Christmas in October

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Christmas gifts.

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I know this will come as no surprise to those who know our tendency to plan, plan, plan, but we have already started Christmas shopping. In fact, we’re well into the process.

And you know what? It is awesome.

See, here’s the thing. Every year, Christmas shopping gets more stressful. We can always come up with a long list of things Alex would like, but Julianna’s desires remain very simple: books and music. But we have hundreds of books, and she’s deliriously happy with the music we already have. And Nicholas? Nicholas loves everything, but thanks to Alex we already have everything: Duplos, trains, superhero action figures…

For the last couple of years, we’ve brainstormed, made lists, and hired a babysitter to go shopping. But let me tell you, those shopping trips are anything but fun. We feel under the gun. Nothing ever seems like enough; we feel compelled to have equal amounts of gifts for each child, but the inequality listed above makes it really tough. I spend the whole buying process feeling anxious and under pressure to get it done before the babysitter bill racks up too much. Not enjoyable at all. This is a perfect illustration of why I wrote a book about reclaiming Advent in the first place.

And it was really expensive. (Disclaimer: if you know us at all, you know we are collectively the cheapest people in the universe. I’m sure many people would roll their eyes at me calling it expensive, but as far as I’m concerned, having to pull money from savings instead of covering out of the budget qualifies as EX.PEN.SIVE.)

Plus, there’s this factor. Last year, the kids loved their toys…for a month or two. But they haven’t touched them for the last four months.

It’s time for a change.

So this year, we’re taking a little different tack:

  1. Start early. Really early. As in making lists in early September.
  2. Spread out the expense. The last couple of years, we’ve panicked at the last minute, realizing we’ve forgotten gifts for teachers and the like. That’s never a recipe for getting something they’ll actually use and appreciate. This year, we’re starting to collect Panera gift cards via the local SCRIP program (one each ordering session), and gift boxes from Penzey’s.
  3. Limit the toys. I know we can’t avoid toys altogether, but we’re scaling way back. Why waste money on things they aren’t really all that interested in? My kids are experiential kids, not toy kids. Alex even said a few weeks ago, “I like toys that help me play. Like Wolverine claws.” (If only we could find those.)
  4. Think creatively. Guess what? We desperately need pillows and bedsheets. Why not get some fun ones and wrap them up? And the kids, fighting over the Spiderman bath sponge? Sounds like a Christmas gift to me!
  5. Check the bargain aisles. So far, bargain shopping has netted a book for each child (a fairy counting book, not Tinker Bell; a photo book of trains; and a car game book, total about $20), and we picked up two containers of sidewalk chalk for $.50 each.
  6. Go handmade. I’m planning to make a couple of headbands for Julianna, and enlist Alex’s help. Being my artistic one, I know that will be right up his alley.
  7. Go with time-gifts instead of Stuff that’s just going to lie around making more clutter. My work list is getting so long that it’s tempting to try to plow through the mornings and not spend time with the little ones. But they love to help me bake. Why not get some fun cupcake decorations and give them to the kids as Christmas gifts? Use them up, make a memory, and consume it. Sounds like a perfect gift to me.

That’s our plan for this year. But I would love to hear from others. How do you deal with planning Christmas gifts your kids will like without a) stressing out, and b) spending money on things they aren’t going to care about?

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14 thoughts on “Christmas in October

  1. I love these suggestions, Kate. I am totally with you on everything. The last couple years I’ve exhausted myself trying to get ready for Christmas, only to quit wrapping gifts around 11pm on Christmas eve & throw the rest of the stuff in a closet, because it’s all too much.

    The kids get overwhelmed with so many presents, and like you said, they don’t even play with them after a while. Not to mention, they have just as thrilled w/ a $5 play shaving kit than w/ a $40 toy some magazine said was the best toy of the year.

    This year we’re letting the relatives buy the toys — that is, the ones who can’t be persuaded to chip in for swimming lessons or a zoo membership. We will buy a few small things, preferably books or art supplies. Love your idea of the sheets & towels. I got my kids adorable hooded animal towels at Costco & cute Olive Kids sheets at TJMaxx.

