I know today may be the first day of October, but it’s actually a great time to start thinking and prepping for the Christmas gift-giving season, especially if you have young kids. Christmas is a fun time of year with the lights, caroling, treats, presents, trees, decorations, smells, and love, but it can also be very stressful. I want to help you avoid the holiday hubbub, and share a holiday shopping guide for buying toys and gifts for your kids this year. I’ll be sharing some tips on knowing what your kid will really love for a long time, how to set limits on the gift-giving and money-spending, and then some smart ways of making, saving, and spending for and during the Christmas season.
Knowing What to Get Your Kid
When the holidays start to approach, it is hard to know what to get our kids because we are bombarded by commercials, ads, catalogs, sales, and Holiday Gift guides! All you really know, is that you want to give a great, meaningful, will-be-loved-for-a-long-time gift to your child, no matter what age they are. We all want to give good gifts! So, the following can help:
Take Your Child to a Toy Store
I have had friends who have seriously just let their kids play around with toys in a toy store a few times before Christmas so that they could know for sure what toys their child actually, really and truly, wanted. Because, honestly, kids get sucked up into the hype of greed and lust just like the rest of us during the Christmas holidays. We all want all the latest awesome gadgets and do-dads, especially as we know the possibility is getting it is a possibility with the approach of Christmas. And kids are very aware of this fact, so they tell you they want everything for Christmas. Anything that clearly is a “toy” must be had.
I remember as a kid going through those gigantic toy catalogs and creating my Christmas list full of all the awesome toys in there, even though I didn’t even really know what half of them were! I just thought they were cool looking and would be fun. So, take your kid(s) to the toy store and see what they actually gravitate toward, what they carry around with them, what they keep talking about afterward, what they truly and sincerely desire, and what you feel would actually last past the initial “new” phase of excitement and be truly loved for a long time. Because, as parents, we tend to know our kids better than our child may give us credit for. We generally know what items will just be cast aside after a short-while.
I myself am going to take my kids to my local Walmart for an awesome sneak peek at some of this year’s hottest holiday toys #chosenbykids this Saturday, October 4, 2014. My three kids will get to interact with toys and become Official Toy Testers! Some of the participating brands are Fisher-Price Little People, VTech, Just Play, and Hasbro. Walmart will be hosting these Holiday Toyland events at various Walmart locations on October 4 and 11, November 8 and 15, and December 6, 12, and 13, 2014. I suggest checking it out with your kids sometime this season.
Holiday Gift Guides
As one myself, I am very aware that bloggers love putting together Holiday Gift Guides. It’s a great way for us to (hopefully) make some affiliate sales and help our readers navigate all those available toys and gift-giving options. While not all gift guides are created equal, or sincerely want to help you (instead of the person posting them), some are great lists! Companies and bloggers love creating gift guides for every age group out there, which can be very helpful if you don’t know what 13 year old girls really do want for Christmas. I find the lists that are most helpful are those that are the most specific (and not those “for everyone on your list”). So, search for gift guides with whatever specific focus you are looking for: DIY, homemade, are frugal (or specifically under $5, $10, etc), just for boys, just for babies, for technology lovers or gamers, for kids who are creative, for outdoorsy/adventurous kids, for kids who like to pretend, and so on and so forth.
Ask a Friend for Recommendations
If you don’t know what to get your child, asking your friends what they are getting their kids can be a big help. And thanks to social media, you can get a great list of ideas! Of course each child is different, but some toys are just tried and true for those age groups. Sometimes asking kids who’ve had kids your age before can be a real eye opener as to what gifts really get played with, and which ones don’t.
Christmas Wish List
And of course, there is the old, obvious route to go when it comes to knowing what your child wants for Christmas: ask them to make a Christmas list! You can either just ask your child straight up what they want for Christmas, have them write it out, or have them write a letter to Santa writing out what they want. And sometimes, direct, straight from the source, is the best way to go (but not always).
Determine the Limits
We love our kids and it is so easy to want to buy them everything we know they will love during the holiday season. We want to see their joyous expressions on Christmas morning. But, realistically, we can’t (and shouldn’t) buy them everything. Holiday shopping is easier when you know exactly how many gifts each of your children will be getting, or how much will be spent on each child. I think the really important thing is to really just set spending limits for yourself for the gifts.
Three Gifts Christmas
I know some families who set very real and definite limits on how many gifts their child will receive, preferring to keep the gift-giving limited to three items, representing the three gifts Jesus Christ received at his birth. And many ascribe different themes to the three gifts as well, such as one gift that is for the body (like clothing), one gift that is for spiritual growth (like a CD or Children’s Bible), and one gift that is something they really wanted (the “gold” gift). Others do something you can read, or something you need. Regardless, many have said that embracing the three gifts for Christmas has simplified gift giving (and list-making!) tremendously and kept the focus of Christmas on Jesus Christ instead of commercialism.
