I have no intention of answering this specific question. (Do you think I’m crazy?!) But since this is a truly difficult question for many Christian parents, let me offer a suggestion about gift spending that might help you in the future. I know that you’re probably reading this post too late in the season to make any changes for this upcoming Christmas, but now may be the ideal time to formulate plans for the future.

Here is my suggestion: Prayerfully—along with your spouse if you are married—budget a modest amount of money that you intend to spend on Christmas gifts for each member of your immediate family, and then inform them ahead of time how much will be spent on their individual Christmas gifts that year.[1] There are four main advantages I see to this approach to Christmas spending: 1) It will help your children temper their expectations regarding the size and expense of gifts they might receive at Christmas. 2) It will function as a step in teaching your children a bit of financial common sense. 3) It will save you a lot of money. 4) It will allow you a mechanism to push back against the seductive materialism of this present age.

“But what about…? The most substantial objection I can imagine to this suggestion is that it doesn’t allow any space for parents to buy larger items “that we were planning on buying at some point anyway.” If that thought crossed your mind, be forewarned: the wisdom of buying at Christmas something you anyway wanted to buy your child appears at first blush to be sound advice; but it is actually a trap. If you purchase an expensive item for only one child, another financially savvy child will figure it out and feel that she has been bamboozled (even if she doesn’t know the word “bamboozled”). More significantly, this single decision sets up your children to expect that every future Christmas will generate equally large gifts—resulting in a truly vicious cycle.

But let me encourage you. If you are already caught in this cycle, the suggestion I’ve offered here is one way out. My wife and I started budgeting and telling our daughters their portion of our Christmas budget about eight years ago. Apart from the loss of the “wow” factor on Christmas morning, we think we’ve stumbled onto something that has helped bring greater balance to our family.

What do you think? Is there a better approach for Christian parents seeking greater faithfulness to the Lord in this matter of Christmas giving? I’d love to read your comments.


[1] Note that I can only see this working well in one’s immediate family. Extended family members are less likely to understand or appreciate what you are doing.