It’s hard to resist the holiday messaging to buy gifts — and lots of them — to make the season brighter and more fulfilling.
However, supply chain disruptions may make this year’s shopping stressful, especially for parents looking to buy toys in short supply. Shortages aside, going overboard on gifts for your kids could create budget stress and unintentionally set unrealistic expectations for years to come.
This year’s added pressures could offer parents a chance to rethink their holiday shopping and budget strategies. These tips from budgeting and parenting experts can help you cut through the noise and find what works for your family.
SET YOUR HOLIDAY BUDGET
A budget is crucial to keeping spending in check. If you’re struggling to figure out a realistic holiday budget, review previous years’ spending.
“You can literally pull up your credit card statements from last November and December if you want to get a general sense of where your money went,” says Andrea Woroch, a money-saving expert focusing on advice for mothers. Contemplate whether you want to repeat that spending pattern or if it left you stressed when January rolled around.
Budgets change from year to year. “Things can change in a year dramatically,” Woroch says. “Did you have another kid? Did you get divorced or married, bought a house, get a new job, lost your job? Whatever it is, you kind of have to reassess based on your current situation.”
TAKE INVENTORY AND GET ORGANIZED
Things get lost in overflowing toy boxes. Taking inventory of what you already have is a great way to figure out what your kids need and an opportunity to set aside items they’ve outgrown.
Items in good condition can be donated or sold in online marketplaces to other parents looking to catch a deal.
KEEP TRACK OF EARLY PURCHASES
Gifts bought weeks or even months ago may have fallen off your radar — especially if you’ve hidden them well. Before hitting the stores, make a list of previous purchases.
“If you’re not writing down what you bought, you’re going to forget what you had,” says Woroch, who suggests using an app called Santa’s Bag — although a note on your phone or old-fashioned pen and paper can work just as well. Tracking purchases throughout the season can help prevent overspending.
FIND A GIFTING STRATEGY THAT WORKS EVERY YEAR
“Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read” is a popular phrase, and for good reason: It sets parameters on gift-giving and works no matter how old the child.
Another strategy is buying fewer toys and focusing on what supports your child’s development, which is especially important for younger children. Kathryn Humphreys, an assistant professor in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Psychology and Human Development, suggests finding toys that allow collaboration and open-ended play.
“Fewer well-selected toys is likely better than a large number of toys that would be difficult for the child to keep track of through a busy day of present opening,” she said in an email. “I find with my own kids that anything over two to three presents is quickly forgotten given that Christmas is already quite exciting.”
SPEND ON EXPERIENCES THAT LAST ALL YEAR
Woroch suggests purchasing a subscription box for kids for a “gift that keeps on giving” after the holidays are over. There are tons of options for kids that deliver everything from art projects, Montessori toys and diverse books each month. Some of these services might be running holiday promotions, so be on the lookout for a deal.
RESIST THE COMPARISON GAME
It’s hard for parents to resist comparing themselves to others, especially when social media feeds are overloaded with holiday photos. Just remember, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.
“It is so easy to get wrapped up in what other families are spending and moms are doing that you feel bad and you end up spending more,” Woroch says.
You’re looking at a highlight reel and don’t know if that family is spending beyond their means.
MEMORIES ARE FREE
If the holiday gifting frenzy grabs you, just remember that this time of year is about more than things.
“At the end of the day, it’s really important to remember that the holidays aren’t about the physical gifts,” Woroch says. “Creating memories and maybe creating traditions that don’t cost a lot of money is such a great way to connect and bond with your kids.”