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Christmas is obviously a time of giving, but when it comes to our kids, we have a tendency to go a little overboard. Little GFB still has gifts from last Christmas he never got around to opening.

Since we began embracing a more deliberate attitude toward our spending, we’ve also started to take stock of what we already have. And we have a lot of random stuff…dare I say junk?…just taking up space.

So this year, instead of buying more stuff we don’t need, won’t use, and have nowhere to put, I thought we’d give something new a try.

A Little Background

Reading about Little GFB in previous posts may have already given you the impression he’s not your typical 9-year old. 

He’s naturally frugal, embraces his budget fully and is insanely good at self-discipline and self-assessment. He’s recognized that his interests can be quick to change and because of that, he’s hesitant to invest his own money (or ask others) to buy things he may want today if he’s not sure he’ll still be interested in a few weeks.

 He seriously can’t think of anything to ask Santa for because he doesn’t want him to waste time on something that may not get played with.

It’s amazing. I wish I could take credit for teaching him so well, but really I just hope I don’t screw him up with my crazy consumerism baggage.

Anyway, because Little GFB can’t come up with a wishlist and because I care about my budget and our ever-dwindling living space more than the size of the gift pile under the tree this year, I went in search of a solution.

Enter the 4-gift rule.

The 4-Gift Rule

If you haven’t heard of the 4-gift rule, it follows a handy little rhyme to structure your gift giving.

  1. Something they want
  2. Something they need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

Brilliant! 

Not only are you limiting the gifts you have to buy (yay for my budget!), but most of the categories are functional.

Your kids will get gifts that will be used, not just more stuff that gets tossed aside after the novelty wears off, adding little more than clutter to your holiday memories.

Benefits of the 4-Gift Rule

Yes, this tactic can be a huge money saver for your family, but there are a few other benefits to the 4-gift rule that don’t necessarily have to do with your budget.

Benefit #1: Teach Your Kids to Value and Appreciate the Gifts They Receive

Limiting gifts can help teach your kids to value and appreciate what they give and receive.

I know with past Christmases, we’d approach opening the avalanche of presents as more of a mission to be completed rather than a celebration to be savored.

In order to be done in time for lunch, we’d tear through gifts so quickly that we had no idea who gave what to whom.

By restricting our gifting, we’ll be able to enjoy a more relaxing and appreciative Christmas morning. And maybe even breakfast. 

Benefit #2: Focus on Quality over Quantity

Since the 4-gift rule helps save money by not buying more gifts, you can actually afford to buy higher quality ones.

For example, Little GFB needs a new duffel bag for his Taekwondo gear. Typically, I would just buy him the same cheap Walmart bag, and we’d probably need to replace it again next year.

But I remembered a bag from L.L. Bean I received as a gift almost 2 decades ago that’s still in fabulous shape. So I ordered him one too. Now he’ll have a bigger and much nicer bag that he can use for decades to come.

Benefit #3: More Thoughtful Gifts

Gifting fewer presents makes the ones you do give all the more memorable.

Instead of fighting the hoards of shoppers trying to get the latest, greatest toy, you can get really intentional with what you want to give. 

Get creative, dig deep and give something meaningful.

That duffel bag we’re giving Little GFB may not seem like much by itself, but we also got it monogrammed.

My little guy loves his initials. They’re a part of every gamer-tag he’s ever created as well as his YouTube channel. So hopefully adding them to the bag will turn a relatively mundane gift into a special one.

Other Things to Consider When Adopting the 4-Gift Rule

Christmas isn’t just parents giving their kids gifts. So how does the 4-gift rule work with Santa, stockings, and other family members?

Well, I won’t claim to be an expert since we haven’t actually completed our first 4-gifts Christmas yet, but I’ll give you my approach.

How Many Gifts Does Santa Bring?

When I was a kid, Santa seemed to bring a ton of gifts. I’m not sure if the gifts were actually from Santa, I just know there were way more gifts under the tree the morning after he came.

But if you pay close attention, most Christmas movies, stories and songs are actually pretty consistent with kids asking Santa for one gift and Santa bringing just one gift (though he does usually fill the stockings too). 

If this is an area of concern for you, try reading or watching The Polar Express together. It’s a great story and lays the single-gift groundwork very well.

You can let your kids make a wishlist as long as they want for the family, but encourage them to only ask Santa for the one thing they really want.

Pro tip: Once your kids have decided what they want from Santa, make sure to take it off their wishlist so you don’t risk duplicates.

What About Stocking Stuffers?

Full confession – I’ve always hated stockings.

As a kid, they seemed like an inconvenient stall tactic – something we tried to rush through so we could get to the good stuff. They were filled with random candy, pencils, fruit (the kind that fits the toe of the stocking), gum, and dollar store trinkets that aren’t even worth the dollar you paid for them. 

As an adult, I’ve always been annoyed at just trying to find stuff to fit. Not to mention the need to fill the stocking generally meant having to find lots of cheap, little gifts. Considering that in our tradition, Santa fills the stockings, this actually is a disservice to jolly old St. Nick. I mean, would Santa really bring you crappy toys just cause they fit in your stocking? Unlikely. 

