Tips For Adulthood: How To Buy Holiday Gifts For Kids

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, tis’ the season and all that. Unfortunately, the impending holidays don’t seem like they’re a source of much good cheer this year. Instead, when I scanned my Facebook account this morning, one friend talked about how much she hates Christmas shopping, while another openly voiced a concern about *how many*gifts were appropriate for her two kids. I was so stressed out that I bought all my presents in November.

Gift-giving can be overwhelming, particularly during a recession. And, not surprisingly, this year many have opted to give no gifts at all.

But if, like me, you’re dead set on buying presents – at least for your kids – here are five tips to make that experience less stressful (I’ll do adults next week):

1. Figure out what they want, what they need, and what’s appropriate. Remember those Venn Diagrams they used to make us draw back in elementary school? You know, the ones with the overlapping circles? That’s what you need to do with kids’ gifts. Figure out the intersection of their wants, their needs and what you can live with, and you can easily eliminate some alleged “must haves.” To wit: my son desperately wants a video game this Christmas. And needless to say, the more violent the better. But we’ve been trying to reduce his time on the computer, not encourage it. So rather than pull a total Scrooge, I emailed a friend of mine with older boys and asked her to recommend a non-violent and yet sufficiently absorbing game that would satisfy his needs to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but without shooting anyone along the way. She came back to me with  a game called Civilization, in which you adopt the persona of a historical character like Julius Caesar and basically try to take over the world. Done.

2. Figure out what you can afford. It’s so easy to get swept away in the tide of gift-giving that you forget to look at your wallet. But you don’t always have to spend a lot of money to make your kids happy. Take my daughter. This year, she decided that she wanted to start a collection of Sylvanian families. You know, those little mouse families and their teeny, tiny accoutrements? I was delighted: so small…so easy to store…so gentle! But those mice-y can be pretty price-y, if you buy, say, the Grand Hotel. In contrast, the blue twin-tub and ironing set? Not so much. Now, you’re talking…

3. Reframe things they need as things they want. Last year, I realized in early December that my son needed a new pair of gloves. Sure, I could have easily just gone to the Gap and bought him a pair of gloves. Instead, I decided to make them a present. Knowing, however, that no child ever wants to get something useful as a gift, I craftily re-packaged these gloves as “Keeper” (“Goalie”) gloves, even though they were really just fairly standard issue. But by catering to his abiding love of football, they instantly became his favorite gift!

4. Eight is Enough. We celebrate Hanukkah in our house, which automatically places a limit on the number of gifts you need to give out. (Hanukkah lasts 8 days). I recognize that eight presents may already seem ridiculously generous to some folks (and not nearly enough to others). But it works well for me because I also use the 8-day schedule to alternate large gifts with small (see below).

5. Stagger large gifts with smaller ones. I learned this tip from a friend of mine back before I even had kids. Her son was devastated when –  following some huge Lego contraption on the first and second nights of Hanukkah – all he got was a coloring book on the third. Thereafter, my friend learned that the key was  to alternate large and small from the get go, so that he understood that you don’t always land a Mercedes. This year I’ve actually purchased a chess board (yes, just the board!) as one of my son’s gifts (something he needs – see #1), and will sandwich it between two large-ish gifts. You can also use this staggering principle with a holiday like Christmas or Eid, where you give all the gifts all at once.

Happy Shopping!

Image: Olympus E510 – Christmas 2007 012 by N!(K — loveforphotography — via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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