Do you have a budget for Christmas gifts? I recently heard on a financial radio podcast of a middle class family with 3 kids that spent $4-6,000 on Christmas each year! They believed this was average for middle income American families. They charged most of their gifts on credit cards and spent the rest of the year paying it off (or not). I was blown away!
It got me to thinking—what do most people spend on Christmas, Hanukkah, or holiday gifts each year. Since I found it fascinating, I thought you would too.
What Does the Typical Family Spend on Christmas Each Year?
I suspect that everyone thinks that what they spend is typical. The family on the podcast certainly did. The most reliable research I could find was from the aptly named American Research Group.
Annoyingly it is not clear how this applies to a family or how it changes with income levels. Does each parent count separately, thus doubling the number for a two-parent family, or does this number assume that it is per family unit. I’m guessing each one counts separately.
What My Family Spends
I think one of the reasons I was shocked by the family spending $4-6K is that I have four kids (teens +), and we don’t spend even a fourth of what they spend. We have a rough average of what we’ll spend on each child. The amount per child has grown as the kids age, but we’ve topped out at approximately $300 per child, with incidentals for stocking stuffers. We also sometimes get a gift to the family, which is usually some type of game.
I wanted to avoid the onslaught of gifts piled up at Christmas because I think it undermines the spirit of Christmas and the feeling of thankfulness. Santa used to bring three gifts for each child because that’s what the Wise Men brought baby Jesus, but now that their presents are more expensive, he sometimes just brings one big present and maybe something small. They each have one wrapped gift under the tree from my husband and me, and this gift has traditionally been a book.
We developed the custom with our parents to make a contribution to a charity in their name each Christmas as our gift. They do the same for us.
Now that I’ve shared, it’s your turn. How much do you spend on Christmas or Hanukkah? Do you try to control the amount of gifts? (And yes, I realize that controlling the number is not much of an option for Hanukkah.)
Image credit: Anders Adermark
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What?!?! My family spends 2,100$ per child and we have a family of 6
It’s such a personal decision and there are many factors that go into how to spend and how much to spend on the holidays!
That obviously isn’t the total of ALL our spending for the holidays, (extended family and closest friends, that is) but even then, we still have a VERY OBVIOUSLY different perspective than the families in this show’s numbers seem to represent.
As a kid we always had tons of presents (we were low to middle income but my dad usually got a Christmas bonus). Those presents seemed like a lot but always included clothing, pjs, shoes, and necessities. I know families who count clothes separately or do not include them as Christmas presents.
We give our kids a $ amount they can ask for. For the older kids, it’s $150. We cheated a little this year for the 13 and 15 year olds and spent $177. For the younger kids, (3,5,7,9, and 11) we set the same dollar amount, but don’t usually reach it. I buy some of their presents used (The 3 yr old is getting a Dora dollhouse that I got for $10 and that will be her main gift). The beauty of Christmas for us has always been traveling to be with family, so that’s what we focus on. It’s hard for the older kids when they see their friends get one pair of boots that exceeds our budget and then a big pile of other expensive gifts as well.
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We have traditionally done the three gifts too, three from us and three from “Santa” since our children are young. However, we keep the cost low and work within a budget. Having a Christmas club account at the bank really helps. Getting the check for the Christmas money in November is very nice. Our gifts have been something you need, something you want and something for fun. This year my husband would like to change it to four gifts, something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. I am considering his suggestion, but I think we will still keep Santa to three.
OK, yeah, $4-6K on presents for just immediate family? That’s crazy! DH and I have very low budgets for each other, usually, although this year, my cell phone died so I got a new one as an early Christmas present, and he’s getting a new computer monitor, which is pricey.
The app I use is called Santa’s Bag. It was the one that got the highest reviews on the App Store.
We do “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” and then a charitable giving thing; for each kid. Usually we cheat and there are several somethings to read because we’re a bookish family and we get the books 2nd hand. We have a much harder time reigning in the grandparental gift-giving.
You are so right about grandparent giving. Much harder to control. 🙂
I want to know what the $4-6K includes. If you’re traveling across the country as a family of 4, that’s $2K right there. The extra people at the extra large meal could run as much as $500 in groceries and supplies. I know I personally spend $100 on Christmas cards, not to mention stamps. I print my own 1-page newsletter, but that costs me about 10 cents per page b/w and 25 cents per page if I do color in ink.
I have an app this year to help me maintain a Christmas gift budget. It’s about $800 for everyone – my kids, DH, my dad & in-laws, grandparents, birth families (that keep growing), our friends’ children, and our pets (yes, our pets get presents too). But it doesn’t include a charitable donation to Heifer International that we make in lieu of gifts to adults. And I don’t think I’ll be able to stick to it, so it’ll be more like $1000 in gifts.
