How I Used the 4-Gift Rule to Save Money This Christmas

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in December 2017.

Those of us who have planned princess-worthy tea parties for a daughter’s first birthday understand the value of a theme. But I might be one of the few who believe a theme can save Christmas.

The holidays are supposed to feel magical, yet moms of multiple kids, like myself, are burdened with giving guilt. Will they cry because I bought Anna instead of Elsa? Did I get them enough?

The list goes on. But one year, I decided it doesn’t have to.

After being laid off from a job and coming to terms with the fact that more money was leaving my bank account than coming in, I realized I had to switch things up. So I turned to Facebook. Surely one of the many local mom groups I had joined years ago would have some ideas for me.

“Dear moms on Facebook, how can I buy my children everything if I’m lacking all the monies?”

Social media came to the rescue and my mom group let me in on a budget-saving idea: the four-gift rule.

This gifting strategy has helped me narrow my focus when it comes to getting Christmas gifts for my four kids and — best of all — save me hundreds of dollars.

What Is The Four-Gift Rule?

The four-gift rule is super simple. It even rhymes, so it’s easy to remember.

You focus your holiday spending on just four things for each child:

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

This strategy sets clear boundaries on what types of gifts to get and caps how much you buy, so you don’t go overboard on Christmas spending. It’s a great family tradition to adopt if you want to reduce the financial stress of the holiday season.

Here are my tips for using the four-gift rule to stay within budget — plus how I implemented this gift-giving strategy for the first time.

Something They Want

This is where you can make kids’ wishes come true. Go ahead and get the gift they circled in that catalog or saw on a TV commercial. It will be your shiny present with a bow on top, so make it count.

Just make sure to set a spending limit for this gift — whatever works best for your budget. This could get expensive.

Pro Tip

Our guide of this year’s top kids’ toys under $25 will help you get something your kids will love without spending a fortune.

Did I mention I have four kids? Using coupons and shopping sales really help get this one under control.

That first year I implemented the four-gift rule, I scored my 11-year-old a smart watch, my 7-year-old a bike, my 4-year-old a Shopkins playset and my 2-year-old a Baby Alive doll by shopping Black Friday deals.

Something They Need

You can get creative with this category and get something that you and your kids both agree they need.

This is a no-brainer if your kids play sports and their gear is getting a little worn. Maybe your children are shoe fanatics like mine and would really appreciate a new pair. Or perhaps your little one loves playing dress-up and could use a nice jewelry box to store their many accessories.

See, there’s more to this category than just socks and underwear.

Something to Wear

But really though — socks and underwear. Do it. Or go for something a little more exciting, like headphones, hats or headbands.

Joggers were a big request from my boys that first year. If you were under your budget on your shiny “want” gift, maybe you could package up an entire outfit.

The hardest part for me was making this category meaningful. I badly wanted to buy my girls adorable dresses from my favorite children’s store, but I thought about what they would prefer instead and bought fuzzy sweaters with a glittery Minnie Mouse outline.

Something to Read

This one is quite easy if you save it for last and see what’s left in your budget. It can be as simple as a paperback, or as grand as an e-reader.

For my oldest, I picked the junior novel version of the film “Coco.” He hadn’t seen the movie yet, so I put a note at the end of the book indicating he’d get a free pass to see it in theaters once he finished the book.

Pro Tip

Trim your holiday spending budget by finding free books for your kiddos. This article shares 14 ways to get free kids books.

This gift category is a way to sneak in learning opportunities for your kids, but you can make it fun too.

Bonus: One Gift From Santa

We didn’t forget about jolly old St. Nick! In addition to the four gifts, I got each kid one present from Santa that I knew they would love — and a fun collection of small items for their stockings.

The best part is, I didn’t go over the top with this. In previous years, our gifting strategy was reversed. Most of the presents under the tree were from Santa and one or two were from Mom and Dad. Santa got too much credit. By following the four-gift rule, the kids can see how hard we work to get them the gifts they want, and the meaning of giving goes a little further.

Have I cured that giving guilt yet?

Feeling overwhelmed? Create a budget that works for you with our budgeting bootcamp!

Meghan McAtasney is a freelance writer. Senior writer Nicole Dow contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers nationwide to make smart decisions with their money through actionable and inspirational advice, and resources about how to make, save and manage money.

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