking the time to give gifts that really mean something, that I’ve made myself or with the help of the children, and yet I somehow always end up getting off-track and frantically stocking up on generic boxes of chocolates and bath products.  Why does it always end up this way?

As I’ve said before, most of my frugal habits take some organization, and I have a hard time keeping several balls in the air at one time.  The fact is, this time of year is just too darn busy.  I’m finishing up a school term, meeting parents about grades, taking the kids to parties every weekend, trying to find the time to buy and decorate a tree, and before I know it it’s Christmas and we’re off to the in-laws’ house for a week.

I want to give real gifts, the kind that show the person I’m giving to that they are important to me.  I want the investment of my time or money to reflect something, because time and money mean something, too.  Part of being frugal for me is recognizing that there is an inherent worth to things and treating them accordingly.  I want to be conscious of how and why I’m spending, and I want the things I’m spending my money on to show that.

Which is why I found myself dithering  in the toy aisle of a big chain store over my lunch break today, unsure of what to do.  You see, my oldest daughter made her list for Santa, carefully choosing what she wanted from the catalog and delivering her list directly to the man himself when we visited the Père Noël last weekend.  What she wants is large, and plastic, and pink.  It is precisely NOT what I would choose for her myself, but it is exactly what she wants.

I should say that we generally only give one or two small gifts to each child, which may seem meager to some but which I think make them that much more meaningful.  Plus they get gifts from my family and my husband’s family, and my eldest’s birthday is two days after Christmas.  Trust me, it’s enough.

So here’s my question for you: is it a better use of my money to buy her the gift that she wants, regardless of the questionable value of the product, because the real value is in giving her a gift that means something to her?  Or, do I instead give her a gift that I find more appropriate and more “frugal” (in terms of price, size, sturdiness, NOT BARBIE FOR THE LOVE OF…ahem).  Which is the gift more worth giving?


1 Susan December 8, 2010

At our house, Santa brings the one thing the child asked for. They know to think hard before they ask and that Santa won’t bring anything that Mama and Daddy have said no to (like something that we feel is age inappropriate, too big, too loud, too expensive (cuz Santa has a long list!)). Beyond those guidelines, they ask and receive the one item they really want. We try to follow the “want, need, wear, read” mantra, so the other 3 gifts from us parents are ones we choose and are to our taste. Sometimes the Santa gift is something we don’t feel is the best choice, but aside from pointing out the down sides, we let them make the decision and the wish!

2 minhus December 8, 2010

If it would fit in your budget to give two gifts, why not one of each? One gift she really wants and one that illustrates the qualities you value more? Or if someone else wants to buy her the main gift she wants, then I could see you getting something else. Part of the fun of being a kid is playing with toys, even if they are Barbies. I think the value in Christmas gifts is giving something the person really wants, regardless of whether we think they should want it.

3 Erin December 8, 2010

Santa always brings the gift they “know” Mom and Dad would never spring for. The long-dreamed of American Girl doll came one year and, lo and behold, 2 years later, her friend showed up. A few years later, the much coveted Pottery Barn Teen Duvet Cover “Do you know how much that costs? Keep dreaming” was provided by Santa. Mom and Dad gifts have stayed modest. Santa allows us to spoil our kids a bit without seeming to compromise our long-term goals for them. Schizophrenic? Absolutely! Amazing to watch their joy when the deemed-never-gonna-happen gift is discovered? Worth it!

4 Lindy Mint December 8, 2010

I agree with Erin and I like that point of view of Santa being the spoiler. It is hard balancing the desire to instill a sense of value in our kids, and the desire to not disappoint. I have a feeling they remember the disappointment more than the lessons in value.

5 Dmarie December 8, 2010

actually, I learned a lot from a gift that had no lasting value: the Barbie make-up head. How I coveted and begged for it. Why it had a face and hair I could fix up myself! How happy I was to see it under the tree. How long the joy lasted: until I applied makeup onto that plastic face for the first time. VERY valuable lesson in how what is commercial is not always what is worthy of my time (and Santa’s money).

6 Juhli December 9, 2010

I think we all need to get our heart’s desire at times. There are enough lessons provided by life about not getting what we want IMO.

7 Lisa December 9, 2010

I agree with Juhli. Even as a single mother on welfare, Santa always brought the “heart’s desire,” no matter how pink or plastic. Keep the magic, it stays with them a very long time.

8 Pam McCormick December 10, 2010

I have to agree and it will seem commercial,wrong etc but if you can do the 1 “wished” for gift regardless of no value.That lesson will come,right now it is the magic of the heart!