Family Name Exchange
I grew up the youngest of nine children and we didn’t have a lot of money. Every year for Christmas we did a name exchange. We each drew someone else’s name out of a hat, and set a dollar amount spending limit. We then had to go out and buy the best gift we could for that person for the price limit set before us. Sometimes people went over their limits, and some people went under. But, going out and shopping with another person in mind was great for forgetting about what we wanted for Christmas. It also (quasi) guaranteed that at least everyone in the family would get one “really good” gift. Well, as good of a gift as you could buy for $20-30. We could also buy extra gifts for individuals as we wanted, but we weren’t expected to buy gifts for all of our family members. Our parents usually bought some basic gifts in addition to the family name exchange.
Big (and small) Family Gifts
Some families opt to keep the gift giving minimal and then splurge on a large family gift instead of spending a lot of money on each individual. The big family gift could be a gaming system, a new TV, a vacation, a boat, an RV, a computer, living room furniture, surround sound, a movie projector, a home remodeling project, new appliances, or museum (or other attraction) membership. Whatever it is, it is generally expensive, but for the entire family to enjoy.
You can also do this with a smaller budget, and get simple family gifts like board games, movies, video games, puzzles, day trips/outings, or something else.
Holiday Spending Budget Cap
You should really set budget limits to the holiday gift giving. You can set a limit per child, or you can set the limit overall for the whole family. Or I suppose you could even break it down by category spending, like stocking stuffers, whole family gifts, toys, books, clothing, and so on. Regardless, you are free to buy as many or as few gifts as you want, as long as you don’t go past the pre-determined (hopefully mutually agreed upon) budget. Having a spending limit can help you cut the fat and give the best gifts, without regretting overspending later.
Affording Christmas Gifts
I am really not one to preach about saving for Christmas and not charging things during the holiday season, so that’s why yesterday I had my friend Lauren guest post here on What’s up Fagans? about creating a family budget that works! And part of her (FREE) excel spreadsheet is allotted for gifts.
Special Savings Account
I know at our credit union they encourage members to open a Santa Savings accounts and to put aside some money every month, or each paycheck, all year long. Not only is it set aside, but it’s even accruing a little interest too. This is a much better alternative than paying out interest every month of the year because you overspent and charged everything during the previous Christmas holiday season.
Going with Less Before the Holiday
Whatever, you do, try to prep yourself for the spending. Maybe that means doing with less in the few months before Christmas, like not eating out for two months.
Make a Little Extra Income
Or you could sell some items you are no longer needing, perhaps toys or clothes that your child has now outgrown, through a yard sale, or maybe even to an online consignment shop like swap.com (see my review about them). Or you could simple things like use Swagbucks and online surveys. I have used and recommend Valued Opinions and Toluna for online surveys. My sister loves being a part of the Pinecone Research panel. Other ones to look into are Ipsos Panel, Opinion Outpost, Survyes4Moms, SendEarnings ($5 signup bonus!), MySurvey.com, OnlyCashSurveys.com (with $5 Sign up Bonus), PaidSurveys.com (where there’s a $25 sign up bonus opportunity), ConsumerInput (earn up to $5 per survey), Nielsen Home Scan Consumer Panel, Survey4Profit (where you can earn up to $75 a survey), Inbox Dollars (you’ll get $5 just for joining!), and MindsPay. The great thing about surveys is that you can do them as you are waiting somewhere (or as you watch a TV show) and most only take about 5-20 minutes. A few, easy extra dollars is pretty nice and can definitely help pad the wallet a little during the holiday season.
Saving When You Buy!
Even though you may know what your child wants, and how much you’ll be spending, and have it all set aside, you don’t want to waste money spending more than you had to!
Sales – Black Friday & Cyber Monday
With their door-busters and special discounted prices, Black Friday and Cyber Monday can be great days to save extra on your holiday spending thanks to their amazing sale prices! But, all throughout November and December you can find awesome sales and deals. The sooner you can finalize your shopping list, the sooner you can find the best prices on those items. Check out some prices in-store and on-line and then see what they’ll be on these special sales day. I do not guarantee they are actually the lowest on those days, but they will certainly be better than paying full-price.
Cash Back Online Shopping
I am a huge fan of cash back sites. If you are going to be buying gifts online this year, you should always, always, always see if they are partnered with a cash back website. I use three different ones too, to make sure I am getting the most cash back I can – Upromise, Ebates, and ShopAtHome.com. (My comparison of the three can better help you understand how they work and how I use three to my advantage). But, basically, going to one of these sites before going to the website that is actually selling the product you want (Walmart.com, Amazon, Target, BestBuy.com, etc), and clicking over them from their sites will garner you cash back, usually somewhere between 2-10%, depending on the online retailer or website.
Last year I really wanted to get my girls some dress up clothes and costumes. But, one dress can cost you $30! With twins, that’s just not feasible… well, unless you hit the clearance racks after Halloween is over. While I didn’t score some awesome costumes, I did get some cool dress-up sets and wands and things for $1 each (normally $10!). It was awesome. You could do this type of thing all year long, snagging this year’s Christmas sweaters after last year’s winter season ends.
And who says you have to buy new? Garage sales, Goodwill, Salvation Army, Craigslist, consignment stores, swap.com, and ebay all offer some great ways to save on gifts for your kids by offering used items.
I really hope you can give your child(ren) great gifts, that they will absolutely love, for Christmas this year, but without going into debt. Any tips for me?
This post has been sponsored by Sverve. All opinions are my own.