Why some parents swear by this gift-giving strategy

Why do some families have one

Why some families have a “want, need, wear, read” approach to gift giving. (Photo: Illustration by Maayan Pearl, Photos by Getty)

Americans spent a record amount on holiday gifts in 2021, even as inflation was on our heels. Last year, in the United States, and this year, we expect to spend about $1,455 per person. In some cities, the projections are three times that – Newton, Massachusetts leads the way with a maximum family budget of .

It’s no wonder, then, that the holiday season, especially for parents of young children, can become an exercise in sole proprietorship that has gotten out of hand, leading to unrealistic expectations. Movies and TV shows have heaps of presents under the Christmas tree in this “more is more” era, and the return to school after the holidays tends to see kids comparing what Santa brought each of them. Cue the tears of envy and disappointment.

So how do we manage our children’s expectations, teach them about empathetic and thoughtful gifts, and still bring joy and excitement into their lives during this magical time of year? It’s not easy, but some parents have come up with strategies that work.

Erin and Ben Napier, hosts of HGTV’s Hometown and parents of two daughters, recently told Yahoo Life that they subscribe to the “want, need, carry, read” strategy. Each of their daughters gets four gifts that fall into each category: something they want, something they need, something they can wear, and something to read. “The most humble will come from Santa,” Erin added. “It’s something we want to be aware of because I’ve read somewhere about kids going to school after Christmas and comparing what Santa brought them. And the kids who didn’t get such a huge, extravagant gift are wondering wondering ‘doesn’t Santa love me that much?’ We’re trying to shift the focus.”

It’s also easy to see how such a strategy can also help with budgeting as the categories don’t change and the number of gifts doesn’t change, but the money spent on each can be adjusted depending on how lavish or meager it is budget is that year.

Catherine Perez, a mother of three boys in Orlando, Florida, swore by an even more stripped-down version of this strategy when her sons were kids. “They each got three gifts: something to wear, something they needed, and something to play with,” she says. “My husband was in the army and I taught at school, so money wasn’t always there. This way no one left feeling that they were getting less than anyone else in the family. Now that they are older, they have told us that they want to continue the tradition with their families.”

My husband was in the army and I taught at school, so money wasn’t always there. This way no one left feeling that they were getting less than anyone else in the family.

author of and host of The Parenting Mentor podcast, does not like this approach. “It’s a little too specific for me,” she says. “What’s magical about snow boots? They would have gotten them if it hadn’t been a holiday, wouldn’t they?” And what if your child isn’t a reader, she notes. What does that tell your child – that you wish they would read more, and that you don’t care that they aren’t fans of the written word?

Groner prefers a more child-led approach to gift giving. “Let your kids give you their list of holiday gifts,” she tells Yahoo Life. “If there’s anything you think is a little off the mark, ask them.” Ask them what about that item appeals to them. That way you get to know their reasoning and even more about them as your child.”

She says it’s fine to make guidelines — how much you can reasonably afford, what new traditions you want to start, the number of gifts per child — but her parenting strategies focus more on the individual child’s likes and dislikes than on a rigid frame.

“The holidays are magical and you have to find that balance between budget and fun,” says Groner. “If you’re going to use a framework like ‘want, need, wear, read,’ consider amping up the gift a bit with something more special than the mundane, like sneakers with sparkles or sequins, or a book that speaks directly to the best interests of your child.”

Parents can also try a mixed approach. Margaret Mair, who lives in West Valley City, Utah, with her husband and children, uses the categories “carry” and “play” as gifts from Santa Claus, and the rest is from mom and dad. “We parents each buy a gift for each child, the children get each other a gift and together they get a gift for each parent.”

Whatever strategy you choose for Christmas gift-giving, Groner says the thrill of gift-giving is in empathizing with who your kids are and what they love at the time. “Find out what your kids want and why they want it, then give gifts that speak to who they are,” she says. “That’s how they learn to be better gift givers and build a stronger foundation when they feel seen by you as their parent.”

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