This year I’m taking a different approach and brainstorming stocking stuffers that are inexpensive and can fit, but that do Santa’s gift-giving legend some justice.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with the 4-gift pattern (if not theme) and do a smaller family game like Uno or Spot It!, a favorite treat (mmm…Christmas tree Reese’s), a fun magazine or puzzle book that can be rolled up, and maybe a cheap gift card.

Most stores have whole sections devoted to stocking stuffers…and most of it is junk. But if you’re struggling for ideas, it might at least help you brainstorm.

Pro tip: Don’t forget you can take something out of its packaging if it won’t fit into the stocking otherwise. This is probably more applicable for grown-up stockings. I always see cheap tool sets or packages with multiple flashlights. If that’s something you could use, rip ‘em open and stuff ‘em in there!

Getting the Extended Family Onboard

I’m honestly not too worried about what the rest of the family does. They have their own traditions and expectations. So while I’ve explained to most of them that the three of us don’t really want anything, I still provided a list of things we need or could use.

Most grandparents especially will be hard to sell on limiting gifts, but at least if they insist on giving, you can try to make sure it’s something you’ll use by providing a list.

Pro tip: If there’s something you need but cringe at buying for yourself, it may seem like a random gift idea, but add it to your list. I love Balega socks but hate to spend money on clothes. Guess what stays on my list year after year?

Some “Want, Need, Wear, Read” Gift Ideas To Get You Started

So far everyone I’ve shared the 4-gift idea with has loved the concept but struggled to picture it in practice.

I think we all just want to create a little Christmas magic for our kids and giving just a few practical gifts seems boring and anything but special.

But just because you want to rein things in a bit doesn’t mean you have to sap the joy out of Christmas. Here are some ideas to get you started brainstorming for your own 4-gifts Christmas.

Something They Want

Finding something your kid wants probably won’t be that difficult. Narrowing it down and trying to figure out what the perfect one thing is may be more of a challenge.

My advice: pay attention. You know your kid’s personality and interests and that should help you narrow it down. Then try to listen for the thing they mention repeatedly or seem most excited about. Trust me, they’ll tell you.

If you have a kid like mine, experience gifts or subscription boxes may be more appealing.

I recently heard the story of a grandmother who gave her grandkids a box with 12 envelopes, one to open each month, that contained some activity they could do together. I love that idea! 

As homeschoolers, Little GFB and I are together almost 24/7, but we still have a weekly breakfast date where we go and just hang out at Chick-fil-A. But I like the idea of the whole family enjoying a special outing together once a month.

This could also be a good opportunity to explore your city. Coming up with 12 different excursions close to home may be fun (bowling, ice cream shop, etc.), but venturing outside of your normal routines may make for a more unique and interesting gift (museums, concerts, etc.).

We also love subscription boxes in my house. Most tend to be either educational or crafty so they make a nice distraction from video games or YouTube. We’ve subscribed to Kiwi Crate, Tinker Crate, and Little Passports in the past.  Little GFB wants to be a programmer, so this year I grabbed a subscription to BitsBox for him to try out. 

The great thing with most of these subscription boxes is that they are month to month. This means you can try them out to see if your kids will actually use them without having to commit to a long term service.

Something They Need

If you’re a diligent budgeter, you may already fulfill any needs as they pop up, making this gift more challenging. But try to get creative with this category and think outside the box a little. For example:

  • Do your kids play sports? Consider buying them new or upgraded equipment. 
  • What have they outgrown? Shoes and clothing might be obvious, but what about bikes and scooters, helmets, work desks, chairs, etc.
  • Are you an outdoorsy family? Maybe a new sleeping bag, first aid kit, or fishing rod would be good.
  • Have an aspiring artist? New paints, canvases, drawing paper, or colored pencils might hit the mark.
  • Does your child play an instrument? What accessories might they need? Guitar strings, picks, tuners, metronomes, etc.

Think of what most interests your kid and see if you can find something related that would make a great gift.

Something To Wear

I’m sure with growing kids, none of us will have problems with this gift if you want to stick to clothing. But if you’re looking for a more creative interpretation of the rule, here are some ideas:

  • Headphones
  • Makeup
  • Jewelry
  • Perfume
  • A Watch
  • A purse or messenger bag
  • Sunglasses

Something To Read

This gift is a fun one to get creative with. For avid readers you can try to find a new series or share some of your childhood favorites with them. For kids who may not enjoy reading, here are some other creative gifts to try:

  • Activity and project books 
  • Magazines in their area of interest (Highlights, Ranger Rick Jr.)
  • Graphic novels or comics
  • Crosswords or word-searches
  • Cookbooks 
  • Subscription boxes

Keeping the Focus on Family

I know it’s a tough sell for a lot of folks to tamper down on the gift-giving.

A lot of us have shaped our visions of what Christmas morning should look like based on all the advertising we’ve absorbed through the years. I know I’d love to wake up to a shiny, bow-topped Lexus…but I also would rather not wake up to a massive car payment for the next 5 years!

Keep your focus on your family and what you truly value instead of all the stuff the marketers want you to buy.

Following the 4-gift rule can mean less mental, physical and financial stress, which could make your more minimal Christmas the best one yet!

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