5 Ways to Prep Kids for a Lean Christmas When Money Is Tight

Money, ChristmasI got let go from my day job on Thursday. Most people didn’t even know I had a 9-to-5. They know about the freelancing—that side hustle that in and of itself is a full-time job—but they had no idea that eight hours of my day were spent under someone else’s employ. Thursday’s debacle was just a neon flashing example of why I never bothered being too dependent on a corporate gig anyway.

No sooner had I had the chance to take my coat off and reply to exactly three emails, I got The Call to the conference room. I hadn’t even gotten a glass of water and sliced my breakfast apple yet, but when the smoke cleared that fine morning, they’d hatcheted 17 of us, streamlining the company of dead weight a mere 19 days before Christmas. Ho ho ho.


I’m not mad. I’m not upset. I’ve been through enough corporate restructurings and just plain ol’ fashioned firings—and boxed my belongings up for that instantly recognizable walk of shame—to know that nothing’s personal in business, especially when the bottom line is sagging. But until I get my bearings, it has necessitated a big girl chat with my daughter about the reality of this Christmas aka the don’t-get-your-hopes-up-for-new-Air-Jordans-and-an-iPhone-under-the-tree conversation.

When she was a little tot, I would’ve broken my neck—and the bank—trying to make her every Santa Claus fantasy come true. She would hand over those lists all wide-eyed and expectant and I would commence to overextending myself to ensure she let out that little squeal of delight on Christmas morning. But at 14, she should be able to understand that, at least for the first few months of being a full-time freelancer, money is going to be a little tighter, trips to Ruby Tuesday are going to be a little fewer and farther between, and packages wrapped with that same paper we’ve been using for the past five years may be stacked a little lower this holiday.

Some hard-learned advice to my fellow would-be generous parents:

1. Don’t rack yourself financially trying to make Christmas magic that you’ll still be paying for on the Fourth of July. You're not depriving your children—you’re actually teaching them how to prioritize their expectations and delay gratification. You know, those pesky real life lessons. Better to get them early because they’re gonna get them, one way or the other. Might as well be from you.

2. Tell your kids to separate their wish lists into two columns: the dream gifts and the cool stuff. The first would be the pricey electronics, the big-name designer ooh la la, and the second would be the dolls, the balls, the games, the more reasonably priced stuff. Pull one thing from the dream list if you can and if not, give your kid an estimate of when they’ll be able to get it. Chances are, by that time, they will have moved on from that anyway, which ultimately saves you from paying for something that’s just going to end up collecting dust in the obscure corners of their room.

3. Ask them to pick out a separate gift for an Angel Tree project or give to a child through charity. Even though you’re struggling, there’s still someone worse off, and kids should grasp that.  

4. Shake off some of the guilt by spending time doing something they’ve been wanting to do or would enjoy in the days leading up to Christmas. Being broke sucks, but it will sure make you creative. Bake a cake together, have a family dance contest in the living room—just do something fun and memorable to offset the lack of materialistic wow factor.

5. Kids will probably inevitably whine about what Mikey or Brittney got as a gift (because Mikey and Brittney will probably make it their business to brag their smug little faces off). Let them whine. Build up your tolerance, tune them out, and know that they’d be even saltier if they didn’t have lights, food, or a roof over their heads. Now that wouldn’t be fair. Not having the new iPad or Baby Alive? They’ll live. Promise. My daughter is living proof.

How have you explained the wonders of family finance when money was tight?

Image via glokbell/Flickr

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