I have no problem with grandparent giving. Grandparents were made to spoil children. I intend to do it when I have grandchildren, and I have no problem letting my in-laws do it. (My dad’s generally a Scrooge, though he does surprise us from time to time.)
In the podcast the $4-6K was on presents only for kids and parents. What’s the name of the app. I might want to try it. And truthfully, I kind of agree with you about grandparents. None of my kids grandparents were the spoiling kind, and I have every intention of being the spoiling kind. 🙂
I thought I was spending very little compared to most families as I live below middle class in poverty and I spend no less than 5 grand on my two children my 6 nieces and nephews and my parents. Perhaps I am over doing it ?
Thanks for reading, Stephanie!
Only you can really know if you are “overdoing it” or not and the fact that you are asking is a great tool for starting to examine your current status. Of course, if you are going into any debt, that would be a good first small change to consider: spend only what you have on hand. There are great tools to help you set up a budget — not just for holiday spending, but also for an overall daily revamp of how to live securely without debt. Thanks for responding to the post and reaching out.
We probably spend about $1000 total on Christmas when calculating presents, gift wrap, meals, Christmas cards, etc. Our daughter has a December birthday, and between birthday and Christmas I probably spend about $300 on gifts for her. She usually gets the practical things for birthday, then toys, books, music, etc. for Christmas. It is the one time I think I get a little excessive, but she is NOT spoiled. She doesn’t get a lot of “things” at other times, and the family memories are just as important as the presents, and it’s the one time where “things” do help contribute to the magic, and I don’t care. Some of the spending is done on credit, but not a problematic amount. We are not spending all year paying off Christmas or anything.
Growing up, we only had immediate family at Christmas (me, my siblings, & their SO’s)… We would have a filling breakfast and hot apple cider (my older sister made the best cider!) while opening stockings, which usually included things like Chapstick, toothpaste, deodorant, gum, candy, small toys/cards, notepads, perfume, etc…
Then we would open presents… I don’t know how much was spent, but I imagine quite a bit with so many people… We each got 5-10 presents… Prob ranging between $5-25 each gift… There would be clothing, winter outerwear, toys, etc…
Then we would play board games until dinner time… Which consisted of just about anything you can imagine… Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pickles/olives/veggies, potatoes & gravy, rolls, pies, jello, deviled eggs… I’m sure I’m missing a LOT more things LOL!
The parts I enjoyed the most, and hope to replicate, are the parts that brought is together as a family, rather than the ones that cost more money or yielded more “goodies” for me.
That sounds like a wonderful tradition. I especially like the playing game part. We’re a big game playing family, but Christmas afternoon playing hasn’t been in our tradition. May have to change that this year. Thanks.
My husband heard the same radio show and told me about it! We were SHOCKED people would spend that much! It’s insane! I would say we spend about $400 total on ALL family gifts (including those to our parents, grandparents, siblings, etc.). BUT, we just have 1 18-mo old and so far we have gotten him used toys for Christmas that we know he will love. We really don’t want Christmas to be about THINGS and would rather have him growing up that it’s more important to give than get huge stuff!
Elizabeth, the really sad thing is the couple in the podcast, and I suspect most people who spend a huge amount at Christmas, charge their gifts and then pay even more when you add in the interest. I think too many gifts makes it harder for children (and adults) to feel appreciative.
I feel like sometimes when kids are handed everything they want it stays with them later in life. There’s a lot of people that feel entitled and it starts somewhere. The magic of Christmas can still be felt on a budget, this is the case at my house anyways. I don’t mean to offend anyone by this. And as far as the meal goes, my parents cook the meat and everyone brings a couple of sides. I don’t send out Christmas cards anymore, I keep up with everyone on Facebook.
Christina, I was thinking about gifts for kids primarily. You are right that total holiday spending would be more. We make goodies to give to friends and just the trip to the grocery store for that is expensive! Although, last year’s carmel corn wasn’t too bad.
Then there’s extra money for charities whether lottie moon at church, operation Christmas shoe boxes, your Sunday school sponsors a family, pulling an angel off a tree or contributing to toys for tots, or if you just stick coins in the salvation army box. I hope everyone does something!
Wowza! This is only our second Christmas with out son but I can’t imagine spending that much! We bought him one large gift from Santa (a drum set for $80) and spent about another $75 on everything else. That was a stretch for us!!
I can’t believe I forgot to add Christmas cards and stamps!
