A Guide to Financially Surviving the Holidays as a Parent with Small Children

Updated December 6th, 2021.

The holiday season means something different to everyone. Personally, I love to give gifts and spend time with the people I love. However, after I had children, I found that the pressure to have the perfect Christmas made the holidays a little more challenging. As a parent or guardian, you not only have to take care of organizing the decorating, baking goodies, visiting family and enjoying the holidays, but you are also expected to perform gift-giving miracles. On top of all of that, this year will be even more challenging as we’ll have to plan for the holidays while following government restrictions.

To help relieve some of the holiday pressure on yourself and your wallet, here are a few tips I’ve learned for surviving the holidays financially since having children:

Gift Giving

When it comes to giving gifts, I always remember what my mother said to me as a child: “It’s the thought that counts”. I have interpreted this to mean that we shouldn’t get too caught up in the consumerism surrounding our modern Christmas. If you can’t find something that another person would like, don’t just buy them something for the sake of getting them a gift.

This can also be a lesson for small children. Teaching them at an early age that we don’t have to always “buy” presents at Christmastime is a great lifelong lesson. This year, why not give making Christmas presents a try? Especially when it comes to gifts for their grandparents or parents, a personal handmade gift will mean a lot more to them than a gift card, or trinket. Handmade gifts could be children’s artwork, baked goods, or ornaments. The internet is a lovely resource for ideas. Check out Pinterest and join crafting groups on Facebook to help get your creative juices flowing. To top it all off, not only will making gifts be a meaningful memory for the gift receiver, but you will also gain meaningful quality time with your little ones as a parent.

Be Prepared

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to prepare for the future. And as crazy as it may sound, if you are able to start planning next Christmas in January, it will eliminate some holiday stress, especially when it comes to your finances. When making your annual budget, see if you’re able to put a little bit away every month, or every paycheque into a “holiday fund”. If putting money away is not your forte, then you can try purchasing gift cards throughout the year, which can be used as a gift, or you can purchase a gift with it. This will not only eliminate the stress of waiting to get paid in November and December to do your holiday shopping but saving all year round will also allow you to pick up specific items as they go on sale.

The hard part of this method is not overspending at the holidays because you have the savings. I personally like to keep a list, with all the people I wish to give to that year, and as I pick things up or make things, I mark it on the list along with how much I spent on it. This way, when the holidays get closer, I know exactly what I have for each person and how much I’ve spent.

Playing Santa

One of our official duties as parents is making sure Santa arrives at our house each year. This can be financially challenging during the best of years. Growing up in a single-income household with two siblings, to keep things not only fair but cost-efficient, my mother would spend the same amount on each of us or get us a group gift (a Nintendo 64 comes to mind). Today, as the parent of a single child, I still create a budget of what I will spend on her each holiday so I do not “go overboard”. She can ask Santa for all kinds of expensive things, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she is going to get them.

To help set expectations for Santa in our household, the more expensive gifts usually come from Mom and Dad. Last year, Santa left a note for my daughter explaining that he didn’t have any Barbie Dream planes but thought she may like a Barbie helicopter instead. She was super happy with it and so was I as it was a fraction of the cost. By setting expectations for what Santa can bring, my daughter learns that even though Santa may be magical, he has limitations. This will also hopefully eliminate the schoolyard chatter of sizing up Santa when some kids say, “Santa brought me an x-box”, when others may have received a book and PJ’s. These comparisons can be confusing for most children.

Once, a client of mine told me how he explained this situation to his children. He would tell them that parents pay Santa to make and deliver the presents at Christmas. I thought that was a brilliant idea. By not making Santa as magical as the commercials lead on, it will hopefully reduce some of the stress to try to create a holiday miracle while on a budget or when struggling financially.

Practical Gift Giving for Children

While children do make the holidays extra special, their wish lists and demands can often become overwhelming during the holidays. However, in my experience, small children are pretty thankful for anything under the tree. Those who know me, know that I am a very practical gift giver as I tend to gift things that will be used, or are useful. When it comes to gifts for children, it’s no different. If we are only giving them things they want for the holidays, we will then have to turn around and get them the things they need down the road. By giving them of a mixture of gifts that they want and need, you will be saving yourself time and money in the long run. I’ve heard people say that as a rule and if you are able to, you should get your child/children something to wear, something to read, something they want and something they need.

By being prepared, creating a budget and planning as much as you can in advance, you will hopefully be less stressed and able to slow down a little over the holidays. Before you know it, our children will be all grown up, and that’s when we’ll realize what’s really important: the time we spent with our children, not how much we spent on our children.  

From all of us at Grant Thornton Limited, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season.

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