How Many Presents Are Too Many Presents?


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Parents around the country will be splurging on their kids this holiday season, but they probably won’t be shelling out the cash it would cost to buy 12 drummers drumming, five golden rings, and a partridge in a pear tree. According the PNC Wealth Management Christmas Index, parents who want to buy all the gifts from the carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” would have to spend a whopping $27,673 in stores, or $42,959 online. Yes, such a study exists. 

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And while most kids won’t ask Santa for six geese a-laying, it does seem that they often want gifts just as extravagant. “Kids ask for and get so many gifts that they almost don’t know what to do with them,” Jayne Pearl, author of Kids and Money, tells Yahoo Parenting.  “It really feeds entitlement and can build a culture of greed within the family.”

However, the kids aren’t at fault. “They don’t come out of the womb greedy and wanting all these things,” Pearl says. “They get it from media, they get it from peers, and they get it from parents.”

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In fact, while children see upwards of 5,000 advertising impressions – such as television commercials, billboards, and pop-up ads — per year, 25 to 30 percent are shown during the holiday season, according to Nathan Dungan, founder and president of the educational consulting company Share Save Spend. “Being mindful of those messages and really helping kids manage expectations, is so important. Otherwise, the narrative in their heads gets warped because all they see are messages of more, more, more,” Dungan tells Yahoo Parenting. “And getting 25 gifts for, say, a 5-year-old is too much. Gifts cease to have meaning after 5 or 10. Kids are just ripping stuff open and they can’t remember who gave what, why they’re getting presents, and often end up exhausted and having a meltdown.”

While families have different budgets, all should impose a volume limit on holiday gifts, Dungan says. Start by talking to your kids about what expect. “If your kid hands you a spreadsheet with 40 items on it, with links and prices, say ‘This is helpful but you understand you’re not getting everything on this list, right?’” Dungan says. “Otherwise they will end up with super-inflated expectations.”

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And use that conversation as an opportunity to discuss the spirit of the holiday. “That’s the time to talk about making cards for Grandma and Grandpa, or giving back to the community,” he says. 

When Pearl was growing up, her parents gave each of their three kids one small personal gift, plus one bigger, more extravagant gift that they all had to share. “One year it was a printing press. We’d make screenplays that we performed for the entire family,” she says. “The gifts encouraged sharing and spending time together and limited the amount of stuff we got.” Doing something similar or encouraging family members to make, rather than buy gifts, can help refocus the spirit of the holiday, says Pearl.

Whether you impose a family spending budget or a volume limit, make sure your kids understand why the parameters exist. And talk to extended family members. “Parents might feel like they have the gift-giving bonanza under control, but then when grandparents and aunts and uncles start adding to the pile, the insanity begins,” says Dungan. “Have a huddle within your family and say ‘here’s what we’re doing, it would be awesome if you would support that.’ People will understand.” Dungan even offers a template to help parents start the conversation.

“Gift giving is an awesome time of year in a lot of ways – when you zero in on the perfect gift that someone you love will love, there’s nothing better than that,” he says. “But when kids get so much stuff that they start to lose it, or parents feel like they have to buy more and more to keep up, it becomes arduous. So the question should always be: how do you participate in a way that sparks joy?”

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