I actually think 800 is low. What are they including in the totals? The entire Christmas expenditure or just what they spend on kids? A trip to the grocery store for supplies to make cookies, desserts, and prepare Christmas dinner can easily run 200. We know a family of 5 we use to shop for. If I buy each member a 20$ gift (which let’s face it is hard) then I’ve spent 100 just on one family. I’m going to have to tell everyone this year kids only. That’s nearly impossible especially when there are people who buy my kid something that do not have kids then I’m standing there with nothing in return. Awkward for me who loves to give and not take. Last year I made homemade stepping stones (to have something he could give) with my kids footprint and probably spent 100 on supplies. Then there are gifts for Sunday school teachers, extra tip for hair dresser, etc. That doesn’t even include decoration, electricity to turn on those Christmas lights, wrapping paper, tape. ( I’ve started using yarn instead of ribbon) stockings, gifts for spouse and family. Oh and don’t forget gifts for our son’s birth family. Printing out all those photos gets expensive even after using Walgreens 9¢ prints or a half off coupon. Last year my mom and in laws got photo calendars of my son and even after a group on and one calendar free the total was over 50. Gifts for party exchanges or secret Santa. Food to take to parties. What do you cut out to only spend 250? Gifts for others? Christmas dinner? Decoration?
We are a family of three, four if you include the only grandparent. I would say we spend around $750- $1000 per year total on everyone. But that normally includes a bigger ticket item like an ipad or the like. And I would day $500-$600 of that amount is spent on my husband and myself (gifts to each other). $100-$150 on Grandmom and $200 on our child.
Ashley, don’t you think that sometimes it is more a case of parents getting caught up in wanting to create a magic moment?
Pallavi, I think that about what we spent (maybe less) when our kids were younger.
Tracy, exactly! Their needs and many wants are met throughout the year!
That’s insane! We spend $250 on 3 kids. Rest of the family we do grab bags & nephews combined $200.
Even with two older teens, we still keep it to about $100 per kid from us. It’s hard but necessary and they have all their needs met thru the year plus a lot of their wants too.
When ours were younger, we do have a much smaller amount that we spent, and like you, I bought used. The little kids didn’t know the difference.
I don’t include travel cost, although when we took a big vacation over the holidays, the vacation was their Christmas gift.
I was pretty surprised too.
That is absolutely crazy! How about teaching kids what Christmas is about and not how to be spoiled. I know people say if we have the money then I don’t see what matters. It does matter, its a lesson you’re teaching your kids.
I am shocked. We spend about $250 max. plus any travel costs if we are visiting family. Hanukkah and Christmas come right after my kids’ birthdays, so they already have lots of new toys to play with.
I have 4 kids, 18, 14, 12, and a 22 year old plus a granddaughter. We don’t use credit cards either and spend roughly $500-$600 for my 14 and 12 year old each, and $150 on the older ones because they live on their own. We spend about $100-$150 on our grandchild. This doesn’t include stocking stuffers. The reason why we spend this much on our 12 and 14 year old is because they don’t get brand new things throughout the year other than clothes at the beginning of school year but that doesn’t usually consists of winter clothes because it’s still warm outside. They get a $50 gift on their birthday every year. They don’t get big ticket items throughout the year at all! That’s for Christmas. The $500-$600 budget includes one big ticket item of $200-$250 per child (for my 12 and 14 yr old) clothes for winter, and other misc items. We usually buy one gift for the family which isn’t included in the budget but that’s usually about $50-$100. Do I guess our budget for our 4 kids total about $1700. Christmas is the only time we give all year long to our children so I think they deserve what we spend.
Wow, I was wondering if we were spending too much. I plan to spend $50 per child. But I have 8 kiddos so for us thats a lot of money.
I would think a weeks pay would be a good budget for Christmas gifts. This is the first year that I’ve really tracked how much I spend. In addition to the gifts, I’m adding in any drinks or meals that I purchase while out shopping (which I’m finding out that adds up quick!). I’m spending about $300 on my teenage son, and it’s 80% clothes that he asked for. I wouldn’t spend this much on video games or the new fad of the season. I’m spending about $80 on my 2 year old son – not because he really wants anything, but it’s fun stuff like blocks and race cars that will result in family time fun for all. $20-30 on nephews. $50 on young God child. $80 in-laws. $50-$100 Charity donation for parents. $100 husband. Oh, and I always buy one house gift that I say is from my 2 year old, like a TV, or laptop, this year a soda stream! 🙂 We tend to over-do the gifts because my husband and I come from families that give many gifts. My running total is over $800, and will probably end up to be $1000. I buy for a few charities and usually “adopt” a needy child to shop for. (My favorite part!) And don’t forget to factor in all the deals you come across for needs – “Oh, my favorite bra is on sale.” “I could use another robe.” “Nice! Sale on Christmas decorations!”.
I’ve never really done a running total of “everything”. When the kids were younger we said that given the slowness of the mail they needed to get their “list” to Santa by the end of Oct. This gave me lots of time before the Christmas rush to slowly buy gifts and to spread out the hit to our budget.
Me and my husband have 3 kids and spend aprox. 1200 per child. And I charge NOTHING . I start early and do Black Friday shopping. Now a days I would be able to get my kids one thing if I went with the budget some people set. If people can afford it then I don’t see what the big deal is. My husband and I both have full time jobs.