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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WTH Wednesdays: "What not to buy my kids for Christmas"

I love the holidays. And yet, on some level, when it comes to gift-giving, I dread it.

Tonight my daughter was determined to save her half-eaten Girl Scout cookie as a treat for her first-grade teacher. I tried to explain to her that perhaps that wasn't the best gift; perhaps we could find something more appropriate to give instead. I then launched into a discussion with my son about "remember that car wash kit you picked out for her one year? That was probably the best gift ever, because it was something she could really use." I tried to explain to him that sometimes, we buy gifts for people that they can neither use nor want, just to "fill a void" that says, "Hey, I got you a gift. Isn't that nice of me?" (I'm not sure he got it, but whatever.)

This mom's blog post highlights exactly what I'm talking about, and why I dread the gift-giving season:  friends and family, well-meaning and good-intentioned, buying your kids scads of cheap junk that breaks, falls apart, makes more noise than a jet get the idea. Why, oh why, do they do that?

We usually travel and spend Christmas Day with my mom, who never seems to disappoint when it comes to the sheer volume of gifts she gives. I don't know how else to tactfully suggest quality over quantity; I've tried to explain that the kids don't really need a lot, really anything, and not to buy so much. She's getting better, but only after one particularly rough year where there were eleven presents under the tree for him from her alone. As she kept handing them over, my husband and I glanced at each other uneasily as the greed kept mounting. When oldest son was finally done opening gifts, he glanced around and said, rather frustratedly, "Is that it?!" 

Unfortunately, a lot of toys end up missing pieces and
parts not long after they're opened, which only
leads to copious amounts of tears and frustration.
Photo: Joel Messner/
I must admit, we kind of both went ballistic on him. In a loving way, of course. I think my mom's eyes were really opened, though. Too bad she didn't see how the remote control truck broke within five minutes of arriving home to play with it; how the other cheap stuff eventually ended up in the trash because it just fell apart.

Unfortunately, so do some of the nicer toys you can still get. The well-chosen Etch-a-Sketch the kids got from my dad, the world's best gift-giver, fell apart too - because as they say, they just don't make them like they used to.

But just because stores like the Dollar Tree gives you lots of purchasing power, doesn't mean you should totally capitalize on it and go nuts.

A lot of toys, like the especially annoying Dora guitar, went to the basement after less than one year, to be hidden away and hopefully never heard from again. Unfortunately, I didn't burn it in time and the kids found it. I hate to sound like an ingrate, but even after politely joking that "you only buy all the loud toys so you can send them to my house," I was serious. Really. So sometimes, I pack up those loud toys and they go back to grandma's house. So the kids have something to play with while they're there, you know.

I know that "it's the thought that counts," but what if there's no thought put into it? The gifts don't have to be many in number, and they don't have to cost a small fortune or take a chunk out of your retirement savings. It's estimated that families spend an average of $700 a year on Christmas gifts, and I often wonder, why? What are you buying? If it's for children, you know that every year you have to up the ante more and more to make up for it.

I love my kids, but am not buying them an iPod. Or an iPad. Or an i-anything, really. In fact, I'll make a secret confession: when my kids get gift cards as a birthday present, they usually whip them out and throw them around, even when I remind them that they're just as good as money. That usually doesn't mean anything to them, so I secretly gather them up and put them in my wallet. And I spend them. Oh yes, I do. Sometimes on groceries - things that we can all use, and sometimes on Christmas gifts that I know they'll like or use (and yes, even some of my selections are hit or miss). My kids do not "need" money; they have everything they need already, and besides, just having people give you money is not teaching you how it's earned or its value. They can't even keep track of the money the Tooth Fairy lovingly puts by their bedside, and quarters are just shiny and sparkling and making tinkly sounds, quickly forgotten. In fact, I just gave them $4 for pizza money today that they got from grandma for Halloween or some such "holiday." Money well-spent.