What Are Your Kids Gift Expectations?

I hear some people complain that they have to buy expensive things for their kids because it’s what they (the kids) expect.

Some don’t know what they are going to do this holiday season as times are getting tight.   How are we going to get little Johnny the latest (insert expensive popular toy here)?!?

Here’s what I say – Don’t!!

Where do your kids get their expectations from?  Do they get them from friends?  From television?  Those are influences but not the real source.

Children get their expectations from their parents!!

What are your kids' gift expectations?

You, the parent, the adult in the relationship, set the tone for how your kids perceive gifts.

If you make it a habit to buy your kids expensive gifts for every occasion then you are setting yourself up for financial trouble! 

The younger you start the worse it will be.

If you are already buying expensive items when the child is a toddler what are you going to do when they get older?  How about when they are in their teens?  Think about it.  At some point the gifts have to ease off.  How will your child react when that happens?

You can make the change though.

It’s tough to tell kids they won’t be getting all the goodies they are used to.

But if your spending is putting you in debt or you don’t have an adequate amount for savings and retirement then you better re-think your holiday spending plans!  Make your kids understand that they won’t be getting as much this year.

If you can, ease them into it.

Start early in the year and explain that they won’t be getting the cornucopia of gifts they are used to.  Don’t be afraid to be honest with them.  You can tell them it’s because their past gift habits were too expensive.  Talk to them about your financial goals and how cutting back will help you achieve those goals.  Instead of more stuff work on giving them more time.  Get together with family and friends and enjoy some experiences together.

Another thing to do is to get them some small gifts to donate and let them learn the felling of giving to others in need.  Peter Anderson has a great article on how you can give back to those in need.  Give it a look and see how you can get the kids involved.

But all their friends are getting it!!

Kids and keeping up with the Jones’ are a tough combination.  But you have to draw the line and not let your neighbors dictate your spending habits.

Are your child’s friends paying your bills?  Are they putting money away for retirement.  Are they making sure the mortgage is on time?  I didn’t think so.  Teach your child to take pride in who they are not what they have.  This lesson will be valuable for their entire life!

And you better practice what you preach!!

Your child’s expectations come from watching you as well.  Don’t think you’re getting that new flat-screen TV or expensive cell phone while they don’t get the goods.  Parents must set the example for their kids.  We are not our stuff!!

Say that to yourself – We are not our stuff! It’s important.  Get this into your mind set and teach it to your children, not just by explaining but by setting the example.


I’m not saying don’t buy any gifts.

But watch what you buy for your kids.  Yes, they love getting stuff.  I know I did as a kid.  But what is the child really getting out of it?  Are they using and loving the gift?  Not just for a day but for months, maybe years?  Or did they say it was their favorite for a few days then it joined all their other stuff in the corner?  Do your kids really appreciate the gift?  If your always buying them expensive stuff then your kids will start to see you a the person who will get them stuff.  Not for the person you are!  Think about that.

It’s so east to spoil kids.  I know.  I have four of them.  I’ve been guilty of getting them too much.  Trust me it’s far better to practice constraint with their gifts.

Stop the cycle of consumerism that hurts us in the end.

You don’t have to buy your kids everything they want (or everything you want to get them).  Let them love you as the great parent you are rather than the person who gets them stuff.  They won’t hate you if you don’t get them all the hottest toys.  If they say they do then think about the values you are teaching them.

We all want to make our kids happy but we need them to grow up responsible too.


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Published or updated December 18, 2014.


  1. “Children get their expectations from their parents!! ”


    That is a subtle, and powerful insight.

  2. “Children get their expectations from their parents!!”

    Sorry, I disagree. We have worked hard to have moderate, quality Christmases and teach my kids to have a social concious and give, not get. But my kids have developed the idea that the REAL Christmas starts at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It’s ridiculous, and when they were little, it was a nightmare.

    I tried talking to my Mom about it lovingly, and she just told me “I do it because I can, and when you are grandparents, you will too”.

    I beg to differ.

  3. Great post. While I think that more than just parents go into expectations, I do think that parents play a big role. We are trying to teach our son to be satisfied with what he has, but it is frustrating to hear him talk about how he *needs* something.

    The other day I had to cringe when he said, “We should just go buy this!”

    Yikes! But things are getting better. I’ve been letting him take his allowance, in small doses (and after he’s paid tithing and savings), and choose small items to buy. I think that seeing that he has to make choices, and that money doesn’t just come free for most of us, is helping the situation.

  4. @ Joe – Thanks!

    @ Christy – You can still take control. Sit with them and make them understand why your kids can’t be spoiled. Maybe agree to one bigger gift. Or perhaps you can ask them to contribute to something like a 529 plan. You can also hold multiple gifts for later in the year. Or maybe they could keep some of the gifts at their house when the kids visit. There’s always a choice. I understand that it’s the privilege of grandparents to spoil their grand kids but I’m sure they want them to grow up well too. Sit with them and discuss it.

    @ Miranda – It is tough to stay on top of what you do. We’re constantly asking ourselves if we’re spoiling our kids. You get caught up sometimes. But you keep at it and adjust when things get out of hand. It’s important to try to stay conscious of your actions. We recently took our daughter to get a Webkinz. Thing is, it was with money she saved up and only after she did well on a couple of tests. She went in and counted out the money herself so she can learn what the experience is like. And let me tell you, as much as she asks for things at times she does not want to let go of her money!!

  5. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with wanting something. We want all day long. The trick is to teach that you will not get everything in life that you WANT. When I was a kid, I really WANTED some toy I had seen. Well I got it, and realized that the toy itself was not all that great and in fact, it was way more fun WANTING the toy. Let them see you in the store talking about WANTING something, but not buying it until you are ready. Its not about being deprived, its about enjoying what you have and working to earn something extra that you want.

    Allowing a child to WANT something they don’t need teaches lots of life skills. They can learn to plan and save for something special. Doing jobs for friends and neighbors. (Age appropriate stuff) When they do achieve it on their own, they get a sense of satisfaction, pride, and personal ability. They are not afraid to work toward the next goal.

    My son had a little business in the neighborhood. He charged the neighbors $4.00 a month ($1.00 a week, which most people will do) to pull out their trash cart and put it away the next day. He had 10 customers and usually they paid him an extra $1.00 tip. It usually took him about 45 minutes each time to pull all the carts. He learned so much from that. He earned over $40.00 a month on his own to spend or save.

    Remember the goal is to turn a child into a functioning adult. If a child is indulged at every turn. What kind of adult will they become?

    Just my 2 cents……

  6. Children are prone to many types of temptation and parents do play a major role in a child’s gift expectations, but they shouldn’t be blamed.

    The high amount of exposure, nowadays, to these expensive toys and gifts make them believe that having them is the norm. Therefore, they want and hope to receive them.

    I grew up getting money in a red envelope and thats what I still get. To me, birthdays and holidays don’t mean presents, they mean family gatherings.

    Parents ARE responsible for what their children are exposed to.

  7. One thing that we have done with our family (who LOVE to spoil) is ask them if they would instead purchase gifts we can use as a family. Instead of a mountain of toys which eventually get broken, lost, forgotten, etc., we asked for memberships to our local museums and zoos. We explained to them that we want to raise our children with the focus that family is most important. Plus, the places are educational as well. The Granparents, or Aunt and Uncles are always invited when we go to said places. Time and togetherness, while saving money in the process, it’s a win-win!

  8. @ Blackeard – Well said!

    @ Valerie – Great idea! I’d much rather see my kids hanging out more with the family then getting more toys to pile up. I love the memberships idea.

  9. Great post! And I’ve found the kids often don’t expect as much as the parents feel like they need to give. Many years my son was happy asking for one Thomas train (a $15 toy) and was thrilled with whatever extra he got. We usually don’t spend more than $150 for each of our two children. I can’t imagine spending more – it would just be overkill! A few very well chosen gifts and they are quite happy.

  10. @ TheRoad – True, sometimes parents project needs when the kids just want something simple.

  11. A friend gives her children three presents at Christmas, the same number Jesus got. I was pleasantly surprised when my boys (9 & 11) we’re okay with implementing it at our house (they know there is more to come from relatives …). I think we’ll also borrow from your suggestion to add to their 529 plan too!

  12. @ Nicole – Hmm…that sounds like an interesting way to implement a spiritual element to gift giving at Christmas. I think that type of sentiment could be used more often!

  13. My sister likes to ask family members to buy “experiences” or take her daughter somewhere instead of just “stuff.”

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