  2. I’m the oldest of five, and my two big ones were the only kids/grandkids for years until my little one showed up, and then two years later, my nephew. I always said there were more packages under the tree for those two than there were for all five of us when we were little. I’m big on buying books and I’ll get them one or two other things they really want, but since my sibs like buying the stack of toys I let them.

    The best gift I ever gave my oldest daughter for Christmas she got when she was about three. I hit up a couple of rummage and garage sales. I got her some lime green bridesmaid’s shoes, a floppy hot pink sun hat, a couple of old purses, some purple suede shoes, a flowered dress or two and some dance review costumes. Then I went out and paid big money (like $10.00) for the plastic tub to put them in. She played with it for years (and its where the old Halloween costumes landed) and now the little one plays with it, all the time.

  3. Carrie

    At our house, the kids get 3 gifts each from us and Santa. Santa often will put a couple of other little tiny things in their stocking (like chapstick and always socks or cool unders). I started buying them a cool tshirt (Star Wars) or fun pjs. None of the gifts are over $20 (a $30 item would be shared between 3 boys) and most of them are extreme clearance or from garage sales. 🙂 Until our 5 got to be older (all in school), all their gifts were from Dollar Tree or handmade. I love making things for them and they love getting them and knowing that I took the time to make them something.

  4. Great ideas! I’m going to have to either go through and reread these or just bookmark this one 🙂 I try to keep either a little notebook on me or a email draft at all times with gift ideas, so any time I think of something I can jot it down and remember months later. Since Miriam is the only grandchild and her birthday is also in December, we are trying to go as light on the toys as possible. We’re planning to do three gifts for Christmas, and probably the same for her birthday.

    I love the idea of garage sale finds morphed into a dress up box! I’ll totally have to do that when she’s older!

  5. Tamara Copple

    I like to just pay attention all year to the things that Noah seems to be into with his friends. Right now the nerf-dart guns are the rage when the boys around the neighborhood get together. Since Matt doesn’t practice and I’m Buddhist, I broached the idea of not doing Christmas gifts at all this year between the three of us, and Noah, predictably, was not enthusiastic about the idea. Oh well, can you blame him?

    Here’s an idea – what about Mommy/child or Daddy Child dates? Alex especially may be getting to the age where he would appreciate some alone time with his parens away from the siblings. Especially if it’s to someplace you know they think will be cool -like one of those indoor playgrounds with the moonwalks or Chucky Cheeses’s.

    • Alex likes the nerf-dart guns, too, but we’ve been a bit skittish on the gun thing. I’m not sure if that’s a philosophy of anti-gun, or a philosphy of anti-things-that-will-be-easy-to-get-lost. LOL The dates are a good idea…though the little ones won’t “get” it so that one we’ll have to sit on for a couple more years, probably.

    • Carrie

      We started doing “alone time” with all of our kids when they were 5-11. A lot of time, it means a quick run to the grocery store, but they get to pick which parent and we spend that time talking to them while we run errands or go out for ice cream. It’s an hour with just us and them. They behave better and we’re all happier.

  6. I completely agree with you Kate-your ideas are fabulous! My in-laws buy sooooo much stuff for our kids and we end up buying these just so Santa can bring more than Grandma and Grandpa. Bed sheets, bath sponges-all terrific ideas-we are trying to stay “cheap” this season also-I’ll definitely be stealing some of your ideas!! Question: is it stealing if I tell you before hand?

  7. Great suggestions, Kate! We have always done Christmas shopping on a budget, even with older kids. They understand that Christmas is about Christ’s birth. If they want something more expensive, they save up for it themselves.

  8. We just bought our first round of gifts (for our kids) last night. My Amazon Prime free month-trial was about to expire. 🙂 So for once, we’re slightly ahead.

    I love the idea of baking supplies as a gift to the kids. I might do the same with an ice cream maker. Thanks for the tip!

    What I stress about are the teacher gifts, and the adults in my family (esp. my in laws).

    • Adult family members are HARD to buy for! We’ve gone to donations in the name of family members in both our families. As for teachers, I’m all about the gift cards…this is our first year doing that. Panera is the ideal choice for us because it’s nicer than fast food and not crazy expensive, plus you can have a meal or you can get bagels or pastries or a loaf of bread. I don’t know how widely they’re spread, through–I know they’ve got locations in all the Midwestern states around us, but beyond that I have no idea.

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