Lauren Cobello » Budgeting » Budget Tips and Tricks » The 3 Gift Christmas Rule – How and Why to Do it
The store catalogs, magazines, and Instagram feeds have us believe it isn’t a proper holiday without gifts spilling away from under the tree in all directions. But have you heard about the 3 gift Christmas rule? For about ten years now, this idea has been popular with online bloggers. Your kids only get three gifts chosen from three different categories.
One of the toughest struggles as a parent is to give my children a joy-filled Christmas. To me, that somehow translates to giving them the gifts that they want in hopes that presents will make them happy.
With the rocketing prices of products every year and the massive marketing initiatives that are bombarding our children at every turn, the struggle to not bankrupt the family finances on Christmas presents is real.
As with most financial matters in life, learning how to budget is key.
Once you set a Christmas budget and stick to it, you’ll be able to sleep soundly that two goals have been met. You’ll have made selective, smart decisions for happy children and a happy checkbook. Here are some strategies, tips, and tricks to consider for establishing a Christmas budget for your child.
For many families, it makes sense to give each child an equal value in their gifts. This develops a sense of equality to the presents. The number of children and your financial situation will dictate what your dollar amount is, but with some planning and strategic shopping, you can certainly make even a few dollars per child stretch quite a bit.
Here are the basics: Determine how much money you want to spend on all the kids combined. Divide it equally by the number of kids you’re buying for. For example, if you have $100 to budget and you have 3 kids then they each receive $33 worth of gifts. It’s that easy, but you have to stick to it!
Tip to make this work: Don’t go over budget for anyone. If you go over a little on each one your budget will be exponentially demolished!
This is my favorite spin on the equality approach. You still set a budget and you assign an equal amount to go to each child. The difference is that you have the children do the shopping for each other. So you set a budget per child. Then you give each child that amount to spend on their siblings.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say your budget is $50 per child and you have three children. You give each child a $50 spending limit and they have to purchase gifts for each of their siblings within their budget.
My favorite part is when the kids find the perfect gift for one of their siblings and pool their money to purchase it. They’re always more generous and thoughtful than I expect. This strategy has the added bonus of teaching about budgeting, giving, and combining efforts for a greater impact!
Deal breaker tip: The children will not end up with the same value of gifts. But they will have learned to give and think of others, and your budget is still intact. But if absolute equality of gifts is important to you, this strategy will definitely disappoint you.
Gift ideas for older children are definitely going up in price and are shifting up to accommodate a more tech-savvy generation.
With that in mind, understand that you might be spending more on one tech gift for an older child than you will on a bag full of fun toys for a younger sibling. Setting a dollar amount based on this will still allow you to budget and limit your overall spending.
The key is in the details (I LOVE MATH):
This works better with an example:
I have a feeling that this idea was originally based on the bride’s tradition of wearing “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” Whatever the origin, this themed giving is perfect for families that want to give thoughtful gifts in a simplified way.
I once did only 3 gifts, but the past few years I’ve increased it to four gifts + a Christmas Eve gift.
How to make this happen: Make a chart with each child’s name on the left column with row headings for each category.
Now fill in your chart as you plan your purchases. That’s it. Each child receives four gifts – one from each category.
While this strategy doesn’t specifically limit the amount of money that you spend, it almost always translates to savings in the long run. Truthfully, unless you’re spending way too much in each category for every child this method is pretty sensible.
And this method can kill two birds with one stone! It’s perfect for providing a much need winter coat or a nice Christmas dress that your child needs. Everybody wins with this one. Your child receives a gift, they get a much-needed clothing item, and you did not only stay within your Christmas budget, but you also helped out your clothing budget for the year.
Here’s the simplest strategy of the bunch. Just limiting the number of gifts given to three or four really makes me focus on choosing quality presents that convey my love without breaking my budget.
We make it work by limiting the gifts to three presents per child. One kid might get all art supplies, another Lego sets, and then the baby might get pajamas, a snowsuit, and a ball.
However you arrange it, selecting the perfect three gifts for each kid is challenging and rewarding, and budget-friendly all rolled into one.
You can complement any of these strategies with the Christmas Eve Gift option. This is a gift that each child opens on December 24. It allows another gift opportunity, gets the gift exchange and excitement rolling a day early, and it’s fun to think outside the box on this one.
Each family member gets a box with:
This gift provides the setting for a family-focused Christmas Eve. Everyone gets in their jammies and snuggles up with a book and a movie. And those don’t all have to be new. Maybe borrow the book and DVD from the library or buy them pre-owned from your local used book store.
The pajamas could match or be silly. The snacks could be something you make together or just snuggle up and enjoy around the tree!
The point of this gift is to give a gift that brings everyone inward and to enjoy time together as a family. A gift to focus everyone on what really matters.
I have really enjoyed making the focus of the holidays about the things we do together and the memories my children will carry with them into adulthood over the material gifts. We love doing things together like tree trimming, decorating, baking, hosting a cooking exchange party, participating in Operation Christmas Child, and making cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. If you are at a loss for some holiday-themed activities to do as a family, check out this list I found online for some inspiration.
Find one of these strategies and make it work for you. Or blend them all together for a personalized solution. However you work it, you can come out of the Christmas season with a feeling of accomplishment and encouragement. Make Christmas simpler this year by following the 3 gift Christmas rule.