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Buying gifts for your own kids?

March 2010

My husband and I have different perspectives on buying our kids toys, treats, etc. Part of our difference could be cultural ... I am White and I grew up in a middle-class US family on the conservative/frugal side, with WASPy values. Self-reliance, hard work, delay of gratification. My husband grew up in the US in an immigrant Asian family that had less money than my family did. We have a strong marriage and 2 young kids. We rarely have conflicts over money or spending in general.

Where we do have conflict is in spending on our kids. We have more money now than both our families did when we were our kids' age. So our kids COULD have a lot more stuff, etc., than we did. Should they?? When one of the kids wants something, my instinct is to respond with a way that s/he can ''earn'' it, either by putting it on a xmas/birthday list, or achieving some personal milestone (e.g., potty training when they were younger). They are not quite old enough for an allowance system. In other words, I tell them they have to wait and work for their reward. Most of the time, we technically can afford whatever they are asking, so the internal conflict I have with myself is whether they ought to get it just because we can afford it. For my husband, on the other hand, he feels that any disposable money we have after meeting our savings goals is up for grabs, and there's no reason the kids shouldn't get what they ask for. It drives me CRAZY when they come home from every single outing with him with new stuff, even if it's inexpensive - it's like he can't figure out a way to entertain them without buying things. I should say that his mother is 10x worse ... so it's part of his upbringing.

I know that the BPN community as a rule tends to be anti-STUFF for a number of very good reasons. But what I'm looking for here is not confirmation that I'm right but rather some perspective on how to negotiate that line. When I observe my kids with my OWN parents, I come away with the impression that my parents - despite being very loving and warm - are stingy and unnecessarily withholding of gifts and treats. Like, splitting a granola bar four ways instead of just giving the kid the whole darn thing for goodness sake. So both my husband and me are breaking away from our upbringing (he by engaging in less consumerism, me by engaging in more) but we are still having trouble finding a compromise that satisfies both our ''gut instincts.'' Ideas? Seeking a middle ground ... and family peace


I am more like you in philosophy and more like your husband in practice. I guess I would think about how important it is to you, and how important it is to your husband? If it's a two to you and an eight to your husband, then let him give away. Likewise if it's an eight to you and a two to your husband, then let your kids earn their toys. From my perspective, my son loves things more and is most proud when he gets a chance to earn a toy. Also I am bad at taking care of too much stuff, so my son has lots of broken toys and toys with missing parts. It might create a lot of chaos in the child's life if he has too much stuff. Use your spending money to give your children a nice adventure, or to put in their bank savings accounts. And let your husband them a toy every fourth outing, or whenever they earn it. Stuffed out
I'm in a similar situation with family members other than my spouse. I'm in an interacial/intercultural relationship too - but our problem is more with my step-mom and his extended family than MIL and hubbie. Here are some of the things I say to cope with the excess of non birthday/xmas gifts. We have limited space so if our child gets a gift, they or I will toss something of theirs out. This rule applies to me too - I don't go clothes shopping unless I make space in the closet first. ;-) It's not a popular rule with the gift givers but my daughter doesn't mind at all. I find it especially funny when my daughter chooses the recent gift to give away vs. an old toy.

If the gift or item is not on a list to purchase we're not getting it. My daughter is used to my list purchases. I'm armed with clothing and grocery lists all the time so if it's not on the list - we're not getting it. Perhaps you can start a toy list and apply the same rule to your hubbie and MIL? I like lists because there is intention and purpose behind the item purchased. Maybe there's a ''vacancy'' of large gross motor toys in the arsenal so you can focus your purchase on buying a ball or jump rope vs a pocket polly?

I'm with you on spontaneous gift buying. I think it can lead to a child's sense of entitlement vs. teaching other values like you mention in your post. So if your hubbie can agree to new house rules (purging and list purchasing) then maybe he and MIL are less likely to give gifts without purpose.

Good luck! Anna


Well I am not confidant that you are going to land on a compromise that really gives you what you are looking for. Sounds to me like you are looking for circumstances to change so that you are not triggered in this way. If I read this correctly it is really only a problem because it makes you ''CRAZY''. This is a sign that something in you is trying to get your attention and it has now gotten pretty LOUD and you are still not paying attention- you are trying to tweak the circumstances so you can continue to avoid feeling it. I wish you luck with that but in my experience these kinds of things have a way of coming back as long as one thinks the problem is ''out there''.

If you insist on a compromise how about treats only on odd numbered days but an even number of treats unless the date contains a 3 or a 7 and then only 1. rules don't rule


Parents do the deed differently whether it be diapers, feeding or in your case shopping. How about you tell your husband that the constant acquiring of stuff isn't your game so could he limit it to treats or such to under $5 or $10 bucks. This will allow your kids to covet something and be thrilled when it does show up in a stocking or from the birthday fairy.My husband who rags about the amount of stuff our kids have has ALWAYS shown up with something in tow when he's had the kids whether it's ten minutes or 2 hours.He was beyond broke as a kid so the fact that he CAN gives him a rush. It's about him, the kids probably don't care. I balance it by rarely caving or tying it to a job well down, perfect paper etc. Accept the difference and move on, it's not worth the bother. mom to many
Ha! I could have written you message. I was brought up like you. We were almost never given toys except for birthdays and Christmas; if we wanted more, we had to use our allowance or do extra chores for bonus pay. While I think my parents went a little overboard on the stingy side (my mom grew up during the Depression), I am really, really thankful for the money management skills I learned. The most important lesson I took away was that resources are limited and you need to make choices. You can have the most important things you want if you don't waste your money buying every little thing that catches your eye.

Given that background, it was driving me crazy that my husband was buying our son toys on every excursion. We ended up going to an allowance system. My son is only three, so I kept it simple. If he gets dressed without a fuss in the morning and picks up his room and his toys he can earn up to 30 cents a day. I have a little chart where I can dock him allowance points if he messes up, and at the end of the week he gets to collect. It's enough money that he can buy the little Playmobile guys he craves, but he still has to save and manage a bit. My husband's relatives also tend to give our son money when they visit, so we agreed he could keep half to spend and would save the other half. So far it's working. Dad can still go with him to buy toys, and I don't feel like he's learning that stuff comes to you with no effort (or worse, by whining for it). anon


You don't say how old your kids are, but it sounds like they are still rather young since you mention they are not old enough to earn an allowance. I think that somewhat restricting gift-giving or making some larger gifts a reward is one way to teach your children financial responsibility.

I grew up in middle to upperclass home and my parents could have spoiled me rotten if they wanted. Instead, if I wanted something big like a bicycle or later on to join a school trip to Europe in high school, I had to work for it. Generally my parents would agree to put in a portion but I would have to make up the gap. For the school trip, I did extra chores around the house since I didn't have a job outside the home. The amount I made up was tied to the value of what I wanted and also my ability to earn (so as I got older my portion was more).

Even for college I was expected to pay 10% plus my non-essential expenses. Every Christmas when I came home my mom and I would do accounting to see how much I owed her and I did have to fork over some of my summer earnings. I believe this taught me an appreciation for the things that I did have and how to be financially responsible. I didn't get into financial trouble when I went out on my own.

Now at 32 I am amazed and how many of my friends my age are just starting to set up retirement savings. I have had a ROTH since I was 15 (which at the time my parents contributed to for me based on my earnings) and set up a 401K with my first job. It was never a question for me to be saving for the future or to may my credit card bills in full and on time. These are lessons some of my friends have learned the hard way.


I like your question. My 3yo son has begun to ask for things at the store. My financial upbringing was similar to yours, and I've been having similar thoughts. I'm trying to find the happy medium between the joy of buying my kid things and teaching delayed gratification, an important life skill to have. When he asks for a 99-cent toy in the cutest way possible, it is so hard to say no. But he might get it in his Easter basket (by which time he may have even forgotten that he asked). I have 3 sort-of goals: 1) occasionally surprise him but not every time we go somewhere - a special treat can be ''just because'' and is more exciting if it doesn't happen every day. 2) teach him about delayed gratification. Some things will wait until he saves money, or for Christmas, Birthday, etc. 3) teach him about money. Since my son is only 3, our starting point is at the flea market or a garage sale, I give my son a dollar or some change and let him pick out a small toy and pay for it with the money I gave him. As he gets older, he will have opportunities for allowance, earning, and birthday money, and we'll teach him how to save some and make spending choices.

One technique is to have a kid make a list of ''wants'' so they can then look at the list and decide which thing they want the most. You can also wait a week to see how priorities change. I used this as a kid when deciding how to spend my hard-earned babysitting money.

One thing I remember from when I was a kid, is we were treated to fast food on twice-a-year road trips to grandma's. It was the only time we got fast food. My mom gave each kid $5 and said we could keep anything we didn't spend. I have to say she was brilliant. Try that with a kid sometime and see how it affects their menu choices with zero whining.

I have friends whose kids seem to know nothing about delayed gratification or earning, saving, or spending money because the parents just buy them everything. Some of these 'kids' are in their 20's and still living at home, with the parents still paying for car, gas, food, etc. which is I think one of the likely results of that practice.