9 nancy December 10, 2010

i have to say that if it were me, i would go with the gift she requested. obviously, she stil believes in santa…that will end soon enough and there will be plenty more christmases where you’l have the opportunity to choose the gift. my girls are now 17 and 14 and i can’t tell you how precious those young years are when they still believe in the magic of christmas. i encourage you to enjoy this ‘moment’ with your daughter; she will carry the memory with her forever. (my oldest still remembers the christmas when she was 2 and santa brought a cinderella tent and sleeping bag – her wish items. it is one of her fondest memories.)

10 Mickey December 10, 2010

You didn’t quite specify, exactly what the pink and plastic thing is (though you gave us a …ahem…hint.) Have you considered Computer Engineer Barbie?? Yes, I have a pink laptap. And it’s mostly plastic.

11 Beth December 11, 2010

I would totally get her a computer engineer Barbie–love it! D. and I actually voted when they were polling which would be the new career.

As for what she really wants, here it is in all its glory:

12 Beth December 11, 2010

You guys make me feel guilty! I’m not actually trying to teach her a lesson, just thinking more practically that I have no place to fit this large, pink, plastic thing in our tiny apartment. But you’re right in that it’s not about making me happy, it’s for her, and she would be over the moon to get it.

13 Shoestring December 11, 2010

Tricky one isn’t it? I agree with the other commenters that if she really wants it and it doesn’t go outside budget then it’s probably the way to go. However, I TOTALLY know what you mean about how much space this plastic ‘stuff’ takes up. This Chrismtas will be my daughter’s first and we’ve tried to combine what she would like to play with, with what we actually have space for!

14 Practical Parsimony December 12, 2010

My children often did not get what they asked for because Santa knew my children well and would get them something they liked better. Not one of my three children ever was sad on Christmas morning. I had warned them that Santa might have better toys in mind. If a toy was not there under the tree, a toy they wished for, then a better (more appropriate, sturdier, etc) one was in its place.

All three got bikes one year. Only the little one still believed. The older two thought they were only getting rink skates. So, when a bike and skate case were under the tree along with rink skates, they were ecstatic. The younger received Superman skates. The two younger, girls, received fur coats. This was the biggest Christmas ever. I knew I was getting a divorce after Christmas, so made it really nice. Okay, poor excuse and poor logic, but it’s what I did.

That coach is so cute that I think I want it!

15 JP December 13, 2010

My mum raised us so that Santa brought the little gifts.

Her rational was that kids would understand mum and dad being broke, but Santa could never be broke! Because we were not used to getting large gifts from Santa, we understood if there wasn’t a large gift at all.

And if there WAS a large gift, mum and dad wanted to be able to take credit for it!

For our own kids, we didn’t really set a pattern, but we almost never go for highly commercial gifts unless we can see redeeming value in them. We give a lot of books, games, craft stuff, and needed items like clothes.

And we don’t play up Santa. He’s lurking in the background, but we never made a big deal about Santa with the kids. I would avoid like the plague taking them to shopping malls around Christmas time!

I don’t think the kids have ever been disappointed.

16 Bette December 20, 2010

Our son “wants” many things over the course of the holiday season, but when Christmas day rolls around, he gets only what mom and dad deem is appropriate, affordable and good sense. And without fail, he is always thrilled, thankful and delighted with what we pick out. The joy of receiving a gift is in the surprise and the thoughtfulness of the giver, not just in getting what is on a list of gimmees.

Enough of the plastic junque! We are drowning in it and frankly, I find it grotesquely over-priced (and isn’t that what thrift stores and garage sales are for!) I don’t believe in indulging the fantasy but I do believe in giving something quality and well thought out. Why should Christmas be about “getting” whatever one wants regardless of whether mom and dad can afford it or whether it is really a good choice?!?!? To me, that teaches all the wrong values.

We give our son one “big” item that we buy new, and a few smaller things, including some books and clothing from the thrift store!!

Best wishes!

17 Emma December 21, 2010

I detest the big plastic toys personally, but my in-laws have several of them for my little one and she plays with them, but not for very long. She’d rather color or play with play doh, or build etc. We’ve cultivated imaginative play with her. They put the box from the new dishwasher in her play area and gave her some new markers and she spends more time with that than anything.

Since she’s little still I can somewhat direct what she asks Santa to bring, but I know that will change as she gets older. She can ask Santa for anything, but we are already letting her know that doesn’t mean she’s going to get it. Santa has lots of toys to deliver. We live in a small house and there just isn’t room for large toys of any kind so we try to discourage that idea altogether.

Previous post:

Next post: