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Having ourselves a frugal little Christmas

My biggest weakness when it comes to being frugal is my kids. I’m pretty good at talking to them about finances, about helping them to see the value of a dollar, about getting them to save money. I’m TERRIBLE at restricting their activities or limiting toys or clothes.

I have reasons for living a maximalist lifestyle when it comes to my kids – I fully believe that the best way to fuel an obsession is to make something forbidden. It’s anecdotal, but my husband grew up with almost nothing and I grew up with excess material goods, and three decades later, he still has to fight hoarding tendencies and all my clothes fit on five hangers and two drawers.

Also, though, I’m a sucker and I hate to see my kids cry and I love to see them feel joy. Presents give them joy.

So while I admire the people who can do the whole “one present you need, one you want, one to read, and one something else I forgot in this list,” it’s not my way. But I’m also super cheap. How can this be reconciled?

The first and most important way is that opening presents brings my kids joy – but they don’t actually care that much what’s inside. They want the dopamine hit of opening the box and finding something just for them. Just after school starts in late August, every time I think “Kid A needs X” (winter coat in the next size up, shoes, clothes, backpack for sports, slippers, etc.), I gather whatever it is, put it in a box, and wrap it up. Instead of getting it for them then, if it can wait, I give it to them at Christmas. The kids get more presents, I don’t spend more money.

I also shop off-season all year round. This can be tricky with sizing, but I’ve been doing it for a decade and for the most part, “whatever size they are in plus one” works out great.

We do an Advent calendar for the kids, which is a lot of work (finding small gifts for each day, wrapping them individually for each kid because little hands can’t handle not opening a box until the right day), but it is my hands-down favorite tradition. Three kids times 24 days is a lot of presents – but I try to keep them down to about $1 each. A month of joy for $100-$150 is a bargain. When they were younger I did bath crayons, bubbles, rattles. Now it’s more like headbands, scrunchies, bracelets, nail polishes, bath bombs. Buy a set, split it up, wrap it up, joy joy joy joy joy.

I can’t help but compare myself to others on this path, who always seem to be doing better than me (except for those who seem to be doing worse than me, who I ignore). I have to remember that it’s not alllllll about saving money, but about finding a path where you get the highest value for the cost. My kids are each getting 12 presents this year, on top of 24 advent calendar trinkets. The tree is going to be overwhelmed with presents. We will feel joy and practicality all at once, and I. Cannot. Wait.

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