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

Mom Moment 6

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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nonmember avatar Danni geer

I think this is a great article. As a single mother of 3 I have spread funds thin many a Christmas. However the kids have no idea what I bought..but always remember what we did. This year I can afford more..but we have our traditions and that is what excites and fills them with Christmas spirit!

gamma4 gamma4

The 5 year old granddaughter has one uno one thing on her list this year..it is pricy..but she says she will think about it if you ask her is Santa is supposed to bring other things too...as that gift has already been covered by the other side of family...I need ideas here lol from her

nonmember avatar momof4

So what do you do if they are still young enough believe in Santa and they say,its ok mom Santa will get it. What can you say?. I just got a job after my husband left us,so things are still tight. Don't know when they will loosen up

rapid... rapidgirl

I too have just been laid off, this past Monday. I'm not too worried about disappointing the kids as I've always been honest with them about my financial situation. I considered it not only necessary for staving off hurt feelings, but thought it was an important lesson for them. As someone else said, my kids look forward to the traditions we've established. My kids are older these days (15, 19 and 24), and one thing I have always done and still do is to give them a toy or a game. Yes, even the big one. You'd be amazed how excited they can get over a game of Parcheesi, a Slinky or an egg full of Silly Putty. They also look forward to our usual Christmas Eve dinner every year, cruising around to look at Christmas lights, and cocoa before their bedtime (while I mentally plan my Kris Kringle routine). We're also all musicians so the music is important to us (and free!). It really is the little things that mean a lot.

nonmember avatar Nikki

Its a sign that I came upon this because just last night my husband and I were argueing bout how tight things are really going to be this xmas. He is ready to cancel xmas all together and push the kids and family away and hide to save himself embarrassment (his words). I told him that was incredibly selfish of him and that I've been talking with the kids and they are aware it will be tight this year. He doesn't think they will understand (15 & 16 y/o)....I'm sorry he doesn't know the kids like I do! Either a sign or ironic that I came across this, this morning and I'm passing it right along to my husband =) I needed to read this, thank you so much!

nonmember avatar amanda

I'm a single mother to 2 boys, 5 and 3. I work hard to keep them fed, clothed and a roof over their heads. My budget is a small one. My 5 year old.is used to being spoiled beyond what any normal child.should be and my 3 year old would be happy with a piece of wood and a screwdriver. I had to explain to my 5 year old that this Christmas won't be what he's used to. He got upset and doesn't even want to go to any family gatherings if he doesn't get any present. I told him if he continued Santa would make sure another child who was more in need would get his gifts instead. At 3 he.got a DS from my mother (which is in storage BC i feel a child.under 10 doesn't need electronics) he had an ungoddly amount of toys that we went through and donated most to charity. My 3 year old gets it. He's selfless. He wants to give kids that don't have a lot toys to play with because he says "I'd be sad if I didn't have one toy cause that's all I need." Its amazing how these two are so different. I've also asked family members for clothes and educational items this year for the boys. Santa is bringing them each a few toys...having the power on and food in my fridge is more important than gifts. The only gifts we need are time spent with our extensive family.

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