Holiday Gifts for Children
M. Gary Neuman, co-author of In Good Times and Bad, shares holiday gift ideas for children that won't break the bank.
Child with gift
Tip 1: Buy Little Gifts for Little Children
For little children, get little presents. Very small children are generally delighted with almost any age-appropriate little toy or interesting item that you give them. If the item is wrapped in pretty paper or has a balloon attached, the children will be even more excited. There's no risk of an awkward moment in which the children report to their friends that they didn't get the really expensive doll or whatever.

Parents often joke about how they bought expensive gifts for their toddlers and the kids were more interested in the boxes. Although we may have enjoyed big, fancy gifts as children, the toys we played with endlessly were small green plastic soldiers and dolls with removable clothing. Spend less money on the little ones and apply the money saved to presents for the older ones.
Children opening gifts
Tip 2: Ask Other Parents for Suggestions
Ask parents who've been there and done that. People who have kids older than yours may have ideas about which gifts, in retrospect, were a universal hit. Assuming that your kids don't have their hearts set on a specific thing, this is a good strategy for success.

At one point, we had five kids under the age of 7, with the eldest being 6 (yeah, we've heard the jokes). We wanted to get something that would be fun for the group. A friend had kids who were a few years older, and she noticed that they loved the Fisher Price pirate ship. This was a well-received toy by our kids—an instant hit—and it was enjoyed for more than a decade. We later bought the Fisher Price castle, the princess joined the pirates on their ship, and it was all a lot of fun. Although some more classic toys like Lincoln Logs ended up being turned into weapons and lost, the castle and the pirate ship endured.
Children with money
Tip 3: Pool Resources
Relatives who would otherwise send cash will often enjoy the opportunity to participate in buying a more meaningful gift. You can let it be known that shares in little Johnny's new video game system are available.
Shopping online
Tip 4: Shop Online
Look on eBay and on overstock sites. Bartering sites offer chances to trade a marketable service for merchandise. Discounted merchandise is widely available.
Gingerbread house
Tip 5: Give Homemade Gifts
Have an old-fashioned sort of holiday. Make decorations from instructions on craft websites, bake cookies or dip pretzels or fruit in chocolate sauce. Try recipes for gingerbread houses that kids of all ages can enjoy making and eating.

You can make homemade gifts too. Our neighbor made a tree house for his kids for Christmas using wood that his buddy had left over from a project. His kids took pictures of it and loved this gift more than any expensive gadget. What they valued was the time with Dad, the memory of working together as a team and developing something from scratch. Whenever you make something with your kids, whether a tree house or cookies, the team effort and the time spent together tells your children that they are cherished.
    Family on vacation
    Tip 6: Take a Trip
    Visit a park or go camping by finding amazing rates on the Internet. Because we live in Florida, we often went to Disney World on holidays. We bought a one-day pass for each of our older kids (babies are admitted free), drove there and back on the same day, brought along our own food and sodas and had a memorable time.

    There are often tourist attractions that can substitute for expensive material things, and time with family in a different setting is very memorable.
    Puppy present
    Tip 7: Consider Adopting a Pet
    If your financial situation and home life are reasonably stable and you have time and patience, a pet can be a surefire way of generating excitement. Please be aware that bringing a pet into your home is a huge responsibility and not something to be undertaken impulsively. If you decide to get a pet, shelters are filled with puppies and kittens abandoned during foreclosures and other crises.

    The adoption fee is often nominal. The animal will have had all the necessary shots, the implanted identity chip and other veterinarian services that would cost at least $1,000 if you had to take care of them. Hamsters and their tunnel homes are inexpensive and very exciting for children, but be warned: Hamsters do have a habit of disappearing from their cages and reappearing at inopportune moments.
    Family watching TV
    Tip 8: Give a Group Present
    Purchase something that the entire family can enjoy, like a pingpong table or a new television. However, this option doesn't rule out little gifts for the kids. Warehouse and dollar stores can be good places to buy some inexpensive, individual toys to satisfy your children's wishes for some simple little gifts of their own.
    Family decorating a tree
    Tip 9: Focus on the Meaning of the Holidays
    Young couples with small children have a unique opportunity to establish simpler gift-giving traditions than the excess consumption that older kids have been conditioned to expect. Don't start out teaching your young children that a holiday is all about fancy things. Instead, focus on the actual meaning of the holiday. Institute this early, and your holiday seasons will always be about love and giving.
    Holiday kids having fun
    Tip 9: Focus on the Meaning of the Holidays
    No matter what gifts you give to your children, if there isn't a joyful spirit attached, you've wasted your money. We have the opportunity to give our kids fond memories of holidays that they can always draw on for a feeling of love and warmth. If a holiday is filled with stress and conflict, the gift isn't going to make it better. Make your holidays about fun and happy moments with your kids, and that will be the memory; a nice gift will just add background color.

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