Why I Won't Be Telling My Kids That Santa Is On A Budget

by Katy on December 12, 2008 · 9 comments




I recently watched a news segment that showed parents talking about this year’s recession-squeezed holiday season. Most of the people talked about how they told their kids that “Santa is on a budget this year.”

Why anyone would say this to their children?!

I fully condone being honest with kids about money and budgeting. But planting the idea that Santa, (who supposedly makes all the toys) is an anxiety provoking notion.  

When my kids have written out their letters to Santa, (a tradition we have only followed sporadically) I always explained that Santa might get them something from the list, but he might come up with an ever better idea.

This gives me the freedom to buy great second hand gifts for pennies on the dollar that are my speciality.

It’s important for my kids to never have to worry about whether we have enough money. I want to impart a strong sense of security and comfort. Not comfort of cable TV and expensive vacations. Comfort of enough food to eat and a nice gift for Christmas.

How you present information to a child is a real art. I remember my then-childless older sister scooping up the last of a carton of ice-cream to my kids. She set the bowls down, explaining that, “I’m sorry kids, there was only a little bit left.” Which left the kids a bit disappointed. I quickly explained that the secret to parenting is in the marketing. The same amount of ice-cream could have been served with, “Wow-ee kids, I think I served you guys too much ice-cream. I guess you’re going to have to eat it all up!”

All sizzle, very little steak.

The same goes with holiday gift giving. Instead of telling the kids that Santa is on a budget, you can let them know that Santa has something special in mind for them. This something special can be a special experience, a collection of hand-me-down toys or even something bartered with a friend.

There’s no reason to think that kids will only accept expensive presents. And there’s no reason to let your child think that Santa only comes when you have a lot of money.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Foo December 13, 2008 at 12:12 am

Don’t forget, every child is different – for example, your “marketing” of the ice cream wouldn’t have gone very far with my siblings and I when we were young. We knew *all* about estimating portions and volumes – trust me, with multiple very hungry older brothers, the amount of food available at any specific moment was VERY obvious to me, the youngest and smallest! 🙂 And from a very early age!

But I agree about the “Santa on a budget” – my parents were very clear about what was a Santa present, and then what was from them – so that Santa always brought one special thing, and the socks/etc were parental gifts. This allowed budgeting and understanding of financing with the parental presents, but also left the specialness of Santa’s one present untouched.


carocoknits December 13, 2008 at 7:14 am

Truthfully, I get very angry at how some parents react to the economy with their kids. I know one family that took away their kids allowance, but didn’t stop getting the $150 haircuts for themselves or expensive teeth whitening. Or what about the parents that can’t “afford” the allowances but rent themselves a movie every night? To me, that just shows the kids that they aren’t a very high priority. The sad thing is that these kids know that their parents renting a movie every night is more important than them. Our family lives simply and frugally during the high times of the economy so that nothing changes during the low times. Life just continues on as it always does. And that is exactly the kind of stability that our children need.


Middle Way December 13, 2008 at 7:54 am

I am relieved to see that there are such wise parents out there. Your children are so so fortunate.


thepennypincher December 13, 2008 at 11:43 am

Rather than saying Santa is on a budget, perhaps it would be better to reinforce positive values and discourage negative ones such as greed. I like the idea of emphasizing that Santa brings one special gift, perhaps explaining that Santa must deliver gifts to all of the children of the world. It would be a good time to help children learn of value what they have. Then, perhaps, help the child decide what is the most special gift he would want after Christmas and then help him make a budget whereby a portion of his allowance is set aside until he can afford to buy the gift. By then, perhaps, he will no longer want that special gift. If the child still wants the gift after having saved up the money on their own, then they will appreciate that purchase that much more. You could at that point help the child find other options for buying the same item, perhaps explaining that it could be bought used at a much lower price. This way you will have taught the child an important value about saving, delaying gratification and distinguishing needs from wants.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl December 13, 2008 at 1:12 pm

We don’t “do” Santa, so this is not a problem for us! lol Our kids know that we buy all the presents, and they know we’re on a budget(always have been, always will be!).

And fortunately, we did a better job than ever of saving up for Christmas this year, so even though the economy is bad, we’re still able to maintain the same $50/kid budget we’ve always done.


Magdalena December 13, 2008 at 3:29 pm

We were raised in a family that acknowledged the fun of Santa, but didn’t call it truth! I continued that with my kids, so Christmas was easier when they didn’t expect over the moon gifts. I still think that’s the best policy. Too much of the culture is looking for the big payoff. I’m pleased to find that my sons are not materialistic as independent adults.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley December 13, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Ahhhhh! You never let my live the my “ice cream mistake” down.


Penny December 13, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Great post, worth reinforcing. I don’t have kids, but I already do this with my husband! Sell something as great and people will go along with it. People naturally pick up on other’s cues.


Kassie December 14, 2008 at 6:25 am

My 2 sons are old enough to fully understand that a-santa is mom and b-santa has a budget, for the past few years they make a list with what they want most and I get to pick… sometimes I toss the list and come up with a surprise. My oldest son is not a “consumer”, he just doesnt want things, so I love to surprise him with something he would NEVER ask for… My 2 girls are young enough that they still “believe”, I have taught them that you can make a list a mile long and Santa will pick a few things that will make you most happy… I always find cool and interesting things from the thrift store to spruce up the Santa pile, when you have a 9 year old girl who loves clothes is there any other way?


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