We have a large family. I have three sisters and one brother and together they 11 children. When my nieces and nephews were in their twos and threes, it was really hard to resist spending lots of money on cute toys. I knew the kids would love them and they were educational, too. It was especially fun to see my nephew choose the $2 rubber ball to play with instead of the $50 talking telephone his parents bought him. At that time, we were all working at jobs that paid well. There was nothing to prevent us from have a wild consumer free for all.
Nothing except hard earned common sense. With 26 people each buying a gift for everyone, the pile underneath the tree hid the tree. It would take close to four hours to unwrap the whole mess. The cute little youngsters turned into “give me” beasts. They’d grab a package, rip through the paper, toss the gift and run up for the next one-all the joy was in the opening. The parents were embarrassed because they didn’t know who bought what. Despite a pile of gifts, my niece walked around the house with the pretty pink glitter bag one of the toys came in. The boys climbed into the boxes or begged to help burn the wrappings. Many times the toys were broken the first evening by being stepped on. After one year like this all of the adults in the family put a halt to these kinds of Christmases.
Buy Saving Bonds
My solution has been to buy each of my nieces and nephews a savings bond every Christmas. They didn’t really remember they got a gift from me until they were 12. For a while, during a downturn in the economy and the parents wanted help with clothing, I heard “we don’t want no stinking savings bonds”. I ignored it. I knew about the time these children reached eighteen, they’d want a car, to go to Europe or Hawaii for graduation, or need help with trade school or college. Whatever the case, the interest on bonds purchased in amounts less than I would have spent anyway will build up. At eighteen when they get them, they will learn how savings can add up over time.
Take Your Pick of One Item
My husband’s grandmother was an heiress, so when he was really young, she often bought the children nice gifts. Her solution was to take each child shopping with her. She told them that they could have any one item in the store. They had to shop and pick. She had the fun of watching them evaluating their values and joy in finding something they absolutely wanted. Here, the bond was formed in the activity.
This has worked and not worked. It has worked to cut the gift budget down to a minimal amount. Until I married (I was last at 35 years old), I found it terribly difficult to buy gifts for men, especially my brothers-in-law. I wanted to buy one gift for the couple. The couples wanted individual gifts. I always wanted to buy my parents a gift because the older they got, the less interested they became in buying the stuff they needed. Parents wanted to have the kids draw names. I wasn’t about to neglect the youth in the family. This has degraded to a sort of complacent, do whatever you choose attitude in the family. The thought counts.
One group I worked with had a tradition of buying folks in the group tacky souvenirs whenever they went anyplace. This is an especially fun way to buy “stocking stuffers”, items under $5 to buy the nieces and nephews so that they had something under the tree to open. For a dollar, I managed to buy parachuting hulks and Barbies in Mexico, or for $3 mazes and other brain teaser or coloring books. The advantage of this was they would have something to do while all of us adults played cards or talked.
Only One Toy
My parents only bought us one toy at Christmas, the rest of the items were clothing and other needed supplies. With growth spurts, we always needed new shoes or jeans. It was the stuff they would have bought anyway, Christmas was used as an excuse to give it at that time.
Christmas as Family Gatherings and Events
Christmas in our family has been encouraged to last for the month. I often got together with one sister and made cookies. This was fun until I started worrying that I was giving the fifty-years-old-plus friends the makings of a heart attack. Attending church, sharing meals, attending a symphony performance, having a overnight to see the Christmas lights, walking under the stars, visiting to see home decorations and meeting to play cards has replaced the consumer exchange as the highlights of the season.
The Best Advice
Don’t ever spend money you don’t have. Don’t borrow if you can help it. Make cookies and give one or two to adults, it’s probably all the sugar they can handle anyway. The thought involved really does matter more than the gift. My dad still laughs at me because I bought him gold carpet nails for which he had no use instead of useful silver-colored steel nails. Cost $.69. We all laugh about the time my mother decorated the Christmas tree with brown ornaments and we hung an overcooked hamburger patty on the tree in mockery. She never noticed but all of us kids giggled and she only got a little annoyed when we pointed it out three weeks later. Memories are formed by what you do together, what makes you laugh, not what you buy.