Grandparents get a free pass most of the time. Frugal, loving grandparents and free-spending loving grandparents are both wonderful. Don't sweat the small stuff. Kids know not every parent or grandparent is the same, and style differences are fine. L


It's quite true that it's not good for kids to have their every passing fancy indulged, even if your family's finances would allow it. On the other hand, there's no harm in a *little* indulgence from people who love them! And (I hope) you'd rather they learn generosity than stinginess!

To me the important thing is not how much money we do or don't spend on impulse gifts for the kids, but that they learn to distinguish between things they covet as a momentary whim, and things they will truly use and enjoy to an extent that makes it worth the price -- and not just the actual purchase price, but also the social and environmental costs of producing, transporting and storing the item. Not to mention learning to moderate their consumption of things that are bad for their health.

So I would start by quelling the impulse to immediately say no, or impose some delayed-gratification system, every time your kids ask if they can have X. Instead, if YOU think it's not such a simple request as to warrant just giving it to them (like the whole granola bar), ask them what they think X is worth. Why do they want it, what do they like about it, how long do they think they will enjoy it, and what might they say that would persuade you to buy it? In other words, don't say yes OR no, at least not right away; instead, say ''convince me.'' This is a good approach to a lot of things, actually. Especially as kids get older, but you may be surprised by the level of analysis even a preschooler is capable of. (Plus, getting in the habit of this sort of conversation now will help when they start asking for things you simply don't approve of...like too-slutty clothing or too-violent games...no matter how much or how little they cost!)

We started giving our kids an allowance when they started kindergarten, and it really does help with this because you don't have to go through the questions each time. In most cases you just tell them they're welcome to buy X with their own money, which automatically causes them to think about the worth of X. :) But even if you think they're too young to have their own money, they need some practice with this kind of thinking now.

And if it helps YOU to be more relaxed about it, perhaps you could allocate a regular ''allowance'' within your normal monthly budget for ''stuff the kids want.'' It could serve as both permission for you, and a limit on your husband. :) Holly


Where can I buy single gift boxes?

May 2010

This is going to sound ridiculous, but does anybody know of any East Bay stores that stock a wide variety of gift boxes... all different sizes, scarf boxes - gift boxes that might hold a lamp or sweater or .... I look on ebay and Uline, but don't need 100 or more. Any ideas ? Thank you in advance.


Paper Plus on San Pablo in Berkeley. www.paperplusoutlet.com They have tons of stuff from balloons to cards to wrapping paper etc... and cheap. I love this place. It sometimes takes some digging to find what you want but I almost always leave with something that works. Good luck! anne
The Paper Plus outlet store on San Pablo near Virginia. Holly
The Container Store. http://www.containerstore.com/ , or visit the stores in Walnut Creek, SF, or San Jose. Edna
THE CONTAINER STORE!?! --love me some pretty giftie boxes
The Container Store has an entire section of many different shaped gift boxes. Lots of locations around the Bay area. Container Store fan
The Container Store!! They have boxes in all sizes, shapes, material and weight. They are located in San Francisco, San Jose, Corte Madera or Walnut Creek. Linda

Diwali Gift

Oct 2003

I have been invited to a Diwali celebration (Indian ''festival of lights''), and want to bring a gift for the host/hostess. Are there any of you familiar with this celebration that can recommend something appropriate? Thank you! Ellen


It is customary to give sweets. Leslie

Norouz (Persian New Year)

Feb 2003

Our daycare providers are Muslim and they celebrate their New Year soon, the first day of Spring. They migrated from Afghanistan 20 years ago. I did not give them a gift during our Christmas holiday season and decided to wait for their own holiday. Can one of you recommend a culturally appropriate and thoughtful gift? Jeanne


My husband is Persian and I have celebrated the New Year with him and his family for over a decade now. I am not aware of any specific gift that would be more culturally appropriate than another. I would suggest not giving the recipient a food item that consists of meat, however, since she may eat only halal meat. I have commonly given my mother-in-law and other female members of my husband's family similar items that I would give on Mother's Day (flowers, nice soaps/lotions, candles, etc.). If you would like to give something traditional, hyacinth flowers, pistachios, or dried apricots or figs would make nice additions to any gift basket. Renee
Traditionally brand new money is given for Persian New Year. Mostly from elders to kids, but many times to anyone. You can go to the bank and request unused notes. Most local banks are familiar with this custom and stock up for the Persian New Year. Your childcare providers will probably be very humble about accepting it. So you can hide it in a card to avoid any awkwardness. Gabrielle
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