Explaining Why Santa Must Downsize

toddler and santa claus

Photo by aidensmomma508

Dear Santa,

I've been a very good boy this year. I've tried really hard not to hit my sister and to finish all my Brussels sprouts. So, can you please bring me the new Leap Frog AND the mountain bike? Mom and Dad are a little tight this year, so I'm counting on you.



P.S. Do you still like oatmeal cookies?

It's a sign of the times: Many moms, including those here on CafeMom, are planning to spend less on gifts this year. While big kids and teens may not like to hear it, at least they'll understand why the tree will look a little leaner. But how do you explain tough times to your 4 year old? How do you tell them that Santa's on a budget this year, too? Kiplinger.com's Janet Bodnar, who's tackled this issue in her Money Smart Kids column, has some answers:


1. Stay calm.

You probably won't even have to mention that your child should expect fewer toys, Bodnar says. "Times are tight" means nothing to them. Your 3 or 4 year old doesn't even remember what they did last week, let alone how many gifts they got last holiday. This is your chance to start fresh and set a new precedent for fewer gifts. Parents often anticipate push-back from kids of any age, but that's usually not the case with toddlers.

2. Head off the Santa excuse.

If your child has their heart set on a certain toy, and is counting on Santa to come through when you just can't, try telling them: "Mommy and Santa work together, and Santa is not going to buy you a gift I don't want you to have. It's too big, too dangerous, you're too young ... whatever." Just don't drag the affordability issue into it -- save that conversation for when your kids are older, Bodnar says. Regardless of your income level or financial situation, toddlers need to know that their family is secure, that they have all they need. Every time you tell a child "we can't afford that" or "it costs way too much," you are sending the message that money is the key to all happiness in life.

3. Try a different gift-giving approach.

Just because you gave your child 10 gifts last year doesn't mean you have to give them 10 this year. Every family has different customs, but it's sometimes cheaper to buy one bigger gift (from Santa) and a couple of smaller gifts (from the parents).

4. Buy fewer, more meaningful presents.

Buy your toddler the necessities you'd be getting her anyway, but with an extra special touch, so your child thinks she's getting a real present and not "just clothes." For instance, if she needs socks, buy her a pair of funky-colored socks with individual toe pockets, or a backpack with her favorite cartoon character.

5. Give an experience.

Sometimes a family trip to a fun children's museum or other local destination is a lot cheaper and much more meaningful than a piece of plastic your child will toss aside after a few days, Bodnar says. For instance, wrap up a stuffed lion and a story book about elephants, and tell your tot, "Santa has given us an extra special treat this year -- next weekend, we're all going to spend the day at the zoo!"

6. Teach gratitude.

Toddlers are way too young to grasp the concept of currency. Give them the choice between a nickel and a dime, and they'll choose the nickel because it's bigger! But it isn't too early to start introducing the idea and instilling the nuggets of gratitude and generosity -- and what better time of year than the holidays! 

Give your toddler an envelope with their name, i.e. -- "Elizabeth's Money" or "Timothy's Money." If they don't have any of their own yet, sport them a few. Take them to the dollar store and let them buy a pencil, hair clip, or fridge magnet for Daddy, Big Sis, or Best Buddy. After they choose, ask them to count the money in their envelope with you -- if there's enough to cover the item, great; if not, tell them they need to pick out something else that matches the amount of money in their envelope. "Physically touching and seeing the dollars and coins helps them begin to understand the idea of money as a transaction," Bodnar says.

Get more money-saving tips for the holidays at Big Kid Buzz.

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