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How to put Santa on a budget

By Carrie Rocha ·
Thursday, December 13, 2012
Posted: 9 am ET

Our society is permeated with a culture of the big Christmas. From big trees to the big bundle of gifts, it's an expensive time of year. Many families need or want to cut back, but aren't sure how to do it.

Can Santa really go on a budget?

He did at my house in 1985. In August of that year, my self-employed parents closed their retail business when the store's lease wasn't renewed. Christmas was tight that year.

My parents were upfront about it: "Kids, Santa's on a budget this year. You may not get as many gifts as you are used to."

Kudos to them for trying, but I ended up feeling guilty for having received any gifts at all.

Are you a parent who needs to put Santa on a budget? Follow these three tips.

Don't give the 'North Pole is in a recession' speech

Don't tell your kids that money is tight for you or Santa and, therefore, gifts will be limited. Instead, talk from a position of strength and positivity.

Reassure your children that Christmas is coming to your house and that their gifts aren't a burden. Say, "Santa's excited to come to our house this year. He's working to pick out four or five toys just for you."

Tell older children that you've set aside some money to buy them special gifts at Christmas. Express your excitement to see how far you can make that money stretch.

Change the role of wish lists

Your kids might be accustomed to making wish lists of every desired toy with the subconscious hope that each item ends up under the tree. Instead, encourage them, positively, to limit their lists. It reshapes their expectations.

Younger children can name four or five items. If they desire something expensive, something has to come off the list.

Ask older children to create a list that totals no more than a specified amount of dollars. Direct them to websites such as to scout for the best deals.

Encourage them to buy their own things

Not every kid wants his or her desires contained to $150 or five items. That's OK. Let your children buy things themselves.

Take it further by giving them a dollar-for-dollar match on their savings as one of your gifts to them. It motivates them to work hard and fast to save toward their goal. You get to save as much as half on a gift. But, most importantly, your children will experience a sense of control over their own financial destinies.

How have you reined in holiday spending in recent years? What has worked for you in communicating with your family about your holiday budget?

Carrie Rocha blogs at and is author of "Pocket Your Dollars: 5 Attitude Changes That Will Help You Pay Down Debt, Avoid Financial Stress, and Keep More of What You Make" (Bethany House, January 2013). She helps middle Americans live within their means so they can get out of and stay out of debt. Follow her on Twitter at @CarrieRocha.

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