The Greatest Gifts We Can Give Our Children Aren’t Actual Gifts

Let me explain.

By Brandy Joy Smith

It’s no secret that we are all going through hard times right now. From the economy to the pandemic, many of us are feeling financially stressed. Are you inching nearer and nearer to the holidays and it’s making you sweat? Same. But let’s reframe it for a second.

I like to say that I was fortunate enough to grow up middle class. Sometimes lower middle class, sometimes right in the middle. No matter what, my parents always found a way to get us everything we needed if not more.

As an adult, I can only imagine the stress and pressure my parents endured over the holidays. Although, what we lacked in monetary items, my parents made up for in experiences. It wasn’t until motherhood that I realized how many more memories those experiences left me with versus the things that were given to me.

I often remind myself that the things my parents couldn’t give me were also some of the greatest gifts I received.

Well, let me explain, and share some great ideas to not only save money but also teach valuable life lessons for kids in the process. 

Teaching our children valuable lessons.

I remember wanting the Barbie house with an elevator, I also remember that it was way out of our budget. So, my parents made me a deal. If I could sell some of my toys that I didn’t use anymore, we could put that toward the house and add it to my Christmas list. My 8-year-old self initially thought this was so unfair. None of my other friends had to have a yard sale to earn their Christmas gifts. But my mom said we would make it a family activity and everyone would let go of some items they no longer used or needed.

So, we sorted through my toys and set up a shop in our front yard. My sister and I got to keep the earnings we made from the sale of our items. I remember being so excited for every sale—I even ended up finding a few more items I was willing to part with. Every time someone wanted to make a deal or negotiation for one of my pieces, my mom made sure they discussed it with me. Little did I know she was teaching us the valuable lessons of finding a way to get the things you want by getting creative and taking stock of the things we possess, and an intro to sales 101. She was also teaching me to be less shy and to communicate. 

I can recount several examples of her similar teachings, like the time I wanted a new dollhouse and instead of buying one brand new, we painted the one I had and gave it a DIY facelift. We felt so much pride in our hard work. To this day, I think about that when I take on a DIY project at home. Sure, I could splurge for a new buffet table, but upcycling from IKEA not only saves me a ton of money, but it also gives me some content for my social media too.

camille styles christmas tree woodsy natural

Reimaging gift ideas.

Now, I want to leave you with a few ideas and motivation for how you can say no to things and yes to experiences. Believe me, you’ll feel confident as a parent that you’re still giving your children the best. You may not realize it, but there are tons of ways to reimagine items that you already have at home. Here are a few of my last-minute ideas that won’t break the bank:

  1. Homemade coupon book. That’s right! Pop together a booklet of coupons that the kiddos can use. Some ideas are: get out of their chores, go out for a one-on-one ice cream date, stay up late, bake cookies, or breakfast for dinner.
  2. Homemade craft box. Grab an old paint can or ice cream pail and decorate the outside. After that, fill the inside with craft supplies. Start with the basics: glue, paper, pencil crayons, kid scissors, and then add in the fun stuff like pipe-cleaners, stickers, pom poms, and popsicle sticks.
  3. Refurbish an old toy. Don’t be afraid to explain to your children, give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they understand financial struggles. Like the example I gave of the dollhouse, you could repaint the house and create some new furniture. A new house means Barbie needs a makeover too, which would be a fun activity to do together.

A few other things to remember to help you get through the holidays:

  • Explain to your children what’s really going on in a way that they can understand. Speak to them about the true meaning of the holiday season which is giving, and what it means to give.
  • Erase the guilt you may have for not being able to give your child what’s on their list. Frame it as the opportunity to take a challenging time, and turn it into a valuable lesson. This allows them to learn that sometimes what you can’t give them is the best gift of all.
  • Your kids are learning creativity when they reimagine something old and turn it into something new.

At the end of the day, children will remember the time you spent together rather than a toy they got one year for Christmas. Outings and experiences are far more valuable than the latest toy that they’ll stop using in a month when the novelty wears off. A great philosophy to follow moving forward is the rule of four presents: Something to make, something to reimagine, something to earn, and something to give.